F K ‘Darby’ Mackay
The featured image shows F K ‘Darby’ Mackay at Canterbury Race Course when he was standing for the AJC Committee. He was an intensely private man and shunned publicity. There are few photographs of him.
One of the most outstanding pan-pastoralists to emerge from the Upper Hunter during the 20th century was the late F K ‘Darby’ Mackay. He was a man of intellect and vision excelling in many areas of production including thoroughbred horses, working stock horses and stud beef cattle. He was also an esteemed administrator in thoroughbred racing achieving high office as the Vice-Chairman of the Australian Jockey Club (AJC).
F K Mackay returned from WWI as ‘damaged goods’. He had excelled in active war service on the Western Front but was gassed in the trenches which affected his lung capacity for the rest of his life. It severely compromised his health leaving a ‘chronic cough’ to his dying day. He was also chosen in General Dunsterville’s (‘Stalky’ in Kipling’s Stalky & Co) elite ‘Dunsterforce’ for the ill-fated foray into northern Persia in late 1917 – 1918 to resist the Bolsheviks.
F K’s properties in the Hunter included ‘Scrumlo’ at Upper Rouchel and ‘Mullee’ (now Kilwinning) near Scone airport. The Scrumlo ‘Saladin’ stock of dun-coloured horses was legendary. They all had a characteristic black line marking down the spine. It was at Scrumlo that F K bred some of the outstanding thoroughbred racehorses in post-WWII Australian racing. ‘Royal Sovereign’ by Chatsworth II out of Sabah (by Empyrean) won the triple-crown AJC, VRC and QTC Derbies all in 1964. FK had the vision to send Sabah to NZ to visit Chatsworth II. This prescient initiative was well before its time. He was a great student of breeding and amateur genetics plus a devotee of Bruce Lowe’s Figure System. He had noted his great mares Sabah and Pella were both chestnut with silver mane and tail. His research revealed they traced back to ‘Canterbury Pilgrim’ twice in the 4th remove (‘double cross’). This ancestor mare was similarly coloured. F K also bred the outstanding sprinter Nebo Road (Wilkes Fr. ex Juani) who won the VRC Newmarket at Flemington in 1966. Nebo Road was the first and best of Stan Fox’s racehorses.
The yearlings from Scrumlo were prepared for sale at ‘Mullee’ on the outskirts of Scone just past the airport and bordering ‘Sledmere Stud’. Peter Snowdon’s father Ross was in charge of the draft in 1968. Bruce Martin managed the Poll Hereford Stud for F K. This stud was perhaps the best in the State if not the country in the late 60s and early 70s. The foundation sires were ‘Milton Rebel’ and ‘Kildrummie Iosta’. Many of the cows were from the ‘Moreduval‘ herd of the Simson family from Spring Ridge. ‘Mullee David’ was a champion bull bred at this time winning the coveted blue ribbon and supreme championship at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. He was sold for the then astronomical sum of $30,000:00. He has been proved to be an outstanding progenitor of the breed himself.
Bruce Martin absorbed a lot of this accrued wisdom. He was no mean breeder of thoroughbreds himself. He acquired a Midstream mare ‘Warren Stream’ and was a devotee of the Star Kingdom line successfully using his sire sons Todman and Biscay. He ‘line bred’ when it was not really fashionable. ‘Todstream’ (by Todman) and ‘Cantabrian’ (by Biscay) were two very good sprinters he produced.
F K was someone for whom excellence was barely good enough; perfection was his goal. He spent long hours in the paddocks simply watching where, when and how an individual cow grazed and how she looked after her calf. His powers of observation were exquisitely honed. Information gleaned was always put to good use in the breeding herd. Detail was paramount.
The AJC named a race in his honour: The Keith Mackay Handicap for 3yo Fillies & Mares at the Randwick Easter Carnival. Murray Bain won it with ‘Obelia’ (Sky High – Ragged Blossom) in 1969 much to his delight. Neville Begg was the trainer; Ron Quinton the jockey. The ATC renamed the race the Percy Sykes Stakes. I much prefer the former!
The following obituary was printed in the excellent “BINGHI” publication of the Armidale School (TAS) in October 1990 written by Mr Paul Johnstone.
In the last edition of “BINGHI” we reported the death of Keith Mackay – one of the School’s great benefactors. We acknowledge with appreciation this article contributed by Mr Paul Johnstone.
Francis Keith Mackay was born on 7th April 1895 at Maitland and died in Sydney on 5th June 1990 aged 95 years. Known affectionately as ‘Darby’ Mackay, he was the son of W H Mackay of ‘Anambah’, West Maitland and was brought up in early years there and later with his grandfather, J. K. Mackay, at ‘Dungog’. He was educated at Barker College in the years 1909 – 1911 and at The Armidale School from September 1912 to Easter 1913, having entered in Form IV. In the swimming sports in February 1913 he was placed first in the 25 yards Onback Championship, second in the 100 yards Senior Championship and first in the 100 yards Senior Handicap. Keith was a member of the Cadet Corps. He joined the Old Boys’ Union as a Life member in 1919.
A letter in 1913 mentioned he had enlisted in England in King Edward’s Horse and the School magazine confirmed that in December 1915 he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. As a Captain, he was a member of the elite ‘Dunsterforce’ which included 200 picked Officer and NCO’s mainly from the Colonial Forces, 20 Officers and 20 NCO’s of whom were Australians. This force moved into the northern part of Persia at the end of 1917 to link up with the Russians and Armenians to stop the Turkish forces penetrating further and threatening the northern part of India.
He married Kathleen Brodie in 1922 and lived at “Scrumlo” east of Aberdeen. After her death in 1954 he married Dorothy Abbott who survives him. There were no children from either marriage. He was involved with the Mackay properties including ‘Lawn Hill’, ‘Cuplacurapa’, ‘Mantuan Downs’, ‘Boonaldoon’, ‘Branga Plains’ and ‘Scrumlo’ during his life. ‘Darby’ Mackay, as a boy and throughout his life, loved and was most interested in, birds and animals and this interest was still most evident right up until the time of his death. He was respected as having good judgement with sheep and cattle and their management, and as a breeder of stock horses, notably Scrumlo Creamies. He was a member of the AJC and Vice-President for some time. He was also a member of the Union Club and somewhat shortly before his death was informed he was the oldest living member so promptly resigned. He was a supporter of the Police Boys Club movement.
In 1961 he contacted the late J. L. G. Johnstone in Armidale regarding setting up a trust for scholarship, to include The Armidale School and the University of New England. Subsequently he set up the ‘Keith and Dorothy Mackay Trust Fund’ with funds to be used to assist boys with more than average ability to attend The Armidale School or to assist boys already there, who, for financial reasons, may have been prevented from continuing. Funds were also to be used for Travelling Scholarships for postgraduate students at the University of New England. Although not restricting scholarships to country boys, he had indicated that, because of his family’s great interest in the land and the fact that they had succeeded on the land, country educational institutions were preferred as they catered more for country boys and young men.
‘Darby’ Mackay was known to have been very generous to people in less fortunate circumstances than himself and in being so, shunned publicity so the full extent of his generosity in his life will never be known. (His Scrumlo manager Bert Griffith was a luminary early founder of the Australian Stock Horse Society. He had a very fine tutor.)
Many boys and their families have reason to be very grateful to the late Keith Mackay and his wife, Dorothy.
Royal Sovereign AJC Derby 1964
Meanwhile Royal Sovereign was running eighth early and gradually moved forward to sixth at the half-mile, tracking Strauss. Employing the same bold riding tactics that had given him victory in the two previous runnings of the race, George Moore tried to steal the race on Park Lane, taking the lead at the mile and maintaining his advantage on the home turn. Strauss joined Park Lane upon straightening and then headed him halfway down the straight but could not withstand Royal Sovereign’s powerful sprint in the last furlong. John Page, confident the son of Chatsworth II was a genuine stayer, had instructed Selkrig to relax the horse in the early stages, and then make one run in the straight. Although the horse was inclined to run in under the whip in the last furlong, he overhauled Strauss in the shadows of the post to win by a short neck going away. Park Lane, who was rather pedestrian in the last half-furlong, was two lengths away third. Eskimo Prince, who showed no dash at all in the straight, finished a dismal seventh. Despite his fractiousness in the early part of the journey, the Todman colt simply could not stay.
Despite the eclipse of the hot favourite, Royal Sovereign was accorded a good reception and proved a popular victory for his youthful trainer, John Page, for whom it was his first A.J.C. Derby and the second for the effervescent jockey, Ray Selkrig. Although the colt started at 14/1, there had been good support for him in the betting ring as he had got out to as much as 20/1 in course betting. The official presentation of the Derby prize was made jointly by the Governor-General, Lord De L’Isle, and H.R.H. Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Apart from the normal blue riband, a London commercial firm of goldsmiths had donated a British Exhibition Cup as a trophy for the winner. Lord De L’Isle had made previous presentations to jockey Ray Selkrig on the occasion of him winning the 1961 Melbourne Cup on Lord Fury and the City Tattersall’s Club Cup on Travel On and when the diminutive hoop walked out for the presentation was met with a good-natured vice-regal greeting of “Oh, no, not you again!”
Royal Sovereign, an imposing, powerfully-built racehorse, was bred by Reay Pty Ltd of Aberdeen, in the Hunter Valley, and was by the imported English stallion, Chatsworth II, out of Sabah, by Empyrean. Sabah was a high-class mare who was bred and raced by Keith Mackay in those familiar colours of ‘white, tartan sash, black cap’ and trained by the loyal Fred Cush. I think that Cush throughout his fifty-odd years in training always seemed to have at least one horse in his yard that was owned by the Mackay family. Sabah was one of those strikingly beautiful mares – a platinum blonde chestnut with a silver mane and tail – whose slashing looks were matched by an ability to gallop; she first came to notice when landing a confident plunge in the Princess Handicap at Randwick with Bill Cook in the leathers. Sabah was in cracking form in the autumn of 1955 and a week later gave the former A.J.C. committeeman, Keith Mackay, his first classic win when she took out the Adrian Knox Stakes. That particular blood strain had long been in the Mackay family, and Sabah traced back through Diffidence, the 1899 Sydney Cup winner, to the great Etra Weenie, Nellie and Sappho. It was a great bloodline that had continued to flourish down the years. Royal Sovereign was only Sabah’s second living foal, although she later threw that good filly Talahi to Wilkes. I might mention that Sabah’s half-sister, Juani, by Midstream, was the dam of that champion sprinter of the mid-sixties, Nebo Road.
Chatsworth II, the sire of Royal Sovereign, was a bay horse bred in England in 1950; he was a good stayer who could accommodate hard or soft ground, winning seven races and £9,024 including the Manchester Cup (1 ½ miles) on two occasions and the Kempton Park Great Jubilee Handicap. Edgar Britt rode in the Manchester Cup in which Chatsworth II carried 9 st. 7lb. and won in a fast time, and Edgar entertained the highest regards for his ability. A son of the great racehorse Chanteur II, Chatsworth II was out of the mare Netherton Maid who was also the mother of Pirate King and the dam of Hethersett. Imported into New Zealand in 1956 by Sir James Fletcher to stand at his Alton Lodge Stud at Te Kauwhata, Chatsworth II quickly made his mark as a sire. Apart from Royal Sovereign, his best progeny would probably be those good Kiwi mares, Blyton and Chantal, although other daughters such as Clipjoint and Our Fun won good races and later went on to become high-class broodmares. Unfortunately, Chatsworth II died prematurely in the 1962-63 racing season when just twelve, only months before his best son went through the sales ring.
John Page, the successful trainer of Royal Sovereign, was a young man of just thirty-three when he won the Derby, although he boasted a maternal pedigree for the Turf every bit as distinguished as the colt himself. John’s grandfather, Bert Bellingham, had been the stud groom at Kirkham for the Hon. James White in the late nineteenth century before much later becoming a notable trainer at Randwick. Born in Muswellbrook, the son of a railwayman, John’s father had shown little interest in racing although young John spent much of his youth around horses on his grandfather’s property, Lindisfarne, near Roxburgh. Now family traits and traditions do not die, even if they go unexpressed for a generation. John’s father might not have succumbed to life on the Turf, but at the age of fourteen, John knew what he wanted. He left school and began work as a strapper in Bert Bellingham’s Bowral Street stables, two doors away from the T.J. Smith establishment. The stable enjoyed its biggest success a few years later when Mercury won the 1951 A.J.C. Villiers Stakes.
However, it was Gallant Archer, a colt by Delville Wood that had run fourth in the Derby behind Deep River, which made Bellingham’s name as a trainer and John Page was stable foreman when the colt first walked into the yard. Page maintained that he learned more about horses from Gallant Archer than all the others combined. It was Page who travelled with Gallant Archer when the horse campaigned interstate, and such stays at other training establishments enabled the young man to observe at firsthand rival trainers’ methods. Page was granted his own licence at the start of the 1958-59 racing season, and he began with just three horses all owned by clients of his grandfather, whose stables he shared. Of that original trio of gallopers, one was the classy filly Weeamera, with whom Page won both an A.J.C. Flight Stakes and a V.R.C. Wakeful Stakes. Weeamera ran as the favourite for the V.R.C. Oaks only to be narrowly beaten into the minor placing in an exciting three-way finish, having suffered a scrimmage at the top of the straight. Denied a classic success so soon in his training career, Royal Sovereign was to more than compensate Page for the disappointment.
Page had purchased Royal Sovereign for 1850 guineas at the Sydney Easter Yearling Sales on behalf of Mr and Mrs Agini, relative newcomers to ownership and their only previous winner had been Empress Rego in a minor event at Hawkesbury in March 1963. The Aginis had only paid 750 guineas through John Page for Empress Rego, but it was that Hawkesbury victory by five lengths – and the resultant winning wagers associated with it – that gave the couple the ammunition and incentive to pay much more for a better-bred colt at the Inglis Sales held a month later. There were only two Chatsworths on offer in that catalogue, and after going through its pages a dozen times, Page kept coming back to Lot No. 87. Royal Sovereign made his racecourse debut at the Tattersall’s Club meeting at Randwick in late December when John Page’s other budding young star, Neil Campton, the stable apprentice rode him. Campton was destined to share the Sydney Apprentices’ premiership with Kevin Langby during the 1964-65 racing season. The brown colt finished a nice second behind Saba King after being disappointed for a run in the straight. Royal Sovereign then stamped his staying credentials at his second start three weeks later. He got up to win a two-year-old handicap (6f) at Rosehill after being knocked back to near last in the fifteen-horse field shortly after the start. Ray Selkrig was the jockey on that occasion and upon returning to scale promptly expressed his faith in the son of Chatsworth as a high-class staying colt with whom he wished to be associated in the future.
In the days after this scintillating performance, there occurred the incident that in all likelihood denied Royal Sovereign his rightful place in Australia’s racing Valhalla. The colt became cast in his box when he put his foreleg halfway through his stable door and cut it severely. Page was forced to ease him in his trackwork, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the horse was able to race in the rich autumn juvenile events at all. Royal Sovereign completed his two-year-old season with a record of one win and three placings from his six starts, although he never finished further back than fourth in any of his races. John Page was only too aware that the incident in the box had severely weakened the horse’s leg and throughout his abbreviated three-year-old season the trainer was on tenterhooks.
Nonetheless, Royal Sovereign had been subject to a thoroughly rigorous Derby preparation; he had resumed winning a six-furlong trial handicap at the Randwick Bank Holiday meeting and then ran minor placings in the Hobartville Stakes, and Canterbury and Rosehill Guineas as well as an unplaced effort in the Chelmsford Stakes, to fit him for his tilt at the Derby. Royal Sovereign was the second of jockey Ray Selkrig’s four Derby winners at Randwick and Ray unequivocally rates him not just the best of his Derby winners, but the best horse he ever rode during his long career. “I have often pondered how good he might have been had he not been cast in his box as a youngster. He was absolutely first-class even with his suspect leg.” Selkrig had enjoyed a rewarding partnership with Page over the years and partnered the trainer’s very first winner, Delfox, a gelding by Delta, back in December 1958; but the pair delighted in their most fruitful collaboration during that spring of 1964.
Royal Sovereign’s racing career was to be short-lived, but the brief glimpse afforded the sporting public in October and November 1964, suggested a racehorse very much out of the ordinary. A fortnight after the Randwick Derby and in the hands of leading Melbourne apprentice Harry White, with Ray Selkrig unable to make the weight, Royal Sovereign (25/1) carrying 7 st. 7lb went under by a head in the £20,000 Caulfield Cup to another more lightly-weighted three-year-old in Yangtze, who, in the field of twenty, led all the way – just as he did in winning the Caulfield Guineas the week before. It was a strange, eerie Cup that year. More than half an inch of rain had fallen at Caulfield the night before the Cup, and the weather contributed to a power breakdown which prevented a course broadcast of the event. Bookmakers, unaware, continued to bet for a time even after the race had started.
In the Victoria Derby a fortnight later, Yangtze wasn’t expected to be the most troublesome for Royal Sovereign to beat but rather Captain Blue, a rangy gelding by Blueskin that had fired the public imagination with his close third behind Contempler in the Caulfield Stakes, followed by a convincing win in the Geelong Derby Trial Stakes. Though the winning margin was but a neck by a neck over Strauss and Captain Blue, Royal Sovereign in winning overcame a check on the home turn to better Advocate’s 1952 race record with a time of 2 minutes 28.2 seconds. Selkrig, back in the saddle, applied the same tactics that had proven successful at Randwick, allowing the son of Chatsworth to relax near the rear in the twelve-horse field and he only began to stir the colt after passing the half-mile. Yangtze, the Caulfield Cup hero, could manage no better than fourth after being galloped on the off-hind leg shortly after the start. It was a first-class Melbourne Cup trial by Royal Sovereign and one that saw him go to the post the following Tuesday at 13/2 third favourite, despite the inability of any three-year-old to have won the race since Skipton in 1941. Alas, a near fall at the seven-furlong post put paid to any chance the colt had of breaking the hoodoo, and, never regaining proper balance, he finished a well-beaten seventeenth in the race won by Polo Prince.
Royal Sovereign took no harm from the Cup and was transported to Brisbane for the Queensland Derby run eleven days later. It was to prove his last victory on a racecourse, and though he met only four rivals, he did it in style, winning by ten lengths in race record time. Brought back into training in the autumn, John Page’s ambitious programme, including both the Australian Cup and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Melbourne, was to be frustrated. Sadly, Royal Sovereign was destined for just one more appearance on a racecourse. The triple-Derby winner resumed in a six-furlong flying handicap at Canterbury Park in early February only to break down during the running to trail in second last. As is so often the case in a racehorse with one weak foreleg, it was the other foreleg that gave way, specifically the tendon running from behind the knee to the fetlock joint. If Royal Sovereign’s breakdown came as a shock, it wasn’t a surprise. The horse had both forelegs blistered and spent many months in the spelling paddock, but John Page soon aborted the attempt to train him in the autumn of 1966.
The rising five-year-old stallion was sold to the Boscobel Stud at Sutton Forest in the southern highlands of NSW. His first yearlings were auctioned at the William Inglis Easter Sales in April 1969 and a promising career was suggested when his first runner, Paper Gold, ran third to Baguette in the Breeders’ Plate at Randwick. Unfortunately, the Boscobel Stud could never provide Royal Sovereign with enough quality mares to establish their sire at a time when the prejudice against colonial stallions still lingered. When that stud was finally dispersed in 1978, Royal Sovereign sold for a miserable $2,000 and soon found his way to Queensland where he died in January 1982. Nonetheless, the son of Chatsworth was certainly not a failure at stud and he did manage to sire three winners of principal races in Sovereignito (W.A.T.C. Oaks), Acamar (A.J.C. Challenge and Stan Fox Stakes), and Mallet (A.J.C. Winter Stakes) as well as a number of other useful gallopers such as Currency Belle and Abbot. At the time of his death, Royal Sovereign’s progeny had won around $700,000 in prize money. The memory of this fine triple-Derby winning colt is celebrated with the running of the Royal Sovereign Stakes (1200 metres) at Randwick each autumn; and in one of those rare but perfect moments of symmetry that lends racing much of its charm it was a son of Royal Sovereign in Acamar that won the race at its inaugural running.