GUNSYND – Again
We’re just going through another phase of massive national euphoria with the superlative performances of ‘Winx’. Good mate Rick Wright has composed his poetic tribute ‘What About Winx’. We’ve barely had time to recover from similar passions pertaining to ‘Black Caviar’ and ‘Makybe Diva’. ‘Champion’ and ‘Best Ever’ epithets make their customary and consistent revivals. Unresolved pub arguments will always prevail. Speaking of exultation the first running of the innovative ‘The Everest’ has literally ‘scaled the heights’. I deal with this separately under an eponymous title with a further encomium to victorious Scone-bred locals Peter and Paul Snowdon
Anyone under the age of fifty will not remember the ‘Goondiwindi Grey’? Gunsynd may not have been the same ‘champion’ performer as the three racing mares cited above. However for those of us around in the early 1970s his was the name on everyone’s lips. Gunsynd was ‘the people’s horse’ more so than any other truly capturing the imagination of the general public. He had his own dedicated song. You can familiarize yourself by listening to the excellent recording with Tex Morton:
Even now this ditty causes the fewer hairs on the back of my neck to ‘pilo-erect’; while goose bumps can and do appear. The legend surrounding Gunsynd’s breeding and race performances are well documented. What is not so well known is he had his final racecourse appearance at Scone Race Club’s White Park Race Track Cup Meeting in May 1973. Having retired and been syndicated for stud duties at Kia Ora Stud by the incomparable George Ryder this was his final ‘public reception’ before retreating to do what stallions do. George had no peer when it came to promotion, publicity and advertising. He was the ultimate entrepreneurial ‘hussler’. Even Bobby Riggs would have lost in straight sets.
The featured image shows ‘Gunsynd’ with race jockey Kevin Langby up in racing colours of the Goondiwindi syndicate. He is attended by Kia Ora Stud Manager Jim Gibson resplendent in very stylish pork-pie hat. The young lady pictured represented the public relations company employed by George Ryder.
Langby gently cantered ‘Gunsynd’ down the short straight at White Park in front of a massive rapturous and wildly appreciative crowd. As a junior committeeman I was on duty that day; as a gate attendant! We used to do that. We almost had to push people through the gate it was so full. Our records show and photos vindicate the claim this was by far the largest crowd ever attracted to the Scone Cup; itself a perennially popular drawcard. I recall a young man leaving straight after ‘Gunsynd’ had paraded. ‘Now I can die happy that I’ve seen him I can go home’ he said as left through the gate. ‘Where’s home’ I asked? ‘Far North Queensland’ he replied. He had driven 2000kms south and was turning around to do the same thing straight back! Such was the magnetic attraction and captivating mercurial appeal of ‘Gunsynd’!
Gunsynd: Champion Australian Thoroughbred
Gunsynd is one of the most prolific winners to ever grace the turf.
Comparing horses from different eras on the basis of prize money is nigh well impossible given inflation and the general escalation of purses.
One more valid criterion, however, that transcends the era is simply the racing record.
Gunsynd was foaled in Australia in 1967 at ‘The Dip Stud’ Breeza, NSW owned by John Clift. His sire was Sunset Hue (by Star Kingdom); his dam Woodie Wonder (Twin by Newtown Wonder Imp.). He was a solid grey; not a very common colour. Although foaled at ‘The Dip’ Gunsynd was actually bred by Joe McNamara who owned an adjacent property to ‘The Dip. I’m reliably informed by a family member (Anne McNamara/Gordon) that Joe owned the dam Woodie Wonder and sent the mare to Sunset Hue to be covered at the foal heat. In addition Joe had originally been offered Sunset Hue to stand at his stud property but was persuaded by his neighbour to stand the stallion in lieu of services to the horse. Intriguingly in the best Australian tradition an itinerant shearer might have been the ‘go between’? The McNamara family still retain the prestigious breeders awards earned by their champion racing protégé.
Purchased for $1600 at the1969 Brisbane sales by a Goondiwindi consortium consisting of G. McMicking, A. Bishop, J. Coorey and A. Pippos, his four-year career topped that of many runners who raced considerably longer.
Gunsynd’s overall record of 29 wins, 7 seconds and 8 thirds is all the more impressive given that his two-year-old season featured only one major win, the 1969 Hopeful Stakes, and only the Chelmsford Stakes in 1970. I remember he was ridden in the latter on a very heavy track at Randwick by my good friend Hilton Cope.
The next season saw Gunsynd switching stables from Bill Wehlow to Tommy Smith for the 1970/71 season, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Gunsynd hit his true form thereafter. 1971 brought the Rawson Stakes, Epsom Handicap, Toorak Handicap, Sandown Cup and George Adams Handicap. His duels with Triton (NZ) were legendary.
In 1972, as a three-year-old, he notched a Cox Plate, managed a third under heavy weight-60.5 kg-in the Melbourne Cup and added no less than eight majors to his tally. These included the Futurity Stakes, Frederick Clissold Handicap, Hill Stakes, VRC Queens Plate, Doncaster Handicap, Colin Stephen Quality Handicap , Caulfield Stakes and VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
This prodigious season resulted in Gunsynd’s being declared Australia’s champion racehorse for the 1972/73 season.
In ’73 he resumed where he left off in ’72, adding a consecutive VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a second Rawson Stakes, a Blamey Stakes and an Autumn Stakes.
Gunsynd was a favourite of Australian punters as the result of being one of the finest greys to ever grace the turf and a tenacity when running that served to take the victory when other horses pulled up as beaten. He was a true character ‘and seemed to know’ as Banjo Patterson colourfully described it. He had a unique quirk of ‘appearing to bow to the crowd’ acknowledging crowd applause after winning? Kevin Langby certainly made the most of it!
Versatility is an apt adjective to describe Gunsynd’s running style. He won at distances as short as 1200 metres and as long as 2500 metres. Neither true sprinter nor stayer, he was well-nigh unbeatable at a mile. In fact, his only loss at this distance out of seven starts, by less than a head, was the Epsom Handicap of 1972.
Gunsynd stood stud commencing in 1973. Like many overachievers before and since, his progeny was not particularly productive, but he did sire a filly, Ammo Girl, who was the dam of Australian champion racehorse 1983/84, Emancipation.
He was euthanized at the age of 16, suffering from cancer. As veterinarian I regret I was the ‘culprit who brandished my sickle’. Gunsynd had suffered a recurrence of a nasal tumour: Progressive Ethmoid Haematoma. Professor David Hutchins at Sydney University Veterinary Campus, Camden performed a heroic operation five years earlier. Sadly ‘the beast came back’. By this time Gunsynd was advancing in age, had failed commercially and was also a poor insurance risk. His owners decided to end his days. Gunsynd was reported as a ‘bleeder’ when racing as a two-year-old. His Brisbane trainer Bill Wehlow always claimed he was not a genuine ‘cranial epistaxis’ (bleeder due to exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage). He may have been right if Gunsynd was incubating an early form of nasal neoplasia before the age of scoping? I confess this is pure speculation.
He is the only animal gracing the Queensland Icon list, the Group 3 Gunsynd Classic, it is run to honour him at Doomben Racecourse.
There is also a statue of Gunsynd at Goondiwindi and he entered the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.
His at-the-time record of over $280,000 in winnings was the highest ever by an Australian thoroughbred and the fact that he was unplaced only 10 times from 54 starts places him squarely, and rightly so, alongside the all-time great thoroughbreds.