John Inglis

John Inglis … was his unit’s SP bookie during the war.
Photo: Barry Chapman

John Inglis aka “The Boss”

Former highly valued Inglis employee and Scone Bloodstock Agent Kieran Moore has just reminded me (‘The Bar’, Scone 15/11/18) that John was always known as ‘The Boss’; no argument and everyone knew who! Kieran’s tales from ‘behind the gavel’ are legendary! I will try to catch up sometime. There was a secret ‘language’ between John and Ossie Roberts which you could not detect from under the Morton Bay Fig Tree. I did perceive it on the few occasions when I occupied in the vendors box. You had to be an ‘insider’ to interpret the signs! Suffice it to say that there were ‘favoured’ vendors and buyers; and then there were others! It was a very serious contest.

I was going to call this blog ‘The Rock’. I should have done; it would have been apposite. Almost 50 years ago Harold Baldwin told me the reason he stayed in the thoroughbred breeding industry was one man: John Inglis. Harold was a business man well used to the vagaries and vicissitudes of everyday business and barter transactions; occasionally encountering the recusant, rebarbative, fraudulent and serially mendacious. John Inglis represented the very pinnacle of integrity, honour, honesty, decency and reliability. He was an immutable constant in a cabal with few others. Harold trusted him implicitly. I quickly learned to do the same. The industry does no always engender such implicit trust.

In the encomium reproduced below there is reference to ‘hoaxers’. I was once the unwitting victim of a serious hoax. John was my salvation. I had just sold a yearling by ‘Bletchingly’ for the then enormous sum of $105,000:00 in about 1980 knocked down to champion trainer T J Smith. My brown colt out of ‘Beyond All’ was lot number 13 in the Easter Catalogue. ‘Beyond All’ was a sister-in-blood to champion mare ‘Lowland’. ‘Kingston Town’ was at his peak and ‘Bletchingly’ was champion sire. Angus Armanasco had inspected him and declared “he was the most like ‘Bletchingly’ he had seen”. The planets were aligned. I was floating on air as I descended from the vendor’s box.  I almost knocked over cold, grey-eyed George Freeman who had the next lot in the ring. From there things started to go awry. The supposed purchaser, a Mr. Prosser, came back to the stables with us and discussed possible names. The same buyer also bought a Biscay colt from Sir Tristan Antico’s ‘Baramul Stud’ for $80,000:00. I conducted an interview with a commercial TV station. The portents were excellent; until Mr. Prosser turned out to be a complete fraud! John Inglis tried to chase him down including through a local Synagogue but the man was a charlatan without any money, capacity or intent to pay! John came to see me. He looked me in the eye and said: ‘Don’t worry Bill; Tommy (T J Smith) and I have been doing business for 50 years. You’ll get your money’. He was as good as his word. My colt raced as ‘Norseman’ and won a midweek race at Rosehill for c-owner Mrs. Darby Munro. Sir Tristan’s Biscay colt was more successful racing as ‘The Challenge’.

When I accompanied the Baramul horses to the USA in 1970 my immediate boss was Jack Flood. Jack worked for ‘Mr. Inglis’. He always called him that and was full of lavish praise. On another occasion Hugh Munro from ‘Keira’, Bingara turned up late one winter Sunday afternoon with a float-load of cull broodmares for sale. Who helped him unload and provide stabling; none other than J. A. Inglis ‘as soon as he’d finished feeding the pigeons’. Racing pigeons were his relaxing passion. We used to host release for his club at our Scone Cup Race Meeting. It was a very popular feature. The winning pigeon used to take little over an hour reaching its loft in Randwick. As always John and the firm William Inglis & Sons were the best friends we had in Scone. They sponsored races and invested significantly in building sales boxes at White Park. There were myriad other courtesies and kindnesses. Not many are recorded.

Cliff Ellis and I attended Tom Flynn’s (Oakleigh Stud) Memorial Service in the beautiful Heber Chapel in Cobbitty. John delivered the eulogy but was overcome with emotion. He was an extremely sensitive man. On another occasion a close family member had passed away. I wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Inglis. The next time I saw John he took my hand in his and held it firmly. Tears poured down his cheeks. No words were necessary. Mrs. Inglis had been a close school friend of my late mother-in-law. It always felt like ‘family’. With John Inglis his word was his bond. There aren’t many who can justifiably claim this honour.

An eye for horseflesh and hoaxers’ Hush Puppies

July 28, 2006

John Inglis, 1917-2006

THE Australian turf is awash with people known, sometimes fondly and more often euphemistically, as “colourful racing identities”. But, says the writer and broadcaster Max Presnell, true gentlemen of the turf are thin on the ground. John Inglis is generally regarded to have been one of the few.

Inglis, whose funeral was held in Randwick yesterday, left a mark on the thoroughbred industry, not least through his role as auctioneer at the sales under the Moreton Bay fig at Newmarket. He would begin the sale every day with a cry of “Sale O! Sale O! Sale O!” then sell through to lunchtime, eat a pie, then sell to dusk.

He retired as William Inglis & Son managing director and chief auctioneer in 1988, although staying on as chairman and then a director. Yet, at 88 and in failing health, he attended this year’s Easter yearling sale and the Randwick autumn carnival and was pleased with the result – a record turnover of $117 million in four days of selling.

John Alan Inglis was born into the family of stock and station agents founded by William Inglis, the son of Thomas and Catherine, who migrated from Scotland in 1830. William started the company in 1867 with Joseph Butler. It was an auctioneering and produce agency in George Street, Sydney. Butler left the partnership after 10 years and, in 1882, Inglis began a “horse bazaar” between Castlereagh and Pitt streets.

The family conducted its first yearling sale at rented premises in Newmarket in 1906 and bought the property in 1917, the year John became the first of three children for Reg and Bubbles Inglis. The house on the Newmarket property became home for John, Dick and Diana, and John was to live there for 75 years.

Educated at Coogee and Shore, he began work at 15 for William Inglis in the company’s O’Connell Street headquarters as an office boy. John and Dick would wander the trainers’ stables, talking horses and seeking tips. One of John’s early passions was pigeon showing and racing.

Trained as a gunner, Inglis was stationed near Toowoomba during World War II, making friends with Bernie Byrnes, who was to become his trainer. Inglis became the unit’s illegal SP bookmaker, cleaning up the company’s loose change every week. He and Byrnes also ran a two-up game. At Toowoomba races he saw a two-year-old horse, Bernborough, which he said later was the best horse he ever set eyes on.

Back in Newmarket after the war, Inglis bought a colt with two unhealthy looking legs from Percy Miller, of Kia Ora stud. Inglis called the animal Meteor and gave it to Byrnes to train. Meteor won 10 races and Inglis was hooked. “The Boss”, as Inglis became known, had a knack of selecting a good horse by an unfashionable sire.

The Miller family later gave Inglis their familiar racing colours – light and dark blue diamonds and red cap. The best horse to carry them was Shaftesbury Avenue, which Inglis owned with trainer Bart Cummings and which won six group one races. Disorderly, a two-year-old gelding, carried them to victory at Newcastle two weeks ago.

Inglis took over the company reins from his father in 1957. He developed friendships with breeders and paid annual visits to studs to see the young horses. He would watch them walk off the floats when they arrived to be sold. His eye for a horse was such that he remembered them when they came up for sale. The best bargain he ever saw was Flight, bought by Brian Crowley for 60 guineas ($126) in 1942. Flight won 24 races and over $60,000, making her the highest money-winning mare.

His judgement in other areas was sometimes tested. A hoaxer masquerading as a blind man bought yearlings one year before it was discovered he had no money to pay. After wealthy Arab racing enthusiasts took an interest in Australian horseflesh, John Singleton had a couple of men dressed in Arab clothing strike fear into the hearts of other buyers, until the Hush Puppies under their white robes were noticed.

Some young trainers had their start after Inglis allowed them time to pay when owners were hard to find. The Inglis company ran into trouble after Cummings, one of the leading trainers, owed the firm $7.5 million in 1991 for horses bought in 1989. The matter was resolved.

There were also problems with Brian Yuill, who bought 15 per cent of William Inglis with hidden interest-free loans. Before serving four years in jail from 1994 for defrauding Spedley Securities, Yuill was a director of Tulloch Lodge Ltd, a syndication company based on the stables owned by the trainer Tommy Smith.

Legend has it that Inglis said to Smith: “Tommy, racing has been good to you. Why don’t you pay it [the money owing]?” Smith replied: “You must be mad. Why don’t you?”

John Inglis married Margaret Whitford in 1950. They had three children, William, Jan and Arthur.

He is survived by Margaret, Arthur, Jan and seven grandchildren. His son Arthur is now managing director of William Inglis & Son.

Tony Stephens

Vale John Inglis

21 July 2006


The thoroughbred industry has lost one of its finest with the passing yesterday of John Inglis.

The patriarch of Australia’s foremost bloodstock auction house, the man known to all as “The Boss”, probably dropped the hammer on more thoroughbred horses than anyone in the world.

And he sold every one of them – as many as 40,000 – with the same honour and decency he displayed in every aspect of his life. Born in 1918, John Inglis represented the fourth generation of a family that arrived in New South Wales from Scotland in 1829.

Soon after landing in the colony, Thomas Inglis received a grant of 60 acres of land at Camden where he established a farm called Craigend, which still exists and is still farmed by an Inglis.

The auction business was begun by Thomas’ first son William who started selling produce at Camden and then went into the livestock business in Sydney, where he established the Inglis Horse Bazaar that operated for 30 years in Pitt St.

In 1906 the business moved to the Newmarket site near Randwick racecourse where it has stood for 100 years.

William Inglis passed the reins to his son John who died in 1914 when they were, in turn, handed to his son Reg who kept the business going while his older brothers were away at the war.

The firm of William Inglis and Son rode the boom of the 1920s, becoming Australia’s biggest bloodstock auctioneers, only to plunge back to earth with stock market crash of 1930, surviving the depression largely by selling

By the time the next major crisis arrived, the latest John Inglis and his brother Dick were running the firm.

That difficulty was the collapse of tax-minimisation syndicates, the most high-profile of which was the Cups King syndicate put together by trainer Bart Cummings.

Cummings faced financial ruin with around $12 million worth of yearlings and no-one to buy them.

But thanks to “The Boss”, who ensured all the breeders were paid, the great trainer was allowed to trade his way out of trouble.

John Inglis personally sold every yearling offered by his firm for around 35 years after WWII.

“In my day I’d do the lot. Be in the box all day,” he said.

“The only time I didn’t sell them was when a very good racehorse was up.
Then my father would step in.”

These days five men do the same job.

“The Boss” gave the selling away in 1988, handing the running of the business over to his nephews Reg and Jamie and his son Arthur.

But until he fell ill a few months ago he would visit the office every day.
Reg Inglis yesterday described his uncle’s passing, at the age of 88, as a sad reminder of lost times.

“It is the end of an era,” he said.

“It is a sad day but a happy release. He had become quite unwell and he didn’t like being that way.

“He was the the doyen of auctioneers in Australia and a wonderful man who was universally liked.

“He personified common decency, his word was his bond and he was a very humble man.”

William Inglis and Sons sold many of the greatest horses to have raced in Australia to some of the greatest names in the country.

But none did more for the game than the man who put true meaning into his company’s motto: “Unshakeable integrity”.