Positano and a century of breeding


Featured Image: ‘Positano’ by Douglas Fry courtesy of the Australian Jockey Club (now ATC); as showcased in Bob Charley’s ‘Heroes and Champions’

My great friend Brian Russell wrote a celebrated feature article ‘A Century of Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Excellence’ which I duly purloined (and acknowledged) as the finale to my modest tome on the History of Thoroughbred Breeding in the Hunter Valley. Harley Walden did the same in his online article: http://www.scone.com.au/century-of-thoroughbred-excellence/

One might argue that this all began with the importation by the Honourable Henry Cary Dangar MLC of ‘Positano’ in 1897 to his ‘Neotsfield Stud’, Singleton? The Honourable Henry Dangar was also Chairman of the Australian Jockey Club. ‘Positano’ ran second in the Epsom Derby and Dangar had high hopes of winning the Melbourne Cup. However ‘Positano’ could only manage a modest 6th to ‘Gaulus’ but went on to win the AJC Spring Stakes and the VRC Veteran Stakes. Admittedly the Thompson family hegemony was already underway at ‘Widden’ but the Moses Brothers had yet to launch their illustrious short but vastly successful reign at ‘Arrowfield’.

‘Positano’ repaid his owners faith in their purchase by siring four Melbourne Cup winners: Lord Cardigan (1903), Poseidon (1906), Lord Nolan (1908) and Piastre (1912) as well as winners of the AJC Doncaster and Metropolitan Handicaps. When ‘Neotsfield’ was dispersed in 1904 the mare Jacinth had a colt foal at foot who, racing as Poseidon went on to win a record number of races as a three-year-old. The record still stands today. Neighbouring familial Singleton nursery ‘Baroona Stud’ was to become the home of legendary Peter Pan in the early 1930s.

Brian’s historic review makes the link between this era and the emergence of super-sire ‘Danehill’ in the late 1900s. We’re now closer to 120 years of thoroughbred breeding excellence with a high density of successful studs ‘contracting’ to the higher reaches of the Upper Hunter Valley.

A Century of Hunter Valley Thoroughbred Excellence

By Brian Russell

Two of the colts walked form Percy Miller’s Kia Ora Stud in the Segenhoe Valley near Scone to the railhead at Aberdeen in 1943 for shipment to Sydney for the Inglis Easter Yearling sales were the Midstream Colts Shannon and Murray Stream. Shannon ranks as one of Australia’s greatest milers and overseas exports. After winning races in California in world record times he went to stud and sired good winners before premature death at 14. Shannon and Murray Stream were among hundreds of winners bred by Miller in thirty years in the first half of last century. At the time Kia Ora challenged as the biggest and most successful source of winners in the world and on occasion they took over 100 yearlings to the Easter sales. Sent down several months before the sale they were either led or driven to the rail station and loaded in special horse boxes on trains. Off loaded at Sydney’s Darling Harbour they were then led in the early hours of the morning out to the paddocks then encompassed by the Inglis sale yards at Randwick. Besides Shannon and Murray Stream the horses bred on Kia Ora at that time included Windbag (won the Melbourne Cup in Australasian record time), Delta (won Melbourne Cup, Cox Plate, Victoria Derby), Hydrogen (won the Cox Plate twice) and Amounis (won 33 races and for a short time was Australia’s leading money earner).

One historic galloper who wasn’t sired on Kia Ora although they often get the credit is Peter Pan, winner of the Melbourne Cups of 1932 and 1934. He was bred by Rodney Dangar of Singleton from a mating with Pantheon, the import who finished third in the 1926 Melbourne Cup and stood initially at the Kingsfield Stud. Moved next door to Kia Ora the next year Pantheon got Peter Pan from his one season at the Kingsfield Stud, one which subsequently had much of its country swallowed up by Glenbawn Dam. His dam may have been railed to Aberdeen and then walked to Kingsfield.

Kia Ora was part of a 10,000 acre grant in a valley served by the Hunter and pages Rivers provided to English businessman and politician Thomas Potter Macqueen in the early 1820s after it had been surveyed by Rodney Dangar’s grandfather Henry Dangar. Established for him by Peter Macintyre the valley was called Segenhoe after Macqueen’s birthplace Segenhoe Manor. In 1826 they stood the first thoroughbred sire in the Hunter Valley, and England bred stallion named Crawford. As they were very likely a few mares in the region as early as 1820, the Hunter Valley is on the eve of 200 years as horse breeding country.

One of the greatest Hunter Valley bred horses of early last century was the 1916 foaled Beauford, winner of 17 races. He ran four times against the icon performer Gloaming and beat him twice. He was bred by the Mackay family, owners for over half a century of the Tinagroo Stud northwest of Scone. It is then owned by a branch of the Macintyre family and latterly acquired by locally bred David Paradice. Another branch of the Mackay family produced in the Upper Hunter Royal Sovereign winner in 1964-65 the AJC, VRC and QTC Derbies and second in the Caulfield Cup. One of their properties joined the Sledmere Stud at Scone, the one on which Sailor’s Guide was raised. He followed up wins in the Victoria Derby and Sydney Cup by being awarded the Washington DC International in America after being second across the line to Tudor Era. In the same year that Beauford was foaled a horse produced on Camyr Allyn on the southern side of Scone went on to be a giant of Australian racing. He was Eurythmic and he won 31 of his 47 starts including top races in Perth and Melbourne.

A rival of Eurythmic and Beauford was Poitrel a winner of the Melbourne Cup under 10 stone (63.5 kgs). He was bred by the Moses brothers then owners of Arrowfield now Coolmore near Jerrys Plains. They were leading breeders for 20 years early last century and included among the horses they bred was Heroic, an outstanding galloper and seven times champion stallion. Bred on Widden one of his sons Ajax won 18 races straight. One of the early champions raised by the Moses on Arrowfield was Poseidon (1903) but they bought him as a foal at foot with his dam off Rodney Dangar when he broke up the Neotsfield Stud near Singleton in 1904. As a 3-year-old Poseidon won 14 races including the AJC Derby, Victoria Derby, Caulfield Cup, Melbourne Cup and VRC and AJC St Legers. He backed up to take the Caulfield Cup again at four but could only manage to finish eighth under the burden of 10 stone three pounds in his second Melbourne Cup.

In the same decade that Poseidon won the Melbourne Cup the great staying test was taken out by four other Hunter Valley bred horses namely Lord Cardigan (won at three in 1904 and a close second to another Hunter runner Acrasia in 1905), Lord Nolan (1908) and Prince Foote (1909). Lord Cardigan and Lord Nolan were both bred and raced by Maitland identity John Mayo and were by Dangar’s imported sire Positano a son of the world’s leading of early last century St Simon. Positano also sired Piastre (won the 1912 Melbourne Cup) and Mooltan (second in 1907).

The biggest source of winners in the Hunter Valley in the quarter century 1950-75 was the Woodlands Stud. In that era it was under the stewardship of George Ryder, father of the Golden Slipper, and good sires including Newtown Wonder and Pipe of Peace. For 20 years to the mid-1980s Woodlands in the ownership of the Ingham brothers, became one of the biggest breeding operations in the world. One of the horses they bred and raced was Lonhro, an Australian Horse of the Year and a champion sire.

Several years ago the Inghams sold out their thoroughbred empire to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a ruler of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and one of the world’s leading stud, broodmare and racehorse owner for a price reportedly close on half a billion dollars. He had already established the Darley Stud near Aberdeen and is now a huge force as an owner with the former Scone horseman Peter Snowdon as his champion trainer for a while. Darley is one of the big players in a revolution in horse breeding and racing that has elevated the Hunter Valley in the current century into one of the world’s greatest thoroughbred regions both in the quality of the products and the showplace appearance of the studs. They include two of the world’s biggest ever thoroughbred operations, Darley/Godolphin and Ireland headquartered Coolmore, John Messara headed Arrowfield, Vinery (formerly Segenhoe), Emirates Park (also Dubai owned), Widden and newcomer Newgate Farm.

The Hunter Valley’s use of visiting sires took off in 1990 with the debut appearance of Danehill, a champion European 3-year-old sprinter who went on to be the Australian champion sire a record nine times and to become the biggest force in Australian thoroughbred breeding history.