Local ‘Bondi’ author Jessica Owers has written the definitive book about Shannon:
The World War II era was a second great coming for Australian racing. After the marvellous 1930s, it produced many of the great heroes that live on in memory – Bernborough, Flight, Tranquil Star. But with these champions came the great speedster Shannon, a lightly weighted ed bay horse, foaled in September 1941 at famous Kia Ora Stud.
Shannon was by the then unproven sire Midstream, out of a Magpie mare called Idle Words. He was unexceptional as a foal, neither big nor impressive enough to command top billing at the 1943 Easter yearling sales in Sydney. But he had remarkable intelligence and a rare temperament. The Kia Ora manager, Bert Riddle, told his brother, Randwick trainer Peter Riddle, that this was the one to buy. With little competition, Peter Riddle secured the small colt for 450 guineas in April 1943.
Shannon became Sydney’s champion two year old through the 1943-44 racing season. starting seven times for three victories and three seconds. His wins included the Kirkham Stakes and the rich Sires’ Produce Stakes, but his three-year-old season was plagued by injury and mismanagement. Peter Riddle was in and out hospital with illness, and on an interrupted program Shannon started four times for a single victory in the Hobartville Stakes at Randwick.
Shannon returned in the spring of 1945 as a four year old, and a different horse. He raced five times that season for four scintillating victories and a second. Among his wins was the Epsom Handicap, and his second in the Craven Flight was no disgrace when he was pipped by the mighty mare Flight. Racing only in the spring, he came back in 1946 to an identical record – five starts for four wins, including a romping victory in the King’s Cup (pictured above) and a smashing of the Australian mile record in the George Main. His only loss that year was in the sensational, now legendary, Epsom Handicap when he was left 20 lengths at the barrier by the AJC starter Jack Gaxieu.
In the winter of 1947, Peter Riddle passed away and Shannon was sold at public auction. Fetching the highest price ever paid for a thoroughbred at auction, he went to the Randwick yard of trainer Frank Dalton for new owner W.J. Smith. He raced four times in Smith’s colours for two wins and two seconds, but as a burgeoning seven year old Shannon would not be able to recoup his purchase price. Smith promptly shipped the horse to California, heralding a rough and rocky time for the sensitive Shannon.
Pedigree questions caused Shannon to be sold twice before he ever raced in California. An exhausting issue with the American Stud Book and a supposed flaw in his pedigree took months to sort out, and it was down to Hollywood attorney Neil Steere McCarthy to do it. McCarthy paid W.J. Smith a good, though discounted, price for Shannon, and eventually he smoothed the passage for Shannon’s stud book eligibility. The horse debuted in California at Santa Anita racecourse, Los Angeles, on 24 January 1948. But over raced and misunderstood, battling acclimatisation, a new surface and a furious, often cut-throat style of running, it took Shannon six months to win a race. In that time, he became a physically different animal, much lighter than he had ever been in Australia.
Though it took Shannon many months to find his running shoes, when he finally did he became a lightning hit across California, winning the San Francisco County Handicap in track record time, the Argonaut Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Forty-Niners (equaling the American record), Golden Gate Handicap (setting a new American record and equaling the world mark), and San Francisco Handicap, setting a new track record.
By the end of 1948, Shannon was the champion horse of California, defeating the likes of On Trust and Mafosta again and again, and he became the only horse in America given any chance of defeating the boom three year old Citation. When a match between the pair almost occurred in the Tanforan Handicap on 11 December 1948, it became the racing event of the year. But the handicapper didn’t do the Australian any favours, and when he was given three pounds more than Citation, Neil McCarthy promptly retired his horse. ‘Citation’, he said, ‘was no ordinary three year old, and should not be weighted as one.’ Shannon was sold to a syndicate and went to Spendthrift Farm for stallion duties. He was one of the most popular horses to enter stud in America that year. But his career was short. On 14 May 1955, he shattered a bone over his near hock and was put down that day. His life was never properly documented… until now.