Shannon at Spendthrift Farm, Keeneland Meadows, Lexington KY in 1951
(With acknowledgement Jessica Owers: ‘Shannon’: Ebury Press 2013. Published by Random House Pty Ltd)
Almost more than any other horse in the 20th century ‘Shannon’ epitomises the very best of folk lore in both thoroughbred breeding and racing in the Upper Hunter Valley. He captured all the elements of hardship, perseverance, application, dedication, romance, rich drama, emotion, high theatre and human endeavour in his truly remarkable career. Percy Miller, Bert Riddle, Peter Riddle and Barney O’Brien became household names. Later added to the list were W. J. ‘Knockout’ Smith with further loathing and lustre to Darby Munro.
Shannon was foaled at Kia Ora Stud in the New South Wales Hunter Valley in the spring of 1941. His sire Midstream was a son of Blandford, and his dam Idle Words was by the champion stallion Magpie. Their union was then unremarkable. The Blandford line was new to Australian breeding, and Shannon was dropped from only the second crop of Midstream progeny. Although plain and small he proved far from unremarkable. In five seasons of Sydney racing Shannon was peerless.
He won the Epsom Handicap, King’s Cup and George Main Stakes (twice); sometimes a length in hand, sometimes six. He defeated horses such as Flight and Tea Rose in an era marked by heroes including Bernborough, and he was quick. Crazy quick. Shannon’s unofficial time in the 1946 Epsom mile (1:32.5) still stands at Randwick, as does a seven-furlong record at Rosehill. By the time he came up for sale in 1947, he was a rising 7-year-old but remarkably preserved. He had raced only 25 times.
Shannon’s sale to the U.S. followed a trend of Australian bloodstock steaming its way to American farms at that time. Beau Pere, Ajax, and Bernborough had all found stud careers in America. Shannon was to tread new territory. He wasn’t sold to stud; he was sold to race He became the first Australian Thoroughbred to infiltrate the highest levels of American horse racing.
Taking quite some time to find his best form and after much archaic and bureaucratic drama the ‘Bullet from Down Under’ found his true metier. In rapid succession in 1948 he won the Argonaut, Hollywood Gold Cup, Forty-Niners, Golden Gate, and San Francisco handicaps. Shannon broke long established records for nine and ten furlong races in the process
He was syndicated and sent to Spendthrift Farm owned by the leviathan Leslie Combs II. Although well patronized by his syndicate of owners Shannon’s stud record did not reflect his racing record. He was a far better racehorse than stallion. He produced 132 foals of racing age. One hundred and nineteen made it to the racetrack of which 100 were winners. Shannon produced only six stakes winners before he died in 1955.