Todman and Sellwood set the standard for other champions

Todman and Sellwood set the standard for other champions

By Max Presnell

April 7, 2006 — 10.00am


Featured Image: ‘Todman’ and Neville Sellwood

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Authors Note: At the time of posting, this is most apposite. How grateful we should all be that racing literary legends like Max Presnell actually existed; and recorded for posterity gems of the turf such as this encomium to a great champion.

BEING in the company of greatness escaped me at Rosehill Gardens on April 6, 1957. Mind you, the first Golden Slipper, worth $20,000, was no big deal and few of the 28,647 present had any idea it would make much impact on Sydney racing. It is now worth $3 million, and is a race of world status, but the extra prizemoney has hardly added to the quality of horse.

Todman, the first winner, was possibly the best. The “possibly” comes because of the difficulty in imagining a youngster better on their Golden Slipper day than Vain (1969) and Luskin Star (1977), but Todman was special. Extra special. He made top-liners look like hacks. Yet, we who were there didn’t realise the significance of the horse and the race.

Looking for recollections, former jockey Bill Camer, exposed to top youngsters through Wiggle, winner of the 1958 Stradbroke, is a worthy subject, as he rode New Light against Todman and was expected to contribute to the pace.

“Todman was a great racehorse and out-and-out champion,” Camer recalled. “New Light was by Newtown Wonder, very fast and very squibby. Todman blitzed them. At the time, the Golden Slipper was regarded as one of [George] Ryder’s brainstorms and most thought it would fail. It was a prestigious race, but there just weren’t that many prestigious horses around. If it wasn’t for the Golden Slipper, two-year-old racing would never have taken off. Todman launched it, hitting the ground running.”

Still, the colt started a 6-1 on favourite, so the success was predictable. At the time I was a cadet journalist doing the running, taking down the race descriptions and order from the course broadcaster. Todman was expected to lead, but George Moore, as he was prone to do, bucked the obvious by sending his mount, Dubbo, through to make the pace. Moore wanted to upset Todman’s rhythm, but his jockey, Neville Sellwood, would have none of it. Sellwood took a hold – until the turn, and Todman burned them off by eight lengths.

The following season he went on to win the group 1 Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield in record time.

“Todman hit Australian racing like an atomic bomb,” Warwick Hobson, author of The Golden Slipper Stakes and Racing’s All Time Greats, wrote. “He was less than 15 hands but had a gigantic stride. Sydney Sun racing writer Fred Imber was fascinated by his easy grace and measured his stride at full gallop by a series of magic-eye pictures. It was 26 feet, two inches [eight metres].

The average thoroughbred’s was 20 feet. Bernborough’s, 17 hands, was more than 26 feet, and Phar Lap’s, another giant, estimated at 25 feet.

“I’ve told Maurice McCarten often enough that Todman’s success is due to the length of his stride and his effortless gallop style,” Sellwood, later to die in a race fall in France, explained.

“I have ridden horses in England and America, and have never seen the likes of him. Todman is the greatest two-year-old I have ever ridden. Probably the greatest horse of any age I’ve ridden.”

In an early memory Anne Hill, Sellwood’s daughter, recalls her father saying Todman “went so fast, like a car out of control, he would have trouble getting around a corner” and even as a young girl she was keen to ride him. The champion jockey maintained Todman was “too cranky” and Anne had to wait for Wenona Girl to get a Golden Slipper “engagement”.

The Sellwoods will be represented at Rosehill on Saturday by Anne’s daughter, Scarlet Hill, a fashion student who works part-time as a racing photographer.

One of the strongest links to Todman, Neville Begg, will also be at Rosehill as a spectator. Begg, a former top trainer, captured the rich two-year-olds’ sprint with Dark Eclipse (1980) and educated Todman as a yearling. When the colt became “too fast”, only Sellwood and Arthur Richardson, an accomplished track rider for McCarten, had the job of keeping him on ground level.

“Todman was the dominant favourite in the Slipper because he won an open welter,” Begg said. “Later we thought Todman would win the Sires’ Produce [1400m]. He ran into Tulloch, another champion. He was beaten but backed up on the Wednesday in the Champagne Stakes [then 1200m] and beat Tulloch. The only two-year-olds that approached Todman were Luskin Star and Vain.”

Todman was bred by Stanley Wootton, one of the racing greats. Wootton imported the influential Star Kingdom to Australia and Todman’s dam, Oceana. Todman was the first of Star Kingdom’s five Golden Slipper winners. Would the race have withered on the vine without the Star Kingdom influence?

“I was in England and didn’t move here until 1962,” Catherine Remond, daughter of Wootton, and a successful breeder, said this week. “We knew the Golden Slipper was a sort of prestigious race, although it was rather modest. My father was very excited at having such a very good horse. Unfortunately he went back to England before the Golden Slipper.

“By sending Star Kingdom here, my father hoped he would get early two-year-olds suited to Australian conditions. So Todman was was an early fulfilment to what he had planned.”

Des Hoysted broadcast Todman’s Golden Slipper for radio 2GB and last called the race when Sir Dapper (1983) scored. He is still going strong with an interview job at Rosehill Gardens. Hoysted remembers a “bit of a build up for Dubbo” against Todman, but nothing like the hype later of Vain and Special Girl.

“Vain would have to be very close to the best. Luskin Star is there but, then again, you can’t go past Todman,” he said.

Of the modern two-year-olds, since 1986, only Tierce was considered for Hobson’s top 12: Titan, Mollison, Temeraire, Todman, Pago Pago, Storm Queen, Vain, Baguette, Toy Show, Luskin Star, Sir Dapper and Bounding Away.

Pre-drug testing, some top-liners had access to jet fuel. Not Todman, he didn’t need it.