(Photo : Melbourne Cup Carnival)
“THE CARBINE CLUB”
Summerhill CEOFriday was a long day. I rose at 3:30 am to drive to the airport, waited the mandatory hour, caught the plane to Joburg, and arrived at Emperors Palace in time for breakfast. The purpose was a lunch engagement at the Wanderers Club, for the foundation of what is known worldwide as “The Carbine Club”. Only Mike de Kock travelled further (from Arlington Park in the US) to mark the occasion. There are fourteen branches of The Carbine Club worldwide, honouring a horse which raced in the 19th century under the name Carbine.
Appropriately, he was a son of Musket, who was sent to Australia to produce coach-horses. That Carbine was a racehorse at all, is a tribute as much to his guts as it was to his ability, as he was described as a yellow-bay colt, with a kind head and awful front legs. No horse was ever better named, not only because of his father’s connectivity with gunnery, but because Musket’s breeder, the Earl of Glasgow, was so obsessed with improving the breed, he refused to sell his failures. Instead, he shot them. He wanted to shoot Musket who was by Toxophilite, a bleeder, by Longbow, out of Aurora. Mercifully, God took the Earl before the Earl could take Musket.
On the first Tuesday of this November, it will be 121 years since Carbine won the Melbourne Cup. That race is to Australia, what Nelson Mandela is to South Africa, so best let an Australian tell the story. Their greatest turf writer, if not the world’s greatest turf writer, Les Carlyon, does it best. In a sport that, as Mark Twain observed, is all about differences of opinion, there’s at least one point on which we all agree, and that is that Carbine remains the greatest Melbourne Cup winner ever. The day he won the Cup, he carried 66,5 kgs, and he beat the biggest field ever, 39 runners. His time that year was slower than most in modern history, but for one thing, they don’t use sheep to mow the grass at Flemington these days. They did in 1890.
Carbine was as tough as old boots, and then some. On numerous occasions, he would be sent to the Australian racing festivals, and he might be asked to run five or six times in a week, covering anything from 14,400 metres to almost 16,000 metres in those few days. It’s an old English saying that “it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part”. Mercifully, Carbine wasn’t English. He not only took part, but he won a sizeable chunk of these events, and he did so, often enough, with an infected hoof held together with thread, beeswax and a bar shoe.
In Australian terms, this was the genuine freak. There’ve probably only been two others, PharLap and Tulloch. All three of course, are known in Australia as “Australasian” horses, which is to say, they were bred in New Zealand. Carbine was foaled near Auckland in 1885, and made $1,302 at the Yearling sale, a good price considering his blood and front legs. His father had only cost $1,000 to land in New Zealand, after failing to sell at auction at Kirk’s Horse Bazaar in Melbourne. Mersey, Carbine’s mother, was imported from England for $315. She was said to be small and common, and never raced.
As to conformation, there seemed to be two Carbines, the one who was painted, and the one who was photographed. The paintings invariably show an elegant horse with strong black points, a kindly outlook, and most of his angles correct. The books however, tell a different story; the photographs show a horse that is too “straight” in front, a little straight in the shoulder, long in the forearm and with upright, “stumpy” pasterns. The yearling buyers of 1887, were obviously not quite so fussy.
After four seasons at stud, Carbine was sold for $27,300 to the Duke of Portland, who stood the great St Simon at Welbeck Abby. St Simon, who together with Hyperion ranks as the second most successful European sire of all time behind Sadler’s Wells, was highly strung; the Duke thought the easy-going Carbine would be a good cross for St. Simon’s mares. Carbine would never have left Australia if his previous owner, Donald Wallace, a Victorian MP, hadn’t lost heavily in the bank crashes of 1890. Still, by going to England, Carbine won the sort of immortality that was impossible for PharLap, a gelding, and denied to Tulloch, who was scorned at stud. He sired an Epsom Derby winner in Spearmint (who got the Derby ace, Spioenkop), but it was Spearmint’s daughters that ensured that Carbine’s name would live all over the world.
Catnip, bought by the Italian genius Federico Tesio, became the granddam of Nearco, sire of Nasrullah. Plucky Leige, another daughter, produced the great American sire, Sir Gallahad II and Bull Dog, as well as the grand racers, Bois Rousell and Admiral Drake. Carbine’s name is in the blood of Northern Dancer, Ribot and Star Kingdom, three of the greatest stallions in the history of breeding. He is also the sire of the most successful South African stallion of all time, Greatorex, who stood at the Dwarsveli Stud of Henry Nourse, at one time, the biggest breeder of racehorses in the world.
Friday’s was a good meeting in a good cause, the dorado was good too, cooked to perfection, and the company was even better. It was convened by past Jockey Club chair, Ronnie Napier, the country’s racing ambassador at large, and last week honoured (in our view, the most deserving of all recipients) for his industry contributions. If you crack the nod, be sure to attend the first gathering of The Carbine Club you’re invited to. Mike de Kock made the point that South Africa is the undiscovered jewel of the world of racing and breeding, and our story’s worth telling. These occasions will provide the perfect setting for the showcasing of our sport.