Carbine and Phar Lap share the greatest international reputation won by any horses bred or raced in New Zealand. Carbine, indeed, introduced New Zealand horses to the world. Breeders had been aware of the success of the sons of Musket in New Zealand and Australia, but Carbine's Melbourne Cup win in 1890 made his name known much wider afield. Despite the greatness of Phar Lap, he remains perhaps the best known of all New Zealand bred horses.
Carbine was bred in 1885 at the famed Sylvia Park Stud on the outskirts of Auckland by Musket from the imported Mersey. He was sold at the stud's annual sale of yearlings for 620 guineas to Dan O'Brien, then of Riccarton, where Carbine was trained in New Zealand. Carbine was unbeaten in five races as a two-year-old. His wins included the Canterbury Jockey Club's Middle Park Plate and Champagne Stakes and the Dunedin Jockey Club's Champagne Stakes. As a three-year-old he was taken to Australia, but to the chagrin of his connections his record was spoiled when he was beaten by Ensign in the V.R.C. Derby. It was generally believed that his rider, R. Derrett, was caught napping. Carbine was later sold at auction for 3,000 guineas to D. S. Wallace. At the end of his three-year-old career Carbine had wins which included the Champion Stakes, All Aged Stakes, Cumberland Plate, A.J.C. Plate, and the Sydney Cup. In the last race Carbine showed his true greatness by carrying 9 st., which was 12 lb above weight-for-age.
Carbine had a wonderful record as a four-year-old, but failed in his principal mission, the Melbourne Cup. With 10 st. and the added handicap of a cracked heel, he was beaten by a length by the six-year-old Bravo, carrying 8 st. 7 lb. On recovering from his disability Carbine went from strength to strength, winning his second Sydney Cup with 9 st. 9 lb and being invincible in the distance weight-for-age events. His greatest performance came as a five-year-old, when, in winning the Melbourne Cup with 10 st. 5 lb (still the weight-carrying record for the race), he beat the largest field of all time (39) in the then race-record time of 3 min. 28 ¼ sec. When he retired from racing Carbine had a record of 43 starts for 33 wins, six seconds, three thirds, and once unplaced, for stake winnings of £29,626.
At the stud in Australia Carbine sired Wallace, a V.R.C. Derby winner that turned out a fine sire, and the A.J.C. Derby winners Charge and Amberite. At the dispersal of Wallace's stud Carbine was sold for 13,500 guineas to the Duke of Portland and went to England to join the celebrated St. Simon at the Welbeck Abbey Stud. On his arrival he was fully booked for three seasons at a fee of 200 guineas. In England Carbine sired a great horse in Spearmint, winner of the Derby and the Grand Prix de Paris. His grandson Spion Kop and great-grandson Felstead also won the Derby. But it was in Australia that his sire line was the most successful.
Carbine (or “Old Jack” as he was always affectionately called in Australia) was a most vigorous horse. He lived to 27 years of age.
When Phar Lap was described as “the racing phenomenon of the century” the critic was only reflecting the opinion of thousands of Australian admirers who knew him as the “Red Terror”. Phar Lap (unlike Carbine) never raced in New Zealand. He was bred by A. F. Roberts at his Seadown Stud at Washdyke, near Timaru. By Night Raid, an imported horse which had raced in Australia, he was from Entreaty, a mare descending from the imported mare Miss Kate, the ancestress of several good horses. Phar Lap was one of Night Raid's second crop in New Zealand, Nightmarch, his best racing rival being one of the first. As a yearling Phar Lap was leggy and undistinguished, but his pedigree had attracted the attention of a former New Zealander, Harry Telford, then training in Australia. Harry Telford had persuaded a client, D. J. Davis, to allow him to buy the colt and receive a lease for three years. He was bought for 160 guineas at the 1928 yearling sales, held then in the Wellington Racing Club's birdcage at Trentham, by the Trentham trainer Hugh Telford, who acted for his brother.
Phar Lap as a two-year-old won only one race late in the season. He first made his name when he ran in the Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick early in his three-year-old career. His powerful finishing run got him within half a length of the winner Mollison, a good performer. Then Phar Lap won the Rosehill Guineas, A.J.C. Derby, Craven Plate, and the V.R.C. Derby in succession. In the Melbourne Cup Phar Lap was beaten into third place by two other New Zealand horses, Nightmarch and Paquito. Phar Lap pulled hard in the race and his rider (the veteran R. Lewis) was criticised for his riding, but the year older Nightmarch was a stayer of such calibre that it is doubtful whether the criticism was justified. Phar Lap was supreme in the autumn. He won the V.R.C. and A.J.C. St. Legers, and the King's Cup at Adelaide. His greatest performance was in the A.J.C. Plate run over 2¼ miles at Randwick. He beat Nightmarch by 10 lengths and established an Australasian record of 3 min. 49 ¼ sec. He ran the first 1 ¼ miles in 2 min. 3 sec., 11 furlongs in 2 min. 16 ¼ sec., and the 1 miles in 2 min. 29 ½ sec.
As a four-year-old, after a head defeat by Amounis at his first start of the season, Phar Lap had an unbroken sequence of wins before he started as the shortest-priced favourite ever in the Melbourne Cup. He won this race easily carrying 9 st. 12 lb, the highest weight carried successfully by a four-year-old. In the following February he raced in the name of Messrs Davis and Telford, the lease to the latter having expired and being followed by a partnership. Phar Lap carried on in the autumn to establish a sequence of 14 successive wins before he was surprisingly beaten by a neck in the C. M. Lloyd Stakes by another New Zealander, Waterline. He reappeared as a five-year-old and won seven successive races before he made his unsuccessful attempt to carry 10 st. 10 lb in the Melbourne Cup. Phar Lap had then won 36 races and £56,440 in stakes, making him the greatest stake winner in Australasia.
After the Melbourne Cup Phar Lap returned to New Zealand to rest before he left for America to contest the Agua Caliente Handicap in Mexico, then the richest race in America. Phar Lap carried 9 st. 3 lb (conceding his opponents from 9 to 39 lb) and trounced the best field available. He ran 2 min. 2 ? sec. to set a new track record for a mile and a quarter. After his success the critics did not doubt that Phar Lap was in world class. His stake winnings then amounted to £70,121 and he ranked the sixth greatest stake winner in the world for many years.
Phar Lap died on 6 April 1932, only 17 days after his win. His trainer, Tommy Woodcock, who had brought Phar Lap from Australia, found the gelding in agony early in the morning at his stable at Menlow Park. Phar Lap had contracted severe colic and died a few hours later. He was one of the biggest horses of all time. He stood 17.1 hands, being 3 in. taller than the massive High Caste and 5 in. taller than Carbine. A few days before the Agua Caliente Handicap his weight was recorded at 1,148 lb, some 59 lb below High Caste. During his career Phar Lap set new standards for champions and he has become the measure of all later champions. Jim Pike, who generally rode him in Australia, has said, “First of all let me say there was only one Phar Lap. He was a phenomenon, a treat to ride, and a kind and generous fellow throughout the race”. The name Phar Lap derives from Cingalese and refers to lightning or something which moves quickly across the heavens. No horse did more to live up to such a name.
Many think that Kindergarten was the best horse ever to have raced in New Zealand. He was unfortunate in his career in not racing in more favourable times and by going amiss after contesting only one race on his only visit to Australia. Kindergarten was bred and raced by E. N. Fitzgerald, of Gisborne. His sire, Kincardine, was a good performer in England, but at the stud proved of such low fertility that he was sold for export for 18 guineas. Kincardine improved in New Zealand and, when mated to the Valkyrian mare Valadore (which had once been sold for £30), sired Kindergarten. As a two-year-old Kindergarten ran six times and won three times, but gave no sign of his future greatness. As a three-year-old he made amazing improvement. After three minor placings he was undefeated for the rest of the season and won 10 races including the Great Northern Derby, Wellington Cup, Awapuni Gold Cup, North Island Challenge Stakes, New Zealand St. Leger, and Great Northern St. Leger. His most spectacular victory was, however, in the Easter Handicap at Ellerslie, which he won with 9 st. 11 lb, a tremendous weight for a three-year-old in an open mile handicap. As a four-year-old Kindergarten went to Australia and ran third to High Caste and Freckles in the Warwick Stakes. After the race he went amiss and, rather than risk a complete breakdown, he was returned to New Zealand. After a spell he reappeared in the autumn and won the North Island Challenge Stakes. Kindergarten then showed his real class by winning his second Easter Handicap with 10 st. 3 lb and running the mile in 1 min. 35 3/5 sec.
As a five-year-old Kindergarten was beaten in a sprint handicap at his first appearance. He then went on to win five successive races and record the greatest performance of his career in the Auckland Cup. He carried 10 st. 2 lb and trounced a good field by five lengths, running the 2 miles in the then race-record time of 3 min. 22 sec. As a six-year-old Kindergarten was unbeaten in three weight-for-age races and he was successful twice at seven years. When finally retired Kindergarten had won 25 races and £16,005 in stakes – a good sum, considering he raced during the Second World War. Like most good horses he could move superbly and had powers of acceleration that were exceptional, even among good horses. Though he did not have Phar Lap's physique, he was a splendid weight carrier. He was assessed as top weight in the Melbourne Cup three times: 9 st. 13 lb in 1942, 10 st. 6 lb in 1943, and 10 st. in 1944. He was, unfortunately, a double rig.
The late T. H. Lowry's brilliant mare Desert Gold is the measure for all champion mares. She won 36 races and £23,133 in stakes. Some of her feats are unsurpassed. From the time Desert Gold appeared as a two-year-old in 1914 there was never any doubt about her class. That season she won the Great Northern Foal Stakes and Royal Stakes, the Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes, and the North Island Challenge Stakes, but she was beaten in the Great Northern Champagne Stakes by Arran. In her last start as a two-year-old, Desert Gold won the Hawke's Bay Stakes. This began an amazing sequence of 19 successive wins, a feat since equalled only by the Australian colt Ajax. As a three-year-old, Desert Gold won 14 races. She remained unbeaten until she was defeated by the two-year-old Kilflinn in the North Island Challenge Stakes in 1917. Her three-year-old successes included the Hawke's Bay Guineas, New Zealand Derby and Oaks, Great Northern Derby, Oaks, and St. Leger. She did not contest the New Zealand St. Leger.
When she went to Australia Desert Gold met and defeated the best Australian horses at weight-for-age and, when the First World War ended, she had a magnificent record. But she had to bow out to Gloaming. They first clashed in the Taranaki Stakes in 1919, when Desert Gold was a six-year-old, and Gloaming three. Desert Gold won by half a length. The pair later met four times and each time Gloaming won. He was one of the few horses that matched her over a mile. When she retired from racing Desert Gold returned to the Okawa Stud, where she had been bred. It was too much to expect her to produce her equal, but her daughters and grand-daughters produced many winners, among them the brilliant Gold Rod.
Although Gloaming was bred in Australia, he was very much a part of the New Zealand racing scene during his long and distinguished career. He was very aptly named, being by The Welkin from Light. He was sold cheaply as a yearling by the Victorian breeder, E. E. D. Clarke, to G. D. Greenwood, who, with the noted R. J. Mason training his horses at Riccarton, had already had considerable success. Gloaming did not race as a two-year-old. In the spring of his three-year-old career he made his first appearance in Sydney, when he won the Chelmsford Stakes in 1918. After winning the Australian Jockey Club Derby he returned to Riccarton and won the New Zealand Derby, and made world history when a win in the Great Northern Derby gave him his third Derby success. Gloaming continued to race until 1925 when he was nine. He contested 67 races for 57 wins and nine seconds. He was only once unplaced, when he fell at the start in the North Island Challenge Stakes. During his career Gloaming was restricted to weight-for-age and special weight events and he did not race beyond middle distances. This policy was criticised at the time, but it undoubtedly enabled him to race for a long period.
Although he dominated the shorter weight-for-age races in New Zealand and Australia for so many seasons, his victories were not always hollow and he had some memorable contests. In New Zealand there was great interest in his meetings with Desert Gold, who won only their first clash. Gloaming had many more memorable races, particularly in 1922 when he met another brilliant Australian in Beauford. Their four clashes were regarded as epics of the turf and the enthusiasm they stirred on both sides of the Tasman has seldom been equalled. In their first meeting in the Chelmsford Stakes (9 furlongs), Beauford won by three-quarters of a length. In the Hill Stakes (1 mile) Gloaming beat Beauford by a length and a quarter. At the spring meeting at Randwick, Beauford was successful again in the Spring Stakes of one mile and a half, but only by a neck. The finale came in the Craven Plate (one mile and a quarter) when Beauford attempted to lead all the way, but Gloaming gathered up his rival at the distance and went on to a three-lengths win. Some say that this was Gloaming's finest race. Gloaming retired with one of the greatest records in all turf history. He set up a fresh record in stake earnings.
by John Anthony Poulsen, Stipendiary Steward, New Zealand Racing Conference, Auckland.