The Shearer’s Colt

Part I - Chapter X


Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

AFTER the day’s racing the party split up, Fitzroy being carried off by the Honourable Psalmsey to the aide’s quarters at Government House. He dared not ask him to dine at Government House itself, lest the other guests should be offended at being asked to sit down with an ex-policeman.

Charley Stone, who looked upon the guardianship of Red Fred as a full-time job, carried that hero off to have dinner at a sporting night club. He suggested that the tedium of the meal might be mitigated by the presence of a couple of ladies, whose attendance would be procured and paid for by the entertainment fund of the Empire Pastoral Company, but Red Fred said that he was tired and that they could invite the ladies at another time.

“Charley,” said he, “that colt Sensation. Do you think a man could buy him?”

No dingo on the scent of a wallaby is keener than the commission man on the scent of a sale. But there is a technique in these things, and the first principle of salesmanship is not to appear too eager.

“Sensation,” said Charley Stone, wrinkling his brow with the air of a man facing a chess problem, “Sensation. Now you’re asking me something. He might be bought. And there’s only one man in Australia could buy him. That’s Charley Stone of the Empire Pastoral Company. That colt belongs to a client of ours, a man who was up to his neck in the soup and Sensation pulled him out of it. He’s won twenty thousand pounds in stakes, that horse; and he’s the best we’ve seen in Australia this century. But he might sell him, I say he might though I doubt it. The horse is up in the weights now, and the right thing to do with him is for someone to take him to England. They don’t think much of our horses over there; they don’t think much of anybody’s horses except their own; and you might give ’em the shock of a lifetime. It’d be no good talking anything less than ten thousand pounds—better say twelve thousand. Even at that you’d be lucky to get him. I’ll just have a word with his owner and feel his pulse a bit. He might sell. You never know.”

Next morning Charley Stone reported to the great panjandrum of the Empire Pastoral Company, Mr Frost by name—a grey-faced old gentleman with gimlet eyes—and gave an account of his stewardship.

“I’ve been shepherding Mr Carstairs,” he said. “Had him to the races. Had him to dinner. Saw him to bed at the pub, and I’d have slept in front of his door if they’d have let me. Do you know what? He wants to buy that horse of Mr Magee’s! If we can make the sale, we’ll get a commission on ten or twelve thousand pounds, and I thought you might consider it wise for Mr Magee to sell him.”

The brains of these great financiers work like lightning and the Empire Pastoral chief weighed up the affair in a second.

“Wise to sell him!” he said. “Of course he’d be wise to sell him! It’s wise to sell any horse. Sell and repent, but sell. Mr Magee has made twenty thousand out of him and it only needs the horse to put his foot in a hole and that’s the end of him. Mr Magee has been buying a lot of sheep on the strength of the money this horse won, and he’s got bills for six thousand coming due next month. You put it to Mr Magee any way you like, so long as you—er—hum—ha—convey it to him, that he’s got to sell, and sell quickly before this man changes his mind.”

“The horse is worth ten thousand . . . ” Stone began.

“No horse is worth ten thousand. There’s six million people in Australia and only one buyer. Don’t lose him. Get it settled to-day. Racehorses, Mr Stone, are the curse of Australia, and I hope that in the course of your—er—ha—hum duties as boozehound—I beg your pardon, the slang phrase slipped out accidentally—as entertainment officer for this Company, you will impress upon our clients the necessity of having nothing to do with racehorses. By the way, what sort of man is Mr Carstairs? Could one put him for a club?”

“No, sir,” replied Charley Stone, feeling that he was on safe ground here. “You’d have to rope him to get him into a club.” And then, fearing that he might be detailed for some distasteful job, he picked up his hat and made for the door remarking, “I must go and get busy about this sale.”

Later on in the day, at the Pure Merino Club, Mr Frost hailed an old crony, just such another dried-up old spoil-sport as himself.

“George,” he said, “let’s split a small bottle. I’ve just sold a horse for ten thousand guineas.”

“Good God! What horse?”


“Sensation! You don’t own Sensation! I thought Magee owned him.”

“No, George, I own him, or rather did own him. When he was a two-year-old we struck a drought and Magee was just going down for the third time so I gave him a thousand for the horse and saved his life. I always liked that Musket-St Simon cross. And all the money the horse has won since—I let Magee have it without any interest. He’s got a wife and a very fine family. Every time that Magee looked like going under, Sensation would come along with a win of two or three thousand and throw him out the life-line. He’s on his feet now. so the horse can go.”

“Why didn’t you race him yourself?”

“Bad example to the staff, George. Besides you know what Directors are. Well,” he went on, holding his glass up to the light and watching the bubbles rise to the surface, “here’s a curse on the staff, George, and to hell with the Board of Directors. I’m retiring next year; then I’ll get a couple of good horses and show them some style.”

The next day’s papers contained the news that Sensation had been sold for ten thousand guineas to a client of the Empire Pastoral Company who preferred not to disclose his name. But sales of this sort can no more be kept secret than a sale of the Crown Jewels if such a thing ever took place.

At the races next day, the paddock hummed with the news that a newcomer had appeared in the turf firmament. He had won a thousand—most of them made it ten thousand—on the first day; he knew more and bet bigger, than Clarkey or Skinny, the two champion local punters; he had bought Sensation: and every time our friend went into the ring he had a string of men after him as they would after an American champion prize-fighter. Under the strain of this publicity his inferiority complex asserted itself more than ever. He confined his wagers to a pound on each race, which satisfied the public that he had a commissioner putting thousands on for him in other parts of the ring. Unknown ladies bowed to him, and urgers tried to make his, acquaintance on the ground that they had met him in some country town—but they couldn’t exactly remember where it was.

By degrees he got used to it and at the end of the day he took a childish pleasure in hearing people say as he walked past:

“That’s him! That’s the bloke that give ten thousand for Sensation!”

Through this turmoil Charley Stone hovered over him, protecting him as the sign of the cross protected the heroine in the play of that name. He told the aspiring ladies to “trot along Sissie,” and he inquired of the urgers what they fancied and then told them that he knew something very much better. He talked so fluently of leading trainers and jockeys that before long he had the urgers coming to him for information, which he gave them in a hoarse whisper strictly enjoining them not to tell anybody.

At the end of the day Fitzroy reported for duty, accompanied by the aide-de-camp, who said that His Excellency and party would like to go out and see this celebrated racehorse. Whereat terror once more beset the bushman and he badly wanted to clear off home to the pub. But he was to a certain extent reassured on being told that he could put his hat on after being once introduced and that he should call His Excellency “Sir” and his wife “My Lady.” The Government House party came through the crowd with their Excellencies looking anxiously to right and left lest they should miss somebody entitled to recognition. As a precaution, the Governor occasionally lifted his hat and directed a bow into the thickest of the crowd—firing into the brown of them as it were—and feeling sure that his salutation must light on somebody entitled to it. The two scrawny daughters of a local magnate who acted as Lieutenant-Governor in the absence of the real article, also attached themselves to the party, feeling that they were at any rate semi-viceregal; and they sparingly distributed bows of such hauteur and frigidity that one woman went home with a chill after receiving this recognition, and another sent a donation of five guineas to the local Bolshevik Society.

Red Fred refused to get into a car with their Excellencies, so he and Fitzroy and Stone occupied one car; the aide and the two semi-viceregal ladies another; and their Excellencies a third. Thus they proceeded to the establishment of Harry Raynham, the trainer of Sensation and a score of other horses of varying ability.

Harry Raynham was a tall, bearded Australian of about fifty—so like a bushman that urgers had more than once tried to “tell him the tale” about his own horses. Born of a farming family, he had run away from home to join a circus at the age of twelve, but the nauseous medicine given to circus boys to make their bones supple soon tired him of that business. Running away from the circus he joined a country racing stable where he worked for a bachelor boss who did his own cooking, and who fed him mostly on a diet of sausages, they being a form of food that could be cooked with very little trouble and with a fair chance of a satisfactory result.

By the time that he had eaten about half a mile of sausages he was a competent horseman and got a job in Sydney breaking in yearlings for one of the big stables. Here he stayed on for some years working as a breaker, jockey, and stable-hand, and he soon distinguished himself not only by his instinct for horses but by an ability to handle punters and owners. From presents and a few judicious bets of his own, he put together a couple of thousand pounds while still working as a stable-hand.

Then his boss died, and it looked as though the string would be dispersed to the four winds of heaven. A very wealthy old lady, however, for whom Harry had found several winners, bought the dead man’s stables and installed Harry there as her trainer. Other patrons left their horses with him, just to see how he would get on.

Harry Raynham knew nothing except horses; but he knew them thoroughly. By spending a few shillings among the men who came down with yearlings he would get to know which yearling was the winner of the races that the foals and yearlings hold among themselves in the paddocks, and so he picked up some amazing bargains. For instance he gave forty guineas for an unfashionably-bred, ungainly yearling which afterwards, under the name of Masterpiece, won forty thousand pounds in stakes. From that time he could pick and choose among the wealthiest owners as patrons.

Holding, perhaps with some, justification, that no owner is fit to manage his own horses, he disregarded all orders and ran his horses in such races as suited him. After one magnificent betting coup was spoiled by the loquacity of an owner he refused to tell his owners anything until their horses were at the course and ready to run; and when any early betting was necessary Harry put the money on first and let the owner know about it afterwards. It is recorded of him that when he was in Melbourne with two horses for the wealthy and important owner Mr Isaacson (of Isaacson’s readymade pants) that gentleman grew rather tired of hearing nothing whatever about his horses. In order to get some information he actually sent a reply-paid telegram, costing fifteen shillings, in which he demanded to know what work the horses were doing and what times they were making. To this he received a reply containing just the two words: “Raining; pouring”—just that and nothing more.

In anticipation of the Governor’s visit, Long Harry, as Raynham was habitually called, had put on his best clothes consisting of a reach-me-down suit of tweeds and a cabbage-tree hat—the latter costing five pounds, though it looked like the sort of thing you could buy in any draper’s for five shillings. His wife had put on everything she had, including four bracelets valued at a hundred guineas each, that had been won by the horses at various times. Of course the party had to have tea—nothing is done in Australia without tea. While Mrs Harry poured out the tea, displaying her bracelets to the best advantage, the Governor tried to engage Harry in conversation; but he could get nothing out of Harry except “Yes, Your Lord” and “No, Your Lord.” When the conversation looked like dying in its tracks, one of the semi-viceregal sisters, aching to patronize somebody, started on Long Harry:

“What a beautiful place you have here, Mr Raynham,” she said. “The grass all cut and everything so neat. You must tell us all the winners at the races on Saturday.”

This was like striking artesian water, for it unloosed the flow of Harry’s conversation with a rush.

“Lady,” he said, “if I knew all the winners, do you think I’d get up at four o’clock in the morning and get me feet wet watchin’ horses work? Do you think I’d go down to the track with a string of yearlings playin’ about on the asphalt, and me wonderin’ whether they’d break their own necks or the boys’? If I knew the winner of one race at each meeting I’d never get up till ten o’clock in the morning. And I’d play cards all night and go fishing all day. Have some more tea.”

It is one of the penalties, of Governorship that when any difficult situation arises, the holder of that exalted rank is expected, in the words of the American base-ball game, to step to the bat and hit a home run. Like a star actor, he must not linger in the wings while the lesser characters brawl upon the stage. His Excellency knew that the semi-viceregal sister had a tongue of her own and might resent the trainer’s remarks in a regrettable way, so he hastened to take charge of the proceedings.

In the ponderous manner he found most effective on official occasions he delivered his judgment:

“I am sure, Mr Raynham,” he said, “that trainers have to contend with a lot of difficulties in their arduous and exacting occupation. The responsibility of a long string of valuable horses must be very great. The public are apt to attribute to trainers an omniscience which they do not possess.”

Here he turned suddenly on Mrs Raynham, who became terrified and held up her bracelets in an attitude of self-defence:

“No doubt, you have heard, Mrs Raynham,” he went on, “of the Shah of Persia who refused to go to a race-meeting because he said he already knew that one horse could run faster than the others. But he seems to me to have missed the point, because thousands of our struggling fellow citizens spend most of their waking hours in an attempt to find out which horse can run faster than the others. There are some people, of course, who detest the sport of racing. The last time that I visited a trainer’s establishment I received from the Society for the Prevention of Human Enjoyment a circular, headed ‘You are on the road to hell.’ But Captain Salter has had experience in such matters, and I have no doubt that his judgment, aided by what your husband may care to tell him, should enable the ladies to participate profitably in what is, in their case, a very harmless enjoyment. Let us now go and look at the horses.”

As the procession moved through the yard, His Excellency drew his aide aside, and with the air of a man delivering an important order, he muttered:

“Psalmsey, try to find out from this old savage whether he fancies his two-year-old next Saturday. I might as well have a tenner on it.”

The loose-boxes occupied three sides of a quadrangle, with a neatly kept grass plot in the centre. The half-doors of the boxes were open, and from each box there showed the lean head and bright eyes of a thoroughbred. All greeted Long Harry with a chorus of whinnies. Affecting to despise his popularity the trainer waved his hand towards them and said:

“’Ark to ’em. You’d think they was fond o’ me. But when I come down to the track of a mornin’ they all start to fidget and darnce. They know they’ve got to gallop. Would you like the boys to bring ’em out, Your Lord?”

Having to preside at a meeting of the Anti-Gambling Society in half an hour, His Lordship was pressed for time; so he said that he could only wait to see Mr Carstairs’s horse. At a nod from the trainer a boy led into the centre of the grass plot the finest horse that any of those present had ever seen.

Dark chestnut in colour, with a long, narrow blaze down his face, Sensation strode out on to the grass with the easy stride of a panther. It seemed strange that so massive a creature could move so daintily. His silky tapering ears and his steel-like legs, told of a throwback to his Arab ancestry while his size was evidently an inheritance from the other blood—possibly Spanish—that goes to make up the thoroughbred. His head was set on at an obtuse angle, throwing his nostrils forward, and the width of his gullet left room, as his trainer said, for a bird to build its nest between his jaws. His neck was only slightly arched and appeared light for so big a horse, but the arch and the solidity would come later on in life. He presented a sort of streamline effect; for his neck ran back into his shoulders, and his shoulders ran back into his ribs, with a smoothness that made it hard to say where the one ended and the other began. A deep, but by no means broad, chest was another streamline feature. And he had no suspicion of a “waist,” for his ribs ran back to a slightly arched loin which gave the impression of the strength and suppleness of a steel spring. His hips were broad and his rump was carried back for an appreciable distance without any droop—much as one sees it in the old pictures of Stockwell taken in the days when the thoroughbreds were closer to the Arab type than they are to-day.

Everything about him fitted so perfectly that it was only by standing behind him that his breadth and weight could be realized. Red Fred’s starved soul had never dreamed of owning a horse like this. At last he felt that he was really getting something for his money. Though he knew little about racing, Red Fred had made friends with horses on many a long shearing trip, and when his new owner walked up to him the big horse recognized a man who had the love of horses in his system. He rubbed his nose against his owner’s waistcoat and the trainer called out:

“Rub him round the lips and the mouth, boss. That’s what he likes. Some days I’ll put in an hour talkin’ to him and rubbin’ him about the head. Keeps him contented-like and makes him take to his grub.”

In a sort of daze, Red Fred turned to the trainer:

“What has this horse won?” he said.

“What has he won? Lor’ blime, what hasn’t he won’? Breeders’ Plate, Sydney and Melbourne Derbies, Craven Plate, Melbourne Cup, with seven pounds over weight for age—everything he ever went for. Never been beaten, this feller. He’s in the Leger and the Sydney Cup now. But they’ve put the grandstand on him for the Sydney Cup, and I won’t run him in that. He’s a horse, not a weight-lifter.”

The Government House party then took their departure, without having had a chance to ask any questions about the stable two-year-old, leaving the trainer, the owner, his secretary, and Charley Stone to discuss the campaign. Red Fred was so frightened of the trainer that only by a desperate effort could he bring himself to say that he was thinking of taking the horse to England.

“I’ll send you a couple of horses I have in Queensland,” he added, by way of propitiating the autocrat. If Red Fred expected an argument on the point he did not get it, for the matter was settled in a couple of sentences.

“Go to England!” said Long Harry, staring at him, as a schoolmaster might stare at a pupil who asked leave to swim the Channel. “Go to England! What’s the sense of that? It costs half a crown a minute to live there they tell me! Top hats an’ spats and all the like o’ that! Oh, no, this ’orse don’t go to England. Come and I’ll show you a two-year-old that might make something if he goes on the right way.”

This closed the matter for the time being, and Red Fred and his satellites retired in disorder and a taxicab. But Fitzroy had heard from the semi-viceregal sister that Moira Delahunty was coming to Sydney on a visit and was then going on to England. So he decided that he and his employer and Sensation would all go to England, even if he had to forge Fred’s name to the order for shipment of the horse.

The Shearer’s Colt - Contents    |     Chapter XI - Leger Day

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