Gallant Melbourne Cup runner trained at Muswellbrook
04 Jul 2012 | Over the years horses trained on the Skellatar Park racecourse at Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley have included many performers of national standard. Some of them will be recalled when the Muswellbrook Race Club celebrates its 150th year of racing with a visit of the 2012 Melbourne Cup ambassadors on Sunday and Monday (race day), August 5 and 6.
One particular horse very worthy of recalling at the celebrations, not only because he was twice in the shadows of Melbourne Cup glory, but also because of his association with the Bowmans, the Hunter Valley pioneer family who made the Skellatar racecourse possible, is Allunga.
Bred eighty years ago on Sir Sidney Kidman’s Fulham Park stud in what is now an Adelaide suburb, the horse which was to become Allunga was sold at the Sydney yearling sale for 120 guineas ($252) to ‘a Mr. Oakes, a one armed man who manages a station.’ He was Harry Oakes, the father of Victor Oakes, the former Muswellbrook trainer whose death at 98 during June was reported last week.
The foreman on the Bowman’s Skellatar pastoral holding on the outskirts of Muswellbrook, Harry Oakes initially leased Allunga to two Sydney men, Mark Mulligan and J.T. Williamson – entertainment guru, perhaps? and saw him emerge as the best staying 3-year-old of his generation. At this age he won the AJC Derby (dead-heat), AJC St Leger and Victoria St Leger, finished a luckless second in the Victoria Derby, tenth as second favourite in the Melbourne Cup and eleventh in the Cox Plate.
Allunga’s participation at three was the first of his four cracks at the Melbourne Cup, appearances at four (14th), five (fourth) and six (again fourth – the rank outsider at 200-1).
Thanks to the research by Dennis Huxley, the editor of the Millers Guide, an annual Australian bible for race results and other racing facts whose next edition in September will be the 137th, this report is able to show that Allunga ran in the Melbourne Cup at three for Mulligan and Williamson with G.P. Nailon as the trainer, but in the next three appearances in ownership of E Hunter Bowman and H. Oakes.
Allunga was trained initially for Bowman – Oakes at Randwick by Les Haigh, a former Muswellbrook jockey who won fame earlier when at Newcastle as the racing owner and trainer of Rogilla, a national star revered as the Coalfields Champion. Rogilla may have raced at Muswellbrook during his career, one which included among 26 wins the Caulfield Cup, Sydney Cup and Cox Plate.
For his two Melbourne Cup fourths, the trainer is given as Hunter Bowman and, presumably, was prepared on the developing Skellatar Park racecourse at Muswellbrook with Harry Oakes and his sons doing much of the conditioning.
In the Oakes – Bowman ownership, Allunga won good races in Sydney, Newcastle and North Western NSW. He finished third of three for them at Rosehill in the Rawson Stakes in which Spear Chief beat 40-1 on Ajax and fifth in the Cox Plate.
Harry Oakes and his son Victor became official trainers and between them prepared some very good horses on Skellatar Park, including the big striding Skellatar and Zozima, Friendly Joy and Friendly Boy.
Among the other good horses trained at Muswellbrook have been Golden Slipper runners up Romantic Dream (trained by Ron Englebrecht) and Food For Love (Pat Farrell) and also Proud Knight (Pat Farrell), winner AJC San Domenico Stakes and runner up AJC Challenge Stakes, and more recently Newton’s Rings (Jeff Englebrecht), winner of 22 races and earner of $795,280.
When Food For Love was second in the 1981 Slipper, she was ridden by Pat Farrell’s apprentice Wayne Harris, one who grew up in Muswellbrook. Wayne won the1979 Slipper on Century Miss (trained by Bart Cummings) and finished third the next year on Baglaga Miss (Colin Hayes).
Today one of NSW’s strongest country racing centres, Muswellbrook has much to celebrate on the occasion of 150 years of racing.The two day celebration opens on the Sunday with a family fun day at the racecourse which will include a historic display showing the history and importance of the thoroughbred industry in the Muswellbrook region over 150 years and the Gold Cup which is the trophy for the 2012 Melbourne Cup will be on display.
Prior to luncheon, packages for which are available, there will be a presentation by Wayne Harris, himself winner of the 1994 Melbourne Cup on Jeune.