Let's Remember Champion Bernborough

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18th August 2004

LET’S REMEMBER CHAMPION BERNBOROUGH
August, 2004

After the Doomben 10,000 was run last Saturday and the Doomben Cup is run next Saturday, it is timely to just reflect for one moment on the champion Bernborough who was able to win the 1946 versions of both races under crushing weights. At the time he won the 1946 Doomben 10,000, it was called the T. M. Ahearn Memorial.

BERNBOROUGH

The term “Queensland’s greatest racehorse” was probably the right call then – and he still is entitled to that title today.

In his book “Keith Noud Recalls”, former great racecaller and journalist Keith Noud wrote “Of all the tens of thousands of races I wrote about and broadcast over the years, four were to trigger the gush of heart-thumping emotion. And in one of these dramas – as the winning number flashed into the semaphore – I was obliged to reach for my handkerchief. The horse concerned (was) Bernborough in his Doomben double wins of 1946”.

It was a testament to a great champion that Keith Noud listed Bernborough’s Doomben 10,000 and Doomben Cup wins of 1946 – and two other wins – those by Auction at Albion Park during the war in 1942 with 10 stone 12 pounds winning a Doomben Newmarket (Doomben was occupied by American troops) and the win by Tulloch in the 1961 Brisbane Cup – as the four most outstanding wins he saw in his lifetime.

Born in 1939, Bernborough’s life was full of controversy. Even to this day a highly respected Darling Downs stud owner swears to me that he stood next to Bernborough’s mother Bern Maid when she was mated with a stallion and Bernborough was conceived. Bernborough was officially listed as being by Emborough, but this respected man said he knew Emborough and Emborough was not the stallion who served the mare. In those days there was no blood typing and DNA like there is today and it was common practice to put in returns using a lower profile stallion in the hope of getting a good horse to bolster the flagging image of the lesser stallion. I am aware of another great “Creecker” who it was said was not by his stated sire – but not enough time has elapsed to bring out that one yet! It therefore shouldn’t be rocket science to work out!

Bernborough, however, was bred by a chap called Harry Winton and was sold to Frank and John Bach for 150 guineas (just over A$300) who “on sold” the horse to an A. Hadwen as the Q.T.C. (Eagle Farm) wouldn’t accept nominations from the Bach’s. The Q.T.C. refused to accept that Hadwen was operating alone and deemed he was working in collusion with the Bach’s and hence refused to accept Bernborough’s nomination. Bernborough, therefore, was restricted to racing in Toowoomba from ages 2 to 6 inclusive, where he won 11 of his 19 starts, but had earned only a paltry 1000 pounds (A$2000 in prizemoney). Now forced to carry crushing weights in Toowoomba, Hadwen decided to sell Bernborough, so he could race in the metropolitan area.

A Sydney restaurant owner, Azzalin Romano, bought Bernborough and he got Sydney mentor Harry Plant to train the horse. The Q.T.C. lifted its ban, but Plant was never to start the horse at that track – yet he was happy to start him over the road at Doomben.

Bernborough had his first start for trainer Plant and owner Romano in the Canterbury Flying in which he flew hoe and ran 4th. His jockey “Digger” McGrowdie was sacked from the horse and replaced by Athol Mulley, who was to partner the champion galloper to so many victories.

Bernborough won his next three starts in a row in Sydney for Mulley and was sent to Melbourne where he won the 1946 Futurity by 5 lengths carrying 64.5 kilos. Next he won the 28 horse field Newmarket with 63 kilos. Both the Futurity and the Newmarket were Group I races and his sequence of two group I wins quickly became five – as he returned to Sydney to win the Rawson Stakes, Chipping Norton Stakes and the All Aged Stakes.

Bernborough’s target was then to come to Brisbane and run in the Doomben 10,000 one week and the Doomben Cup the next. Burdened with 65.5 kilos in the 10,000, he came with a barnstorming run from last in the field of 27 to win running away in course record time. His win was so emphatic, that the handicapper re-handicapped the horse to carry 68.5 kilos in the Doomben Cup. That didn’t matter to Bernborough as he beat them again. Of that Doomben Cup win Keith Noud wrote how jockey Scobie Breasley upon entering the straight, had lured Bernborough’s jockey Athol Mulley into a “perfect pocket on the fence”. Keith Noud says that Breasley, in the run looking at what he had achieved in pocketing Mulley, yelled out “now big fellow get out of this!” Keith Noud continued by saying “Mulley, of course, knew the calibre of the champ. He simply pulled Bernborough back, took him to the outside and came like a tornado to win easily”.

Returning to Sydney, Bernborough was victorious in the Warwick Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes and Hill Stakes and he was then set for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups. He received 68 kilos and 67.5 kilos respectively in the Melbourne spring double.

Sent out a 7-4 favourite for the Caulfield Cup, Bernborough had an interrupted run in the straight and flew home to run 5th but his winning sequence of 15 wins in a row was brought to a halt.

Mulley was sacked from the ride and Queensland jockey Billy Briscoe rode Bernborough in his Melbourne Cup pipe opener – the Mackinnon Stakes. Bernborough broke down in the run when he fractured a sesamoid.

After breaking down badly in the 1946 VRC L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington, Bernborough was sold to U.S. movie mogul Louis B. Mayer for the then considerable sum of 93,000 guineas and began stallion duties in 1947 at the famous Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky.

Bernborough lived until 1960 when he died at 21 in his Kentucky home.
 
While he failed to really reach the heights as a sire, Bernborough from limited opportunities became quite a successful stallion in the competitive American market.
 
He left winners of more than 950 races and $U.S. 3.4 million in prizemoney.
 
Bernborough's best galloper was probably Berseem, American's champion sprinter of 1955 and winner of 21 races and $U.S.189,525.
 
Berseem later became a useful sire in his own right.
 
Other stakeswinners for Bernborough included Brush Burn (won $U.S.211,117), First Aid (Saranac, Bahamas, Roseben, Hibiscus and Whitney Stakes, etc.), Parading Lady (Acorn Stakes), Gainsboro Girl (Black Helen Handicap), High Scud, Bernwood (Sheridan Handicap), Piano Jim, Resolved, Larrikin and Catapult.
 
Another of Bernborough's sons, Hook Money, became a useful handicap sprinter in England where he retired to stud with good results.
 
Hook Money, foaled in 1951, was out of La Troienne's daughter Besieged.
 
While Bernborough left a number of mares who made a mark as producers only a few made an enduring contribution by extending his influence.
 
Probably most notable was the beautifully bred Etiquette (ex Your Hostess), dam of successful sire Command Module (USA) and second dam of high class filly Hippodamia.
 
It is tempting to think Bernborough may have made a bigger mark on the breed had he gone to stud in Australia but in his era local racing stars were given far fewer opportunities.
 
Rich in the blood of famous sires Hampton, St. Simon, Cyllene and Sainfoin, Bernborough in his day was a wonderful advertisement for Australia's breeding industry and a pioneer for us in Kentucky along with his contemporaries Shannon and Royal Gem.
 
But Bernborough will never be forgotten – nor should he be allowed to be – as the Doomben 10,000 and Doomben Cup come around each year.

Thanks to some great race calls by men like Keith Noud, we racing people of today can close our eyes for a short time and just imagine the herculian task that faced this great horse as he swung for home in a Doomben 10,000 – just 27th of 27 on the turn – with just 65.5 kilos.

With Thanks to justracing.com.au and Les Young - Doncaster Bloodstock Services