Mudgee: Early Links with Racing
Due to its isolation and the relatively late arrival of the railway in 1884, the Mudgee district was long reliant on the horse. It is interesting to note, however, that many of the district’s pioneer pastoral families played leading roles in the establishment of the bloodstock industry and in the administration of the turf in the colony.
In the early days of the colony William Hayes, an emancipist who took up large tracts of land which evolved into the property now known as Havilah, was a noted breeder and importer of blood stock to Lucan Park, his property at Eastern Creek, west of Sydney. His son-in-law, Charles Roberts of Wallgrove, Eastern Creek, who took up the homestead portion of Havilah, was also a horsebreeder of renown, owning at one stage Gratis, one of the foundation stallions of the Australian bloodstock industry.
Prominent district pioneer William Lawson was noted for his equestrian skills even in middle age, winning the Governor’s Cup on his own horse Spring Gun at Parramatta at the age of 54. Lawson’s Mudgee properties were supervised by youngest son Nelson Simmons Lawson and managed by Nicholas Paget Bayly, who later established the Havilah merino stud. The first race meeting in the Mudgee district was held on the flats behind Nelson Simmons Lawson’s Putta Bucca homestead in 1842; later meetings later were staged successively at Menah and Oakfield, before moving to the old racetrack on the site of the airport in 1861.
The Rouses of Guntawang and Biraganbil were renowned for the quality of their bloodstock, as well as for their carriage and stock horses. The famous 'crooked R' brand established by the first Richard Rouse was immortalised by Banjo Paterson in the poem A Bushman’s Song:
This old black horse I’m riding – if you’ll notice what’s his brand
He wears the crooked R you see – none better in the land.
Horse racing was one of the earliest forms of entertainment for the district's pioneer settlers; race meetings and amateur picnic races are still popular social occasions today. Henry Bayly of Beaudesert, Mudgee, a son-in-law of William Lawson, had a horse stud called Bayly Park at South Creek, and at one stage owned Australian, a noted sire, and the legendary Jorrocks. It is unclear whether Jorrocks was foaled at Bayly Park or Beaudesert, originally and confusingly also called Bayly Park. Jorrocks later belonged to John Richard Rouse of Guntawang, and began his extensive and distinguished racing career in amateur races in the district.
One of the oldest picnic race clubs in New South Wales, the Bligh Amateur Race Club, is based in Mudgee. The club ran its first meeting in 1874 and meetings have run regularly since then, with the exception of the war years. Many Mudgee landowners were excellent amateur riders, among whom were Richard Rouse senior of Guntawang and his cousin Richard Rouse junior of Biraganbil. Richard Rouse senior and Vincent Dowling of the Lue Estate were both noted four-in-hand drivers, a sport which has been revived in recent years by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Leslie Rouse and Herbert Rouse, sons of Richard Rouse junior of Biraganbil, were both extensively involved in racing. For many years Leslie Rouse was a keeper of the Australian Stud Book and a prominent AJC administrator, while Herbert Rouse maintained the Biraganbil horse stud.
Ernest Hume, in his History of Mudgee, wrote nostalgically of race meetings, when Mudgee must have been a hive of activity:
In the early days it was a most pleasing sight to witness the entry into town of many old pioneering Bligh families with their prancing, well-groomed four-in-hand teams with coachmen in livery, and trumpeters in resplendent swing made a triumphant parade of the streets while large strings of sleek, well-groomed horses filled the hotel stables. Among the foundation members of the club were to be found many representatives of those grand old racing families and the names of the Rouses, Lowes, Whites, Dowlings, McMasters, Watts, Bettingtons, Bowmans, Cox's, Tucklans (sic), Lawsons, Niversons (sic) and Bells are still freely spoken of.
Members of several of these families remain entrenched in the district and maintain their families’ traditional association with local district racing.
Horses were also a major concern for the Cox family of Fernhill at Mulgoa and Rawdon at Rylstone. Edward King Cox, also a noted merino breeder, bred Yattendon, winner of the first Sydney Cup and the sire of Chester and Grand Flaneur, themselves both noted sires and winners of the Melbourne Cup in 1877 and 1880 respectively. Chester was sold in 1876 to James White, eldest brother of Henry Charles White of Havilah. James White’s winnings from bets on Chester allegedly paid for the construction of the elaborate mansion on Kirkham, now called Camelot, his racing stud at Camden. James White also owned Martini-Henry, winner of the Melbourne Cup in 1883; Martini-Henry had the same sire, Musket, as another noted Melbourne Cup winner, Carbine. James White also started the Newmarket stables at Randwick and his racing success as an owner in major racing events is still without equal in Australia. Henry Charles White and his son Henry Hunter White were both heavily involved with the racing and the AJC and maintained an extensive horse stud at Havilah.
The Thompson family of Rylstone and Bylong has long associations with horses and remains entrenched at Widden stud in the Widden Valley, north-east of Mudgee. Lochiel, a noted racehorse owned by James Thompson of Bylong, was commemorated by a house in Mudgee named Lochiel, formerly Annan Lodge, now the site of Mudgee Bowling Club, which was owned briefly by the Thompson family in the early 1900s.
(Sir) Hugh Denison of Guntawang at Gulgong, was a noted racing man, owning the 1906 Melbourne Cup winner, Poseidon. Born Hugh Dixon, he changed his name to Denison to avoid confusion with his uncle and namesake, Sir Hugh Dixon, a staunch Methodist who disapproved of his nephew’s association with racing. During his period of ownership of Guntawang from 1908-1918, the property was renamed Eumaralla.
Local newspapers regularly recorded the successes, progeny and health of the bloodstock of the district's nabobs, intermingled with social jottings:
After going home to Guntawang Mr. Rouse's Dum Dum nearly died from being overheated. The daughter of Projectile is now quite recovered (Mudgee Guardian, 2 December 1901).
Two other Melbourne Cup winners have indirect links with the district. Westcourt, the winner of the 1917 Melbourne Cup, was at one stage owned by Daniel Seaton, owner of Eurunderee at Mudgee, adjacent to Westcourt, formerly Frederickburg. Rodney Rouse Dangar of Baroona, Singleton, a nephew of Richard Rouse senior of Guntawang, was the owner of Peter Pan, winner of the 1932 Melbourne Cup.
The Mudgee district continues its association with the horse into the present day, with large breeding, breaking and spelling establishments at Gooree and Guntawang.