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.
The statue (above left) is a wonderful tribute to a great champion of the Australian turf and stands proudly in the small Darling Downs township of Oakey – right next to the chambers of the Jondaryan Shire Council.
The exact plaque wording on the statue reads:-
This statue was sponsored by
the Oakey Chamber of Commerce
with the help of
the citizens of the Darling Downs
QUEENSLAND’S GREATEST RACEHORSE
Opened by Hon. M. Hodges MLA
29th October 1977
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 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 is 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 it’s 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 a Canterbury Flying in which he flew home 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 1 races and his sequence of two Group 1 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.
Bernborough was sent to America to stand at stud, at renowned Spendthrift Farm in the blue grass country of Kentucky where he died in 1960. He was to produce two good sons – Berseem, who was champion USA sprinter of his year – whilst another son Bernwood held the world one mile (1600 metres) record for a time.
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.