Launceston, February 15.
It was only natural that when my duties called me on a visit to the Waverley stud that I should travel the extra 50 miles and witness Launceston races, which, I must here remark, is a sufficient excuse for the non-receipt of the succeeding instalment of the Waverley stud article. Launceston, as most of your readers are aware, is a low-lying little town of 14,000 inhabitants, situated on the banks of the River Tamer. When the mining fever was at its height the town showed signs of emerging from the "sleepy hollow" propensities of Tasmanians. Mining, generally, however, is played out and the town has resumed its wonted inactivity. True, several nice buildings have been erected, or are in course of erection but even allowing for this the mining capital, as it is distinguished from Hobart, is half a century behind the age. Australian ideas assert themselves here and there, yet up to the present old-fogeyism reigns almost supreme, and as a consequence the movement forward (commercially speaking) is not what it should be in these days of progress.
The sport was my "dart," and after a quarter of an hour's drive through clouds of dust — the course is not yet connected by rail — I was one of about 4000 present to witness the Launceston Cup. The running-ground is called Mowbray (after Lieutenant Mowbray), and during the winter it is used for coursing purposes. Since last races it has served as a quarantine station for smallpox patients, and the buildings were afterwards destroyed by fire. The re-erection of these tenements gave the enclosure a new appearance, though it is still a one-horse show. The grand stand does not belie its name except that wherein lies the "grand-eur" is a puzzle. Its occupants do stand, as the main tier of seats are almost perfectly level in fact, bar those who have secured the front row of seats, there would be nothing for those on the stand to see unless they resorted to other than a sitting posture. The jockey's room provided would hold three horsemen comfortably, assuming they were the average height. A gong is used after starting the horses — considerably after, it might be added— as the fields often travelled half a furlong before the alarm was sounded. They hoist the starters ! but on such a piece of carpentry it might be taken for a bricklayer's ladder, or it might be part of a frame of one of the demolished weatherboardings. These are matters which take the eye after an experience of what is being done to improve matters throughout Australasia. The defects may not hurt anybody, but not so the steeplechase course, which is the most dangerous I ever saw. Not that the obstacles are formidable, but there is a so-called treble in front of the stand, some 50yds or 60yds separating each. The club may thank their lucky stars that their cross-country events are not numerously contested, else they would witness a sight that would not easily be forgotten. True, there is a great improvement in the executive of the Tasmanian Turf Club over that of former days, but the practical sportsman is sadly wanted among those who guide the affairs of the club, and until this want is supplied but little can be hoped for. Tasmania has now been a racing colony for something like half a century, but even in New Zealand the unpretentious Wanganui meeting would be as Randwick compared to Launceston races.
The racing ! Well, it was an admixture of turf tactics and inconsistent form. The Two-year-old Stakes was won by that game little core I have written of, Mr Agnew's Chaldean, who galloped over a colt twice his size named Rowallan, who could break his Ieg on a holding course, so it was said. The latter got a good start, but when the Waverley colt tackled him he was extinguished. The Launceston Cup was secured by the Victorian-owned steeple, hurdle, and flat mare Ruby, trained by Jas Scobie, of Ballarat, Victoria, and owned by Mr W. Y. Bryant, son of the well-known studmaster of that name. Another of the exotic element, Mistletoe, belonging to Joe Cripps, was second, and Ballarat, a locally-owned horse, third. The last-named was going like a lion two furlongs from home, but the mile and three-quarters was too much for him. Ruby was pulled out in the T.T.C. Handicap next day but, if the quotations were a criterion — and they usually are — the Cup winner was "not wanted" for that trip. The mare opened at 6 to 4, and like electricity the word went round that it was safe, 8's against, and even 10's being offered by the layers, who fielded in opposition to two totalisators. The tactics pursued in this race were not quite or the "first water," although they were cleverly enough executed to elude detection. One more instance of " crutch " work. There is a hurdle horse, owned somewhere in the Hamilton district, called Sir Wilfred, who is fast enough to win a Cup, besides being a regular "hopper" over the small timber. He was meant for the Hurdle Race on the first day, and he won, but he was chased home by a horse called Chandler. Sir Wilfred was out of it. It looked 50 to 1 bar accidents that he would win on the second day, but he didn't, and had no fall either. The thing had the most shady surroundings, as the winner of the second Hurdle Race was a noted cocktail, who would have chucked it up instantly if Chandler had questioned him. There were some waitists in succeeding events, but as the stewards were mum not the least notice was taken by the public, who appear to look at a race without figuring a single thing out. Unfortunately a fatal accident occurred in the Steeplechase, a jockey named Lacy being thrown on to his head by a blundering half-bred mongrel of a horse, not fit to draw a wood-cart. I was disappointed at the state of things that existed throughout, but as the rate of progress is about an iota every 20 years, I must allow the Tassies that period to perfect matters horsey.
The following are the winners of the Launceston Cup since 1875.
From 1875 to 1879 inclusive, the distance was 2 miles ; since the latter year 1 & 3/4 miles.
To catch the steamer (or rather the mail, which closes in half-an-hour), I have just sufficient time to let you know that I was further attracted during my Tasmanian trip to Hobart (the capital), where the Cup meeting began yesterday. Chaldean frightened all the candidates out of the Sires' Produce Stakes bar a stable companion and another, and, of course, won. The Hobart Cup saw the downfall of Ruby, who started a hotter favourite than at Launceston. Ballarat, an ex-Australian horse, owned by Mr Charles Krushka, a great shareholder in the Bischoff mine, was victorious. The fields, with the exception of one race taken by Scobie's Victim, were small. The following is a description of the Hobart Cup race.
A handicap of 300 sovs, for three-year-olds and upwards. The second horse to receive 40 sovs and the third horse 10 sovs out of the stake. Distance, one mile and a-half.
Mr 0 Krushka's br g Ballarat, aged, by Young Melbourne, 7st 21b (E Morris) 1
Mr W V Bryant's br m Ruby, aged, 9st 21b (E Power) 2
Mr T Heating's br or blk h Vision, aged, 7st 81b (W Hastings) 3
Mr C S Agnow's oh m Pocahontas, aged, Bst 51b (C Hutchins) 0
Betting 5 to 2 on Ruby, 3 to 1 agst Vision, 6 to 1 each Pocahontas and Ballarat.
The field moved steadily at the start, and when they had gone about a furlong Ballarat headed the favourite by a length, Vision next, at a slightly longer interval, Pocahontas pretty close up. The Clonmines representative increased his lead to a couple of lengths at the homestead, Vision meanwhile moving up to Ruby, the pair following Ballarat, after he had warmed the pace at the jetty to the half-mile post, where Power began to ride Ruby. Vision kept the latter company half way up the hill, when the whips came out. Ballarat came into the straight two lengths in advance of Ruby, Vision being five lengths in front of Pocahontas, the last-named having lost ground in the last half-mile. From the distance Power set desperately to work at the task of overhauling the leader, but Ballarat held his own to the finish, winning with apparent ease by a length from the favourite, Vision third, two and a half lengths off Pocahontas, a bad last. Time, 2min 46 & 1/2 sec.
Totalisators : Inside — Total, 178 ; 21 on winner; dividend, £7 12s. Outside — Total, 966 ; 144 on winner dividend, £3.
The following are the Hobart Cup winners since 1875.