From Baden-Baden to Melton: travelling with Carbine’s grandson
by Chris McConville
At one time or another, most of the big names in nineteenth-century Europe descended on the pretty German spa town of Baden-Baden. Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli, even the writer Victor Hugo and composers Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt strolled through the town’s elaborate gardens, sat in its graceful opera house or sought a health cure in the Baden-Baden hot springs. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote The Gambler, his tribute to a life on the punt, just so he could cover debts racked up at Baden-Baden’s roulette tables. In between pursuing a tryst with Liszt and fresh from her stormy affair with King Ludwig 1 of Bavaria, Lola Montez excited punters in Baden-Baden’s casinos. In 1858, after Lola had moved on to scandalise gold-rush Melbourne with her trademark “Spider Dance”, Baden-Baden’s racetrack held its first meeting. And for Australian punters it’s this racetrack, rather than any opera house or casino that conjures up images of Baden-Baden. Because it’s here, in May 2014, that Almandin downed Protectionist over 2200 metres. That win launched Almandin on his long journey to the Melbourne Cup of 2016. But then neither Protectionist nor Almandin can claim to be the first stars of Baden-Baden to have followed Lola Montez on to Melbourne.
Baden-Baden was one track at which Frank Bullock convinced English and European owners about the skills of Australian jockeys. In 1907, Frank had managed to swing a lucrative retainer as lead rider for the German Imperial Stud. In 1913 he teamed up with the stud’s new purchase, son of Spearmint and grandson of Carbine, the three-year-old Cyklon. Unraced at two, Cyklon won a string of races in England in his maiden season. Back in Germany he ran unplaced eight times in a row before Frank Bullock managed to steer the horse to a significant win at Baden-Baden. After this breakthrough victory, Frank mused to himself and then let on to his brother-in-law and fellow great jockey, Bobby Lewis. He was convinced that Cyklon had all the right attributes to take out the Melbourne or Sydney Cup.
Frank Bullock no doubt knew a lot more about thoroughbreds than he did about imperial politics. Nonetheless, he was astute enough to persuade the Crown Prince of Germany to release him to Reggie Day’s yard in England for the 1914 racing season. Cyklon followed. So Frank had escaped what was soon to become enemy territory. Cyklon was not so lucky. When Frank Bullock’s former employers in Berlin plunged Europe into a catastrophic war, Cyklon was impounded; by no less an agency than the British Department of Fisheries. Cyklon thus found himself imprisoned as an alien in the land of his birth.
Frank Bullock rarely missed an opportunity when it came to good racehorses. With almost all racing in England suspended for the duration of the war, he exchanged frantic telegrams with Bobby Lewis reminding him of his promising mount Cyklon. As soon as he had the backing of Lewis’s contacts, Frank Bullock bid on a draft of English thoroughbreds, including Cyklon. And he got these at bargain prices. His horses sailed into Hobson’s Bay in January 1915 aboard the Runic and Cyklon came ashore. Not so lucky was Bobby Lewis’s brother who had gone on board in Western Australia to check on Cyklon and a two-year-old for which the team had also paid up. The colt died on the journey and Lewis could not get off the ship in Melbourne. Smallpox had spread through crew and passengers and the S.S. Runic was stuck in quarantine.
Once settled in Australia, Cyklon went from the Lewis family stables to be trained by James Scobie and to be bought by Mrs Hawker in South Australia. Bullock, Lewis and Scobie are now respected as champions of Australian racing. Not so Cyklon. Misfortune seemed to dog the horse. He finished third in the 1915 Caulfield Cup and was then pronounced a good thing for the Melbourne Cup. In an easy gallop at Moonee Valley, Cyklon injured a foreleg and was scratched from the great race. In the following year another injury meant he was scratched from interstate carnivals where he had been set for several races. In 1916 again just before his target in Adelaide’s richest races, wartime paranoia got the better of him. Victoria Park in 1916 doubled as a racecourse and military base. Cyklon was heading out to morning work at the Park just as a bugle sounded from the A.I.F. tents. The grandson of Carbine bolted, got himself caught up on railings, and stripped his shins. He did though win races at the Adelaide carnival, before his form finally tapered off. Cyklon ran in all the major cups around Australia, without winning any. He was set for races like the Futurity and the Newmarket and ran unplaced in both. Cyklon could though run well in Adelaide, winning the Birthday Cup in 1916. But Caulfield proved his favourite track and as well as his third in the Caulfield Cup, he won the Eclipse Stakes and the St George Stakes. His last win was in the Parkside Stakes in Adelaide in 1917.
Not all of Cyklon’s failures could be put down to injury. He was, as Bullock had predicted, good enough to beat the local horses. At the same time some very slick English thoroughbreds arrived with Cyklon on the Runic. Shipments between 1916 and 1919 brought several more. Cyklon’s third in the 1915 Caulfield Cup was behind Lavendo and William the Silent, fellow imports both. The English thoroughbreds Shepherd King, King Offa and Lucknow dominated the Caulfield Cup in the years that followed and their class showed. Before 1914 winners generally ran the trip in 2.34.5 to 2.35.5 minutes on a good track. Lavendo dropped the winning time to 2.34 flat. In 1919 Lucknow ran the race in 2.32. As we have seen so often almost a century later, these imported runners, so long as they took on warm-up races in Australia, and had Australian jockeys and trainers, were typically a cut above their locally-bred rivals.
Though his racetrack efforts never lived up to the hopes of Frank Bullock and Bobby Lewis, Cyklon did prove his worth as a sire. In fact imported horses filled the ranks of leading sires in the 1920s and many of them came from the shipment brought out by Bullock. Ernest Clarke, James Scobie’s loyal patron and probably Australia’s most successful breeder and owner before World War II, had been on the lookout for a sire to replace his great stallion The Welkin. At the urging of Scobie, Clarke brought Cyklon from Morphettville to his Melton Stud. Lionised by Clarke, not least because of what he imagined were the horse’s graceful European temperament and looks, Cyklon flourished at Melton. His daughters, especially Cyden, proved consistent winners. On one Saturday’s card at Victoria Park in April 1925, four winners were all progeny of Cyklon. The great Derbies and Melbourne Cup winner, Trivalve was the result of a Cyklon-Trey pairing. So much had Cyklon meant to the Melton stud that when he had to be put down in 1934, Ernest Clarke gave up breeding altogether and dispersed his entire bloodstock. Highest price fetched at the 1935 dispersal sale was 625 guineas for the Cyklon mare Mistral. A saddened Ernest Clarke buried Cyklon on his Melton property, somewhere near the grave of the great sire The Welkin. The Welkin’s grave and headstone are now listed on heritage databases. No–one seems to be sure about the exact resting place of Cyklon.
As Cyklon’s stud reputation grew, his old jockey, Frank Bullock had turned from a ruined Germany to richer pickings in England and France. In England he rode the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and in France the ‘Arc’. Like Alexei Ivanovich, Dostoevsky’s hero in The Gambler, Frank Bullock still could not resist one last roll of the dice. He clung to the dream of unearthing European horses to win the Melbourne Cup so that between the wars he sent a string of French horses to race in Melbourne. None were up to the standard of his wartime purchases.
With his mortal remains interred somewhere out on Melbourne’s western rim, Cyklon at last entered into racetrack folklore. A struggling dairy farmer and ex-A.I.F. Lighthorseman, Harry Bamber bought Cyklon’s daughter, Riverside (later renamed Riv). From Riv, Bamber bred, trained and raced Rivette. In 1939 Rivette became the first mare to win the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double, thereby rescuing Harry from penury, and his dairy block from the banks. The regally-bred Cyklon, favourite of the Crown Prince of Germany, had brought victory to the quintessential Australian bush battler.
Not one of the imperial dynasties that patronised Baden-Baden survived World War I with powers intact. Racing near the hot springs did though defy the war’s disasters, the rise of Nazism and French occupation after World War II. Baden-Baden now stands out as Germany’s major racetrack. The Grosser Preis von Baden is Germany’s premier staying event, and has been run at Baden-Baden since the track opened in 1858. In 1984 Brent Thomson rode the Australian star Strawberry Road to victory in the Grosser Preis. Kerrin McEvoy won on Wassran in 2004 and 2005, before this year’s Melbourne Cup runner and last year’s Caulfield Cup placegetter, Ivanhowe (in Australia retitled to Our Ivanhowe) won in 2014. Today the spa town has lost more than a little of its nineteenth-century glamour. But without a doubt, Almandin’s 2016 Cup victory will attract yet more cashed-up syndicates of racing diehards to Germany. Baden-Baden carnivals might no longer rival Munich’s OktoberFest for reckless days and wild nights. But there is always the chance that the very next Protectionist, Almandin or even Cyklon, might just be found in the race program for Baden Baden’s six-day Spring Carnival 2017.
This narrative relies in part on an article that first appeared in Chris McConville, ed., A global racecourse, ASSH Studies 23, published by Victoria University Melbourne