Nat Gould

His life and books

A Dash for the Derby. An Australian Story



By Nat Gould

“I bred the colt, and I mean to have a dash for the Derby with him,” said Kirby Sutton to his friend Fred Garlston, as they stood looking at a fine upstanding thoroughbred that had evidently been trained well.

“Never been seen in public yet, has he ?” asked Fred Garlston.

“No,” replied Kirby Sutton. “I am not a believer in running a good colt off his legs at two years old. When I saw the sort of colt Barraba was likely to turn out I determined he should have every chance given him.”

“He's a beauty to look at,” said Fred Garlston. “I hope he will not prove a gay deceiver.”

Barraba was located at Moonee Ponds, within easy distance of Flemington. He had arrived from Sydney in charge of Mark Fenton, his trainer, who had a great opinion of him, and felt confident of success in the forthcoming race. Kirby Sutton, owner of Barraba, of Barraba Station, was not as well off as he ought to have been. His father left him a round sum in ready cash, and a valuable station property in New South Wales. Kirby Sutton spent the ready cash with a free hand. He found out he had many friends, or men who called themselves such, who were only too anxious to find him means of spending his money. Most of their schemes were designed to benefit themselves but perhaps they overlooked this fact for the moment.

When his father died Kirby Sutton was engaged to be married to Alice Vane, the only daughter of a neighbour owning a large station next to the Suttons. Alice Vane was a sensible young lady. She was a famous horsewoman, a daring, dashing rider, and a girl who could be warranted to hold her own in the best of company. When she saw how Kirby Sutton was squandering his money she gave him to understand he must either reform or break the engagement off. Kirby had no desire to reform just at that time, and he was equally undesirous of breaking off the engagement with Alice Vane.

“It is far better for me to have my fling before we are married,” he said; “I shall then be able to settle down, and turn out quite a model husband.”

“It will not do at all, Kirby,” she replied. “If I cannot trust you before we are married, there is very little hope of my being able to do so after the event. You have been gambling and throwing your money away in a reckless manner, and my father says the next thing will be that you will have to mortgage your property.”

Kirby Sutton flushed angrily. He had already raised a sum of money on his station, and he was wroth that Mr. Vane had summed up the situation correctly. He curbed his temper, however, and like the good fellow he was at heart, said,

“Perhaps your father is right, Alice. You are a dear good girl, and I am a blundering fool. I have spent a good deal of money, and I have raised a small sum on my property but I think I see a way of clearing myself.”

Alice Vane loved him dearly, and she was pleased to hear him talk in this strain. It was better than deceiving her as to the true state of affairs.

“How are you going to pull round ,”she asked. “I never thought you were much of a financier, or good at planning coups.”

“Come with me, and I will show you how I mean to work the oracle,” said Kirby and he took her over to the box in which Barraba was standing.

“So you are going to rely upon Barraba,” she said. “He's a good colt, and a regular beauty but I have not much faith in winning money on horses. They always leave you in the lurch at the critical moment.”

“Fred Garlston has seen him,” said Kirby, “and was much struck with him, and Mark Fenton is very sure of winning. I must have a dash for the Derby with him. He is at a good price, and I can win enough to clear my station and have a tidy sum to go on with.”

Alice Vane was in Melbourne with her father for the Cup Meeting, and they were residing with some friends at Moonee Ponds, not far from the stables where Kirby Sutton's horse was located. As they were talking together, Mr. Vane strolled into the yard. He was a fine looking man, about fifty years of age, and had been a great friend of Kirby's father. He was angry with Kirby Sutton for “fooling his money away”, and seldom lost a favourable opportunity of speaking his mind about it.

“What's the latest?” he said to Kirby. “Any more bad luck, severe losses, and so on. Upon my word, when I think of your poor father, my lad, I am glad he cannot see how you have been going the pace lately. What have you got in there? Oh, it's Barraba, I see. He's in the Derby, is he not? Got no chance, of course. Can't think what on earth you want to run him for. Take my advice and scratch him.”

“I shall do nothing of the sort,” said Kirby, hotly. But catching Alice's eyes, he went on, “I mean, Mr. Vane, that it would not be a very wise proceeding on my part when Barraba has an excellent chance of winning the race.”

Horace Vane looked hard at his future son-in-law. After a few moments' silence he turned to his daughter and said,

“I really believe he means it.”

“It is quite true,” said Alice. “Barraba has a very good chance, and, for once in a way, I believe one of Kirby's speculations promises to turn out a success.”

Mark Fenton came up as they were talking, and said, in answer to Mr. Vane's question, that he thought Barraba a real good thing for the Derby on Saturday.

“I have trained more than one Derby winner, as you know,” he said to Mr. Vane, “but I can honestly say I never handled a colt I liked so much as Barraba.”

Horace Vane had a great respect for Mark Fenton's opinion. He thought it the most sensible thing Kirby Sutton had yet done when he placed the half-dozen horses he had in training in Fenton's charge.

“Bring him out of the box, and let me have a look at him,” said Mr. Vane.

Barraba was led out, and walked quietly, with a rather sluggish movement, and a sleepy look about his eyes. Alice Vane went up to him and patted his sleek neck. Barraba glanced at her, and then quietly rubbed his velvety nose against her shoulder.

“Looks a bit too quiet,"”said Mr. Vane. “I should like him to have a bit more life in him.”

“When he is galloping there is no fault to find with him,” said Mark. “He is one of those lazy good-tempered horses that will only do their best in a race. I have tried him repeatedly, and he is generally beaten but if I know anything of a horse, I think he will show them the way in a race like the Derby.”

“But if the colt has never run, how can you be so certain that he will do what you think?” asked Mr. Vane.

“For one thing he resembles his sire, Trentmount,” said Mark, “and in the next place, I never knew a horse with a disposition like his that had a faint heart.”

The V.R.C. Derby was likely to prove an interesting race. The field promised to be larger than usual, and there was some heavy wagering over the event. In sporting circles there was a good deal of curiosity as to the merits of Barraba, the general opinion being that Mark Fenton knew more about the horse than he cared to tell. When Mark Fenton visited the Victorian Club there was very little to be got out of him beyond the answer,

“Barraba, you say? Yes, he's not a bad horse but he has never run in public, and therefore it is pure conjecture as to what he can do.”

Fred Garlston, however, knew Barraba carried the confidence of both owner and trainer, and he determined to profit by it. He did not, however, care to back Barraba until Kirby Sutton had done so. He saw Kirby, and it was arranged that Fred Garlston should work the commission for the stable, which included a fair amount for Mr. Vane.

The favourite for the Derby was a colt that had never been beaten as a two-year-old. His name was Express, and two to one was the longest price obtainable about him. Others well backed were St. Albans, Kirkwood, Halesville, and Carlton, all fair performers. Barraba the Thursday before the race stood at ten to one, and already the stable money was on.

“Has Kirby said anything to you lately, Alice?” asked her father. “You know what about.”

“We thoroughly understand each other,” she replied. “I told him he must either give up leading a reckless life or break off our engagement. He has promised to reform, and I am sure he will keep his word. You were right when you said he would have to raise money on his station. He has done so, but not a large sum.”

“The deuce he has!” said Horace Vane. “I am sorry for that and if Barraba loses he will have to raise more money. It is not a promising outlook for you, Alice.”

“I have great faith in Barraba,” she replied. “I have a presentiment he will win.”

“I've had presentiments with respect to racehorses winning,” said her father; “but, unfortunately, they never came true. Barraba may win, I hope he does, but the chances are very much against his doing so at present.”

After a pause, he said kindly, “Do you love the lad very much, Alice?”

“Oh, yes, father,” she replied. “I shall never desert Kirby, whatever happens.”

“He's not half a bad fellow at heart,” said Horace Vane. “He is easily led, and he came into his money too young. I love the lad for his father's sake. Never mind about Barraba, Alice. I'll manage to pull the young rascal through, even if Barraba runs last.”

Alice Vane kissed him, and said, “You have always been the best of fathers. I shall watch the race with more pleasure now, but I shall not tell Kirby. It will do him no harm to have all the anxiety. I have a good mind to let him know that if Barraba does not win you will decline to allow our engagement to continue.”

“That would be too hard upon him,” said her father. “I am sure he will suffer quite enough while the race is being run. I happen to know the young man has put a good deal more money on Barraba than he ought to have done.”

As they were talking together Kirby Sutton came in, and it was easy to see there was something wrong with him.

“What's the matter?” asked Horace Vane. “You look melancholy. I am afraid the anxiety is too much for you.”

“It's enough to make any fellow look glum,” said Kirby. “Crane had a spill on the track this morning, and has broken his arm. He will not be able to ride Barraba, and I don’t know where to get another good jockey.”

“This is serious,"said Mr. Vane; “you have not much time to look round.”

“Mark wants to put Tom Cobb up, but I hardly think he's good enough,” said Kirby.

“He's the boy who rides for the stable, is he not ?” asked Mr. Vane.

“Yes,” replied Kirby, “but he's hardly up to Derby form.”

“I think I should try him,” said Mr. Vane. “You can trust Tom Cobb, and he knows the horse, and the lad is a much better rider than he is given credit for. You cannot expect him to win on some of the horses he rides, for they are not worth their oats.”

“That's complimentary to the judgment of their owners,” laughed Kirby; “but I am inclined to agree with you. I think I will let Cobb ride, as you have such a good opinion of him. There is so much depending upon this race,” he said, with a glance at Alice, “that I must do all in my power to win it.”

“Having a dash, as you call it, I suppose,” said Horace Vane.”If you want to marry my daughter, young man, you will have to moderate your pace very considerably.”

“I hope to do so after this race,” said Kirby. “I have told Alice how matters stand with me, and she has been good enough not to lose faith in me.”

“Ah! faith is a remarkably good thing when it is backed by a banking account,” said Mr. Vane.

“Then I am afraid faith will not go far in my case,” laughed Kirby.

The brilliant November sun was shining over Flemington, bathing the course in glorious splendour on Derby morning. From an early hour crowds of people were making their way by road and rail to the famous battle ground where scores of fierce fights had taken place. And as they proceeded to the course many of them talked over former races for the big event, and related how such and such a horse had won after a great struggle.

On the hill the crowd was dense and here, strange to say, there was a disposition to back Barraba. Ten to one is a tempting price to small investors, especially when the colt is trained by such a well-known man as Mark Fenton. The public had implicit faith in Mark, and were firmly convinced that Barraba must have a chance or the trainer would not have run him. In the ring, however, such consideration had not much weight. Backers followed the money, and it poured in freely for Express. When it became known that Tom Cobb was to ride Barraba the price against the colt lengthened until as much as fifteen to one was on offer against him.

Horace Vane could not resist the temptation of having another hundred on Kirby's colt at this price. “I'll make the lad a present of it if he wins,” he said to himself.

In the paddock the usual Derby parade was taking place, the various candidates being eagerly looked over by small or large knots of admirers according to their position in the market. Alice Vane and her father stood looking at Barraba, while Kirby Sutton and the trainer were seeing the colt put to rights.

“There's none to beat him so far as looks go, Mr. Vane,” said Fred Garlston. “I feel half inclined to have another 'pony' on him.” Others than Fred Garlston thought Barraba a fine colt, and men who relied upon their own judgment invested a modest amount on him.

Tom Cobb looked slightly nervous as he came up in the white jacket and orange cap which were Kirby Sutton's colours. It was the lad's first Derby ride, and he naturally felt anxious. He was to meet the best jockeys in a race in which good judgment on the part of the rider often secured the victory. Tom Cobb was firmly convinced Barraba would win if he could do the colt justice. He knew Barraba was inclined to be lazy, and would take a lot of riding, and he was not a strong lad at the best of times. Although not bodily strong, his heart was in the right place. Some kindly words of encouragement from Kirby Sutton and Horace Vane put him at his ease, and he felt elated when Mark Fenton said, “I've always had a good opinion of you, Cobb. Just show 'em how you can ride to-day. Keep well with your field, and don't be afraid to ride him hard if he lags. He's a terrible slug, but game, and you must get as much out of him as you can. Once you are in the straight, make the best of your way home, for you are on a thorough stayer.”

Fourteen starters for the Derby was an unusually large number, and seldom had so many of them been well backed.

As Alice Vane saw them go down to the post she thought the chances against Barraba were many, and consoled herself with the reflection that her father had promised to help Kirby out of his difficulties if his horse lost. She was, however, anxious for him to win, so that there would be no occasion to rely upon the parental generosity.

It was evident from the start that the pace was to be good, for Halesville cut out the running at a great rate. At the river side Kirby noted with anxiety that Barraba had to be hard ridden to keep his place, but he felt some relief when he thought what a slug the colt was. Past the sheds Barraba had improved his position, but Express was galloping in a manner that did not belie his name. The favourite came into the straight full of running, with a clear lead of Kirkwood, St. Albans, Carlton, and Barraba, and already the race looked as good as over.

Harvey, the rider of Express, was a famous horseman, but he had one failing - he liked to show how clever he was at the finish. Express was rattling along in great style, and Harvey took a view of the situation at the distance that convinced him he had the race in hand. He glanced to right and left behind him, and saw nothing near. He eased the favourite, and Express suddenly slowed down in a manner that alarmed his backers. Harvey fancied he had timed the finish to a nicety, and thought to himself, “I shall not win by too much, but with a bit in hand.”

Suddenly Tom Cobb commenced to ride Barraba as though he was only a few yards from the winning post. Whip and spurs were at work in a manner seldom successfully applied so far from the judge's box. But Cobb knew his horse, and Barraba woke up to the fact that if he did not go faster this unpleasant way of reminding him he was not doing his duty would continue. Barraba, instead of shirking the punishment, seemed invigorated by it, and got over the ground at a great pace.

It was an exciting moment. The favourite, eased too soon, but not beaten was nearing the winning post, and Barraba was overhauling him at every stride. In breathless suspense the vast crowd watched and waited for the result, which a few moments before appeared beyond doubt.

Alice Vane felt her cheeks glow and her heart beat fast as the white jacket gradually overhauled the black. Kirby Sutton would have liked to shout, but had no time, he was too eager “watching the result.”

Mark Fenton chuckled to himself and said in a quiet undertone, “Caught napping, my boy! We'll win on the post.”

Express was close to the winning post, and running rather wide. Harvey, in blissful ignorance of the danger threatening him, was counting the victory sure. Past the post they rushed, and the shock to Harvey was tremendous as he saw a horse's head appear in front of Express's on the inside. Was he dreaming? No, there was no mistake about it, for Barraba was well in front before they pulled up.

“I cut it a bit too fine,” said Harvey to Tom Cobb as they turned their horses round, but I just got home before you.”

“Did you?” replied Cobb, gasping for breath. “Then they've put the wrong number up.”

Harvey looked at the board, and could hardly believe his eyes. No. 9 was Barraba's number, and it stood above No. 3, that of Express. The verdict was a short head in favour of Barraba, and Harvey was blamed for throwing the race away.

“It was a lucky win,” said Kirby that night.

“But it answers the purpose, my boy,” said Mr. Vane.

“Cobb made a dash for the Derby, as well as you,” said Alice.

“He did,” replied Kirby, “and of the two dashes Cobb's was decidedly the better.”

Horace Vane behaved admirably, as a fond rich father ought, and placed Kirby Sutton on good terms with himself when he saw the cheque presented to his wife on their wedding day.

Mr. and Mrs. Kirby Sutton are acknowledged to be admirable entertainers, and at Barraba Station one of the principal attractions is the horse, named after their home, upon which Kirby Sutton had such a successful “dash for the Derby.”

A Dash for the Derby by Nat Gould was published on 29 May 1897 in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.