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The Colonel and The Barmaid

The Colonel and The Barmaid

A good yarn!

Editor: Reader Jenny Roberts dropped some “old stuff” into our office recently and among it, I found this short story. It’s from Horses and Horsemen back in 1965. I enjoyed reading it, I think you might too. Thanks Jenny!

The Colonel and The Barmaid

The boys in the back parlour of the Australian Hotel, Wagga, outback New South Wales, were whooping it up one day in July 1868, when some character asked how many miles a racehorse could go flat out.

Somewhere out of the argument that followed emerged the thought that Wagga ought to stage a 10 -mile horse race. One Mr Rawsden Green, a squatter got so enthusiastic about the idea that he ran round with his hat gathering up a prize. He collected 300 golden sovereigns. After that there was no turning back.

In quick time, a date was set for the race - November 20, 1868, the third day of the Wagga annual race meeting.

All Australia got excited at the prospect of the unusual race and 12 known stayers were entered. The most favoured runner was Riverina, a mare, which had run third in the 1867 Melbourne Cup. But there was plenty of other champions in the field.

Australia, for instance, was a splendid stayer. On the first two days of the Wagga meeting he won much favour by taking third place on the first day in the Town Plate (two miles) and winning, on the second day, the Squatter’s Purse (two miles). He saddles up as fresh as he could be to face the barrier in the 10-miler on the third day.

The race was to be 7 ½ times around the Wagga racetrack.

A lightweight, Glaucus, ran away at the start and build up a lead of a quarter of a mile. At the fifth lap he came back to the field and handed over the running to his stablemate Jerry Sneak who had been specially set by his connections to take out the 300 sovereigns. But Jerry Sneak didn’t have the stamina. Three horses tore into the straight almost together - Comet, Riverina and Australia.

The jockeys laid in desperately with whip and spur and the horses responded as though finishing a two-miler. Australia got in front at the post with Comet second and the Melbourne Cup horse, Riverina, third. The time for the race was quite amazing - 23 minutes 35 seconds. This meant that the winning horse had averaged over 25 miles an hour for 10 miles.

Well, despite interesting a lot of sportsmen, the race had proved that horses could race at high speed for 10 miles. It was also later concluded that such a race ruined a horse for ever. The winner, Australia, had had enough of racing for life. For ever after he refused to leave the barrier. Riverina, the star mare, was never capable of racing in quality company again.

Triolus, who ran fifth, was so distressed after the race that a joint was cut from his tail as an emergency bleeding measure. That finished his racing career. The race was much discussed throughout Australia, and particularly in the backblocks of New South Wales where it became vogue for men to boast that they had known horses so tough that they could race 50, 75, or even 100 miles.

No one even bothered to challenge such obvious nonsense. It was just idle bar chatter. Or it was until Big Ted Tarrant of Dubbo ran into Bob Frost of Orange.

Tarrant had a mare named Barmaid which he insisted could race any other horse in the world over any distance no matter how long. And Frost had a big chestnut gelding named Colonel which he insisted could race, etc. Both men were wealthy, and both were proud. And when they got to arguing about the stamina of their animals the atmosphere got red hot.

Challenge and counter challenge rent the air.

        Match you for £100?

        Make it £1,000.

        Race you 50 miles?

        Make it 100 miles.

Those boys were not messing about.

To make the match a real test of stamina it was agreed that the start should be at the Dubbo Post Office and finish at the Orange Post Office, 96 miles away. Race to start at 6:30am on July 15, 1870. There was to be no set route. Riders could proceed by any cut, high road, through the bush, anyhow they liked. Each horse to carry a minimum of 9 stone.

Everyone in Dubbo was at the post office to see the race start. The big chestnut, Colonel, looked by far the better proposition. He appeared so big, shiny, and fit beside the Barmaid, who was a washed-out brown and appeared to be suffering from a hangover.

Still, those who knew the mare were aware that she was packed full of quality. Big Ted Tarrant, the owner, was ripe with confidence. He was ready to add another £1,000 to his bet if anyone wanted to take it.

Accompanied by a great cheer from the crowd, the horses went away fast together and, although the roads were muddy, kept up a fast clip for the first 20 miles. For 3 hours 40 minutes they stayed neck a’ neck until they reached the Wellington Punt together. There they were given 15 minutes to spell plus a glass of port each.

The owners, Ted Tarrant (Barmaid) and Bob Frost (Colonel) were present. They had arranged for relays of fresh horses to be planted along the length of the course so that they could follow every inch of the race personally.

A couple more hours brought the racers to Ironbark where they  had a further 15 minutes breather. Neither animal appeared to be gaining any advantage and approximately half the race was over.

Groups of riders were waiting here and there along the road. They could accompany the competitors until their horse began to blow and then drop off. Gallopers, working in relays, carried progress reports to Orange where betting was adjusted accordingly. At the  half-way mark the odds were at evens.

On the next leg, between Ironbark and Shepherd’s Creek, the first interesting development took place. The Colonel moved out a length ahead of the barmaid, then two lengths, three. The mare made an effort and closed the gap, but soon after gradually fell back again.

This was repeated a number of times until Barmaid’s jockey decided to let her make her own pace. He considered that the Colonel would burn himself out at the speed he was maintaining. The Colonel reached Shepherd’s Creek running strongly. He halted, got his breath, and was enjoying a pick of grass when Barmaid came up.

Refreshed, the Colonel shot off again, and the mare, without resting went after him. The effort proved too much. Some 30 miles short of Orange, with the Colonel nowhere in sight, the Barmaid gave in. She was walked to Calculla, where she was bedded down for the rest of the afternoon and night.

With 12 miles to go to Colonel’s jockey decided his mount was still so fit that he kicked him along a bit. Those 12 miles, the last of the 96-mile run, were covered in one hour 12 minutes. A nice 10 m.p.h.

The entire 96 miles were completed in 10 hours 29 minutes, the Colonel passing the Orange Post Office at 4.59pm. This represented an overall average speed of 9 m.p.h. Considering the race had been run over muddy roads, over hill and dale, with river crossings causing delay, the performance had been a mighty one.

The Colonel seemed in no way distressed. On the following morning, when the Barmaid was brought quietly into Orange, she still looked a badly battered creature.

Orange folk celebrated through most of the night after ‘’ the greatest race in history,’’ and when they finally crawled from their beds late on the following morning they were greeted with a sensation. Big  Ted Tarrant (Barmaid’s owner) had entered a protest!

The jockeys had weighed in three days before the race and claimed (Barmaid 9 st. 6 lb, Colonel 9 st. 4 lb.) This weigh-in should have taken place on the morning of the race, he argued. For all anyone knew, the Colonel’s jockey might have shed a stone or two in the three days before the race.

It wasn’t that he minded losing £1,000, he insisted, it was just the principle of the thing, etc. The big country town of Orange fairly rocked with a mixture of amusement and anger.

‘’Pay up and shut up’’ shouted everyone, including the official judge, Mr. Avery. A leading citizen of Orange. So big Ted Tarrant paid up with such a grace as he could muster, and led his defeated Barmaid slowly back to Dubbo.

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