A CONTINUATION OF; THE SLOPER AND THE STEEPLECHASE
NEW OWNER FOR THE SLOPER
By 1911, three years on from his near win at Flemington’s Grand National Steeplechase, the Tasmanian jumper Ally Sloper was a little past his best. He was now owned by the Sheffield GP, and Justice of the Peace, Dr Victor Ratten. The well known jockey Wally Morphett continued to ride the horse, just as he had done for the previous owner, Hugh Powell.
In July 1911 the horse was entered in the Newnham Racing Club’s steeplechase at Mowbray, a suburb of Launceston. it was the final event of the season.
The favourite was a horse called Kindred, owned by Tom Butler who was also from Sheffield, and a close friend and associate of Dr Ratten
He had left school at 13 to become a bullock driver. Through hard work he had become a successful road building contractor and farmer. Unfortunately, on the day of the race his wife was ill and he was unable to attend the meeting. He asked Dr Ratten to hand Kindred’s jockey a letter containing his riding instructions. Apparently he did not view Ally Sloper as a significant threat. The letter read;
I believe that James Waldon [a steward at the course] has engaged you to ride my horse Kindred in the Steeple on Saturday; if so, I want you to take your instructions from Dr Ratten, as I never wrote to Walton how you were to ride. I think he is a certainty to win. I want you to take him out from the jump, and let him run along with anything that comes, as I think he will race and stay with any of them. I think Player is the hardest horse to beat, but I think if he paces with you, he will fail. I may take this horse to Melbourne if he wins, and if you don’t ride him there, I will give you a little cut if I have a good win in Melbourne. Wishing you luck, (Signed) T. Butler.’
Player had finished second behind Kindred the previous week and had won the steeplechase at Bendigo in May.
Dr Ratten motored up to Mowbray in his sports car and after dealing with his own horse and jockey he sought out Percy Williams. However, instead of handing Williams the letter of instruction he read it out to the jockey.
A BLATANT MISREPRESENTATION
Shockingly, Dr Ratten put a completely different spin on Tom Butler’s words. Percy Williams was so uncomfortable about his purported instructions that he confided in steward Waldon. In turn, Waldon sought out Dr Ratten, but the letter was not handed over. Perhaps the doctor said he had destroyed it.
Oddly enough, by the time the steeplechase got underway, Ally Sloper had been backed heavily enough to start as favourite. The punters must have begun counting their cash when the highly fancied Player fell at the very first jump and completed the course riderless. But it was bookmakers who were smiling when Percy Williams and Kindred romped home, five lengths ahead of Ally Sloper in second place.
Williams weighed in after the race then went straight to the stewards and dropped a bombshell. He said Dr Ratten had told him Kindred’s owner wanted to lose the race, with the idea of winning a richer event in Melbourne (presumably the horse would carry less weight if it lost at Mowbray. ) He added that Ratten said Tom Butler would still pay him for a win if he ‘stopped’ the horse.
Ally Sloper’s jockey Wally Morphett also came under scrutiny. Witnesses claimed to have heard Morphett say he had intended forcing Kindred to run wide and cover extra ground at the five furlong mark. He said he decided not to because he was afraid The Sloper might run wide too. When questioned, he told the inquiry he had been joking.
Dr Ratten admitted to having £30 on his oracewn account invested on Ally Sloper, plus an interest in a syndicate worth £70 – 80 pounds. That was a hefty sum in 1911. It sounds as though the whole race, perhaps even the fall of Player, was fixed; or would have been if Kingston’s jockey had co-operated. The fall of Player does not appear to have been investigated.
Dr Ratten’s defense was a flat denial, but after a lengthy inquiry he was disqualified for life by the Tasmanian Turf Club. He immediately appealed, but was unsuccessful.
Back in Sheffield, locals refused to believe that their beloved GP was guilty. An editorial in the North West Post read;
Surprise was expressed yesterday at the disqualification of Dr Ratten by the Newnham stewards. Racing people in the know are astounded at this, but feel quite certain that a more enlightened body of men [such] as the committee of T.T.C. will at once reverse the decision. Racing in Tasmania is a poor game at any time, but when an owner of high moral character is disqualified on the unsupported word of a jockey who has previously been disqualified by the T.T.C for giving unsatisfactory evidence it is considered that all decent people should give it up. The result of the appeal is awaited with interest here.
Newspaper reports of the attempted race fix were published all over Australia. The fact that a doctor was involved made it all the more salacious. The captions appearing above the article in the Brisbane Truth were merciless;
DOCTOR DISQUALIFIED IN TASMANIAN RACING SCANDAL
Wally Morphet was reported for giving unsatisfactory evidence, but was not suspended. He was registered as a jockey again in October 1911. In 1913 he had a bad fall when jumping a horse at Shefield. He underwent serious hip and spine surgery performed by Dr Ratten.
Ally Sloper ended up in retirement on a property at The Nook. He died there in 1919.
FOOTNOTE – Recently I visited Mowbray Racecourse. In the committee room is an honour board listing winners of the Launceston Cup. Check out that middle name.
Oddly enough, he was back racing horses as early as 1923! Hmm, not quite a lifetime ban then. How on earth did Dr Ratten manage this?
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