FROM A STUMP JUMPER TO THE STEEPLECHASE
Ally Sloper was a big boned chestnut gelding with three white fetlocks. He had been named after a British cartoon character; a likeable but lazy schemer who sloped down alleys to avoid the debt collector.
Although his name and his start in life were somewhat inauspicious, the horse would be remembered as one of Tasmania’s greatest steeplechasers. He was bred at Kindred in 1900, and later sold to Mr Hugh Powell of Sheffield for 22 pounds. The intention was that he would lead a stallion. (a technique used to quieten a skittish galloper)
When Powell’s groom noticed that Ally Sloper had a good turn of speed and could clear stumps with ease, he was entered in a minor jumps race at Railton, which he won. His career progressed quickly, although years later a racing wit called Jimmy Munting, who saw him in those early days, described him rather wonderfully as being ; ‘As long at the Loongana and as poor as a barbed wire fence.’ [the Loongana was a Bass Strait passenger ship] Over the next few years Ally Sloper won a number of increasingly prestigious events, including the Newham Hurdle Race, in which he carried a massive 12st 10lbs.
One of his most memorable events was a jumps race at Deloraine in 1907. After completing the two and a half miles The Sloper was still raring to go. Froth flying from his mouth he bolted at the finish line and completed another full circuit, unseating his weary jockey Harry Roles along the way.
Afterwards, the race was compared to that described by Banjo Patterson. in the poem Father Riley’s Horse.
The steeple was a caution, they went tearin’ round and round,
And the fences rang and rattled as they struck;
There was some that cleared the water, there was more fell in and drowned.
Some blamed the men, and others blamed their luck.
But the whips were flying freely when the field came into view,
For the finish down the long, green stretch of course.
And out in front of all the others, jumping like a kangaroo,
Came the rank outsider, Father Riley’s horse.
In April the following year Ally Sloper lined up for the big steeplechase at the Deloraine Easter meeting. Before the race someone remarked, ‘ ‘You know, he has a big weight up, and I have known weight to stop a team of bullocks’. An old timer called Jimmy Butler responded, ‘Yes, but Sloper ain’t a bullock, and he can carry his horse box and beat the field today.’
The little grandstand was packed.
And off they went;
It turned out that Jimmy was right. Ally Sloper cleared the last fence like a bird and beat the field by three lengths
Naturally, there was great expectation and excitement in Tasmania when the horse was sent to Melbourne to compete against the nation’s best. He qualified for the steeplechase at the Grand National, held at Flemington in July 1908
Cardinal and Ally Sloper came over the last fence together after completing the difficult course. The jumps at Flemington had ruined the prospects of hundreds of good jumpers. In those days the notorious stone wall dubbed The Cathedral’ by Tommy Corrigan and the dreaded four rail ‘Jumbo’…..had to be negotiated.
It was said that had Ally Sloper been in the same mood as when he bolted with Harry Roles at Deloraine , the prize money would have been in Mr. Hugh Powell’s pocket. The horse flew over Jumbo with ease.
Unfortunately, Ally Sloper was a mercurial fellow, sometimes requiring a reminder that the idea was for him be first past the post. As the two horses charged up the final furlongs Wally Morphett decided it was time to use a bit of ‘whalebone and leather’ on his steed. Unfortunately, when he went for the whip he discovered it had become entangled in Ally Sloper’s mane. He simply could not free it, and had to finish the ride using hands alone. Cardinal won the steeplechase by only a head. Afterwards, the whip had to be cut from the horse’s mane.
And that was how Tassie’s coastal hero The Sloper, his owner Hugh Powell, and the dashing jockey Wally Morphett missed out on fame and fortune.
THE SLOPER FINDS ANOTHER WAY TO LOSE
The next big event was at Caulfield in early November; a four mile steeplechase. In what would turn out to be the fastest such race ever run until that point, Ally Sloper and a horse called Nigel were neck and neck, as they neared the finish. They were way ahead of the field, which had become smaller at each hurdle. Then poor old Sloper struck the last fence and went down. Thirty yards from the finish Cardinal was pulled up with a broken hind bone and had to be destroyed. Nigel, a rank outsider and a ‘rehabilitated cripple’ won by 16 lengths and collected 1,100 pounds in prize money. Only five horses from a field of sixteen finished.
Three years later Ally Sloper would be big news again, though in entirely different circumstances. SLOPER AND THE SCANDAL
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