The Sloper and the Steeplechase

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.

Deloraine race course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Nearly everyone in the district went to the Easter Races.

And off they went;

Over the paling fence on the first lap.

  It turned out that Jimmy was right. Ally Sloper  cleared the last fence like a bird and beat the field by three lengths

Ally Sloper wins the 1908 Deloraine Steeplechase

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.

Horses clearing the fearsome four rail ‘jumbo’ at Flemington

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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8 Comments
  1. Out of town and state at present. Waiting for my son to return from Australia and your part of the country – Blue Mountains. He loves the less populated regions. The last time I rode was when I was 10 years old, but I have been to races since then. It was a good story about The Sloper.

    • Pauline

      Do hope your son enjoyed his visit, wet and windy here right now. I’ll post the second part of the Sloper story next week.

  2. The Sloper sounds like one of those true country gems.
    I am reading about the early days (1873) in my home town
    to a group in the local hostel and I could see him at the
    racecourse being paraded around before his big race.
    Race days were big news here and always drew a good crowd.
    To me he is most definitely a story worth following.

    • Pauline

      Hi Diane. My parents’ first date was at the Deloraine races. Used to be a big deal in the old days. Will publish the final Sloper story next week.

  3. Hard life being a steeplechase, especially being ‘encouraged’ by whalebone and leather! I only went to Ascot once, but knowing nothing about racing, followed the colours of the jockey with the prettiest shade! Lulled into a false sense of security by a win on the first race. Ended the afternoon £46 down!

    • Pauline

      I think Grand National steeplechase races should be banned really. We once went to beautiful Cheltenham to see a friend’s horse race. It’s name was Mind How You Go, but I used to call it Mind the Gap.

  4. Love ‘Mind the Gap’ – and far easier to remember when I’ve heard it said so many times!

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