Breeders Corner \ Desert Gold

14 August

The longevity and soundness of racehorses in years gone by is quite astounding and one of those we came across this week is the amazing racemare Desert Gold who raced in the early 1900's.

It is doubtful if any horse has ever been as popular with New Zealand racegoers as the Champion mare Desert Gold. She was truly Queen of the turf in her day, and no other mare before or since has measured up to her extraordinarily high quality, or matched her personal appeal.

She met and beat the best horses of the time of both sexes, including the great Gloaming, with whom she shares the honour of most successive wins - nineteen.

At three years, she had fourteen starts and won them all, setting race records in two Derbies and the New Zealand Oaks, as well as in three other races. Desert Gold was never out of a place in her first 47 starts, during which time she raced with distinction in Australia, winning four major weight-for-age events.

Bred and raced by TH Lowry in 1912, Desert Gold was by All Black from the Maltster mare Aurarius and raced through until seven years of age. In her last season of racing Desert Gold had three starts and ended her career with 59 Starts for 36 wins - of which 19 were won in succession - and a further 17 placings and earnings of £23,239.

Remembered as the First Lady of the NZ turf, the racing career of Desert Gold was brilliant. She was the first NZ thoroughbred to chalk up a record of 19 consecutive wins while racing against colts, as well as fillies, in both New Zealand and Australia. Desert Gold ran during the dark days of WWI and her courage lifted the hearts of her racing public. She brought people to the track to forget their worries — and to see a Queen of the Turf.

Trained by Fred Davis, Desert Gold raced 12 times as a 2YO, winning on six occasions. Her first win came at her fifth start at Riccarton and came just three weeks after her debut at Trentham.

Travelling in those days consisted of railway waggons, steamships, and a good deal of walking, which all seemed to agree with Desert Gold and her next start came in the Great Northern Foal Stakes at Ellerslie, while she added the Royal Stakes, North Island Challenge Stakes, Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes, and Hawkes Bay Stakes to her record before ending her juvenile season.

As a three-year-old in 1915 Desert Gold was unbeatable, running 14 times and victorious at every outing. Desert Gold recorded race record's in five of her 14 starts at three and included the Hawke's Bay Guineas, Champion Plate, New Zealand Derby (taking three seconds off the record), CJC New Zealand Oaks, CJC G.G. Stead Memorial Gold Cup, Islington Plate, ARC Great Northern Derby, Royal Stakes (for the second time and in race record time), Wellington Stakes (in race record time), WRC North Island Challenge Stakes, Awapuni Gold Cup, Manawatu Sires Produce Stakes, ARC Great Northern Oaks and ARC Great Northern St. Leger Stakes.

Such was the versatility and dominance of Desert Gold as a 3YO, she was able to run first up in the Hawkes Bay Guineas at one mile and win by 5 lengths then 16 days later she stepped to 10 furlongs at Trentham to win the Champion Plate before heading on to Riccarton to land the NZ Derby in race record time.

Two days after the Derby she posted another race record when winning the NZ Oaks under regular rider Jack O'Shea, and just for good measure she made it 3 wins in just 5 days (posting her third race record for the week) when she won the GG Stead Memorial Gold Cup at WFA.

To prove her versatility further Desert Gold returned north to Ellerslie 47 days after her Riccarton sojourn to contest the Islington Plate at WFA over one mile. She duly won by 4 lengths and backed up two days later to post another race record when she took out the Great Northern Derby by 2.5 lengths!

If that wasn't proof enough of her versatility, Desert Gold returned to Ellerslie just two days later - dropping back from the 12 furlongs of the Derby - to contest the Royal Stakes over 6 furlongs, again winning by 5 lengths and posting another race record.

At four Desert Gold wasn't quite unbeatable but still managed an impressive 5 wins and 2 placings from her 7 starts during the year. Her wins included the WRC Champion Plate, Islington Plate (for the second time), Wellington Stakes, WRC North Island Challenge Stakes and Awapuni Gold Cup.

Desert Gold had 13 starts as five-year-old and won nine of them, and was second in two and third in the other two races. Her wins included the WRC Champion Plate, CJC G.G. Stead Memorial Stakes, 1917 Islington Plate (for the third time), VATC St George Stakes, VRC Governor's Plate, AJC Autumn Stakes, AJC All-Aged Stakes (1918) and Awapuni Gold Cup (for the second time).

As a six-year-old Desert Gold had 10 race starts for 2 wins and 5 seconds. She was allotted a handicap weight of 9 stone 6 pounds in the Melbourne Cup but was unplaced behind the winner Night Watch, who carried just 6 stone 9 pounds. Her only principal win during the year was when she defeated the three-year-old colt Gloaming in the 1919 Taranaki Stakes, she also finished second in the Awapuni Gold Cup.

In her final season of racing at age seven, Desert Gold had three starts for a third in the GG Stead Memorial Stakes which was won by Gloaming. The Notable NZ Thoroughbreds publication ended their chapter on Desert Gold by saying,

"To this day, Desert Gold is upheld as the finest example of her sex ever bred in New Zealand: she fairly ranks as the Pretty Polly of the antipodes."

As a broodmare Desert Gold produced 9 foals of which 6 raced and 3 were winners including Timaru Cup winner Chrysology, Oreum (dam of Gold Rod who won the AJC Epsom Handicap & Doncaster Handicap), Pure Gold (dam of Auckland Cup winner Gold Trail) and Sahara (dam of stakes winner Karachi).

Watch the video on Desert Gold when she was inducted to the NZ Racing Hall of Fame.

Credit: Notable NZ Thoroughbreds, Wikipedia and The Vault

Pictured: Desert Gold