The champion mare who put Wilkes (FR) on the map
NEWHAVEN Park stud master John Kelly certainly hit the jackpot when his first crop sire Wilkes (FR) had a winner with his first runner in the spring of 1959. The juvenile in question was Wenona Girl and she opened her account with a 2.5 length win in the Gimcrack Stakes to herald the start of a career that would see her become one of the greatest of her sex to grace the Australian turf.
Wenona Girl had signalled her class with two trial wins for trainer Maurice McCarten, who also trained Todman, before jockey Neville Sellwood steered her home to beat On Wave, later dam of On Par, at Randwick. It was the first of her five juvenile wins, the others including the Kirkham Stakes (by five lengths under 61kg), VRC Sires’ Produce at Flemington and AJC Sires’ Produce at Randwick. In the latter she defeated great rival Sky High (third, Persian Lyric second) after that son of Star Kingdom (IRE) had beaten her in the Golden Slipper. She was also runner-up to Impulsive (Landau (GB)) in the Merson Cooper Stakes at Caulfield, that mare becoming the dam of crowd favourite and multiple Gr.1 winner Reckless (Better Boy (IRE)). Reckless was trained by Phar Lap’s former strapper Tommy Woodcock for his breeder Joan Walker, who is still breeding winners from the family including Listed winner Amadeus.
Wenona Girl ended her first season as Australia’s Champion Juvenile and she would go on to race until the 1963-64 season when the six year-old’s wins included the George Main Stakes, Linlithgow Stakes, George Adams Handicap, Lightning Stakes, Rawson Stakes and All-Aged Stakes (from Silver Bore and the three year-old Time and Tide). That was her final race in a career that saw her win 27 races (4.5f-11/2 miles – 900m-2400m) and a record $141,650. In between, she won the Hobartville, Rosehill Guineas, Flight Stakes, 1000 Guineas (beating Impulsive by a head, Lady Sybil third), Wakeful Stakes, Rawson Stakes, Adrian Knox Stakes and a Canterbury Flying Handicap at three, when also runner-up in the Canterbury Guineas. She won the Tramway Handicap, C.F. Orr Stakes, Liverpool Handicap (beating Martello Towers) and was runner-up in the Oakleigh Plate (a head behind New Statesman in a race where the runners included Elated, later dam of another Wikes-sired champion in Vain) at four.
At five Wenona Girl won the Challenge Stakes, Lightning Stakes (beating Proud Miss and Sky High), Futurity Stakes (by four lengths from Kilshery and carrying 63kg) and Malayan Racing Association Cup and was runner-up in the Canterbury Stakes (to Sky High for the second year running) Theo Marks, Epsom Handicap (to Rochdale), George Main (to New Statesman) and C.F. Orr (to Aquanita). In all Wenona Girl won 15 Gr.1 equivalent races in her long career.
Neville Begg, who was foreman to McCarten and played a big part in Wenona Girl’s career, before taking over his mentor’s stables and becoming a champion trainer in his own right, recalled his memories of “Mother” for Graham Caves in that author’s book “Wenona Girl, the Forgotten Champion”. Begg remarked that Wenona Girl was “an individual”, but placid and a wonderful feeder and quite easy to handle. However she was a serious box walker and a bit nervous when flying. Caves himself described her thus, “as pretty as a picture and tough as old boots”.
A handsome chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail and carrying lines of Teddy 5fx5f, she certainly took the eye at the 1959 Easter Yearling Sales as Lot 468 in the Inglis catalogue and was knocked down to STC chairman Bill Longworth for 2100 guineas, to be the most expensive lot by her sire in the sale as his 14 lots averaged 1098 guineas. She had plenty to recommend her as a half-sister to smart winners Carrus (Nilo (GB), later dam of Farnworth and also the sixth dam of Golden Slipper winner Estijaab), and Fickle Maid (Rigoletto (GB)). Their dam, the six-length VATC 1000 Guineas winner Golden Chariot (Golden Sovereign (GB)-Speed by Marconigram (GB)) was bred by Herbert S. Thompson of Tarwyn Park, Bylong and purchased at that breeder’s dispersal sale in 1956 in foal to Nilo, John Kelly having to outlay 2100 guineas for the mare who was to play such a vital role in the fortunes of Newhaven Park.
In addition to Wenona Girl she also left daughters Emblem, Exotic, Golden Saga and Profit to covers by Wilkes as well as their talented brother Grammar Lad, like Farnworth (Champagne Stakes), also raced by Longworth and also placed in a Golden Slipper. Grammar Lad won 11 races including the Frederick Clissold Handicap but died after just three seasons at stud. Farnworth’s daughters left Chimes Square and Fairy God and sire Weasel Clause.
The BBA’s George Blackwell had recommended Wilkes (FR) (Court Martial-Sans Tares by Sind) to John Kelly and he paid 3000 guineas (sight unseen) for this winner of two of his three starts in France (1500m-2000m) as a three year-old. By the English 2000 Guineas winner Court Martial (Fair Trial-Instantaneous by Hurry On) who would become twice champion sire of England, he was from the unplaced Sans Tares, a half-sister to Gr.1 winner and sire Norseman (Umidwar-Tara by Teddy) who also placed in the French 2000 Guineas and Arc de Triomphe. Wilkes was a half-brother to promising Worden (Wild Risk) who would go on to win the Washington DC International, as would his year-older half-brother Mahan (Avenger). In fact the female line of this Newhaven Park Stud sire quickly grew in stature as Sans Tares would also produce the Gr.1 winner Net (Clarion) and his stakes-winning brother Blanc Bleu, while a half-sister Anguar (Verso) won 13 races and became the dam of French Derby winner and sire Le Fabuleux (Wild Risk).
Wilkes was Australia’s Champion Sire three times and runner-up four times and left 51 stakes winners, most notably Golden Slipper winners Vain (sire), Vivarchi and John’s Hope (sire) and multiple Gr.1 winner Bogan Road (sire) and Gr.1 winner and Slipper runner-up Young Brolga (sire). Today his line is most prominent via brilliant sprinter Vain, a champion at two and three and Champion Sire in 1983-84 and sire of Golden Slipper winners Sir Dapper (sire) and Inspired. Vain features in the Wenona Girl Story too as he is the broodmare sire of Centaine, a major part of the story of her NZ-bred daughter Pilmuir.
No doubt Bill Longworth had high hopes for Wenona Girl when she went to stud in 1964 and he made sure she went to the best. Her first mate was champion Todman (Star Kingdom-Oceana (IRE) by Colombo), a Golden Slipper winner and off to a flying start with his first runners (1963-64) including Golden Slipper winner Eskimo Prince. His fee at the time was 1000 guineas, the same as his illustrious sire at Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley.
That first foal was the unraced Day Girl whose branch of the family is still going today, then came Wenona Girl’s best racehorse, Special Girl, also by Todman, a brilliant sprinter at two and three when trained by Neville Begg, she started favourite in the Slipper won by Vain and chased him most of the way before tiring to run fifth. She had only one foal Exclusively, a filly whose line has petered out. Her third filly in a row came in 1967 when Wenona Girl produced Star Studded (Star Kingdom (IRE)) who became a Sydney winner and left winners.
Wenona Girl missed in 1968 and slipped twins in 1969 and then produced the unraced Gooree Girl to Todman. She was the first foal for new owner Lloyd Foyster (Gooree Stud, Mudgee) who had purchased her privately following the death of Bill Longworth in 1969. Wenona Girl missed to Todman and Planet Kingdom in successive seasons before getting the minor winner St Claude (1973) and the difficult to train Incorrigible (1974), both colts by Convamore (IRE). She missed to Planet Kingdom and was then catalogued in foal to that horse at the 1976 Easter Broodmare Sale.
I was 23 then and made a special trip from Newcastle to Newmarket just for a chance to see the great mare and I remember her in the ring, still with great presence at age 18. There was a reason she was awarded the Champion Mare and Supreme Champion and Best Exhibit ribbons at the Sydney Royal Easter Show as a five year-old the day before her win in the Malayan Association Cup (she also won Champion Mare at the Melbourne Show), because she was a wonderful example of the thoroughbred. She was knocked down for $33,000 to Wrightson NMA, NZ, acting for the Chittick family who were then setting up Thornton Park Stud near Palmerston North in NZ but these days own Waikato Stud.
This brave move had a bad start when the old mare slipped to Planet Kingdom and then missed in 1977 before producing her only live foal in NZ, the unraced filly Pilmuir in 1978. A daughter of the royally-bred Super Gray (USA) (Nijinsky-Loyal Land by the Nasrullah son Tillman), who was fourth at his only start but whose grandam Somethingroyal (Princequillo) left the outstanding Secretariat and Sir Gaylord. Wenona Girl missed in 1979 and she died foaling to a cover by Sound Reason (CAN) in 1980, she was 23.
Although unraced, Pilmuir left 10 foals, five winners, and became the saviour of Wenona Girl’s line. Her daughters bred by Gary Chittick were Belle Promenade (Sir Godfrey (FR)), Mrs Clayton (Sir Godfrey (FR)), Back to Back (Centaine), Lake Lucerne (Centaine), Ausjewel (Nassipour (USA)) and Last Lady (Centaine) and her son Kinjite (Centaine), a Gr.1 winner and sire have done her proud.
Kinjite, a triple Gr.1 winner of 10 races and $2.2m left nine stakes winners to Gr.2 level and is a son of smart sprinter Centaine, a champion sire in NZ and a son of Century (Better Boy (IRE)-Royal Suite by Rego (IRE)) and Rainbeam (Vain-Rain Shadow by Todman), a great-grandaughter of 1945 Melbourne Cup heroine Rainbird (The Buzzard (GB)). This Centaine-Pilmuir mating gives Wilkes 4mx3f.
The next best of more than 200 winners who trace to Wenona Girl is the Golden Rose-Gr.1 winner Manawanui (Oratorio (IRE)-Lady Remlap by Filante). Lady Remlap’s second dam Vain Explorer (Vain-Probe by Gooree King (NZ)) is a grandaughter of Day Girl, Wenona Girl’s first foal and carries Wilkes 2mx4f. Ascot Vale Stakes-Gr.2 (now Gr.1) winner Scaredee Cat is a son of Tale of the Cat (USA) (Storm Cat-Yarn by Mr. Prospector) and Last Lady (Centaine) and is another whose dam is inbred to Wilkes (4mx3f) via Vain and Wenona Girl, the two best by their sire. Scaredee Cat, sire of 60 winners of $3m, was exported to Nicaragua in 2015.
Other stakes winners descending from Wenona Girl include Gr.2 winner Icepin (Pins), a grandson of Lake Lucerne, US Listed winner Dazzling Diamonds (Desert Wine-Belle Centaine by Centaine), whose third dam is Pilmuir, Listed winner Hazard (Sandtrap (USA)-Elle Taine by Centaine), dam 4mx4f to Wilkes, third dam Pilmuir, and Listed winner Frozone (Reset-Ice Maiden by O’Reilly), second dam Lake Lucerne, a Gr.1 placed daughter of Pilmuir. Among the stakes placed runners is Thundelarra (Ron Bon (USA)-Ever So Special by Pago Mystery) whose third dam is Star Studded and whose dam sire is a son of Golden Slipper winner Pago Pago. However of the five daughters of Wenona Girl only the line of Pilmuir, and perhaps Day Girl, looks likely to be viable into the 21st century.
Footnote: Perhaps the current stud master at Newhaven Park, John Kelly, a grandson of John Kelly who bred Wenona Girl, could source some of those NZ bred descendants of Wenona Girl for his new sire Cool Aza Beel (NZ) (Savabeel-Cool ‘N’ Sassy by Testa Rossa) as that Gr.1-winning two year-old has a dam who is 4mx5f to Vain via Slipper winner Sir Dapper and Gr.1 placed Misty Vain, whose fourth dam is Rainbird. Remember Savabeel’s dam carries Todman’s brother Noholme and Century’s sire Better Boy (IRE) and all that looks a perfect fit for a Wenona Girl descendant carrying Centaine in her pedigree.