We all love comparing horses but it is so difficult to even agree on a Horse of the Year let alone a decade or longer. Winning percentages are one criterion but don't factor in those horses using races as a build-up to a specific target. Some don't handle particular tracks or ways of going. Joanne was a star in Sydney. Lord was the King of Caulfield. Auction was an absolute superstar on the sand-track at Albion Park during the war-years but how does that form translate outside Queensland - a bit like Rough Habit.
The acknowledged champions of the early part of last century and the late 19th were the durable ones who had to be able to stay.
One of the earliest attempts to canvas a wide range of expert opinions on Australia's best racehorse was done in a syndicated article in November 1911. Here's a clumsily edited text copy of that article
AUSTRALIA'S BEST RACEHORSE.
THE OPINIONS OF EXPERTS
In an article dealing with the question of which is the best Australian racehorse, the 'Argus' says:— Most racing men, if asked offhand which was the best horse that-ever raced in Australia, would at once answer, .'Carbine.' There are some good judges of racing, however, who do not share the general opinion. Going by re cords, there can be no doubt Carbine was the best. He started 43 times, won 33 races, was second six times, and third three times. He was only once Unplaced, and that was when he was not quite himself. He carried the record weight 10st.5lb,) in the record field (39), and in record time up to that stage (3min. 28¼sec), in his Melbourne Cup. In stakes alone he won £29,476. No other horse in Australia has succeeded in winning £20.000 in stakes, though Poseidon, with his 19 wins, 4 seconds, -and 3 thirds out of 33 starts, got very close to it.
Walter Hickenbotham, who is generally recognised as Australia's leading trainer, prepared Carbine for most of his Australian races, and he has no hesitation in plumping for him as the best horse Australia' ever saw, 'and there were, few in England to beat him, in his opinion —over three miles, at any rate. Trafalgar, who is a grandson of Carbine, he ranks as the next best horse he has had through his hands. Newhaven was the best three year-old he ever had charge of.
Mr. R. G. Casey, chairman of the V.R.C., is of the same opinion as Hickenbotham. He says:'.l was intimately connected with Carbine during the whole of his career on the Australian turf (as I was in partnership with his owner, the late' Mr Donald Wallace during the time he owned him.) He was docile, courageous, very fast, a grand stayer,- had a wonderfully true action, and was a great; weight-carrier. In fact, he had every good attribute that characterised the greatest historic English thoroughbreds. In addition to his wonderful career on the turf, he -sired -Spearmint, who is esteemed as the greatest English Derby winner of modern times.'
Mr. Archie Yuille (of William C. Yuille and Co.) gives his vote in tho. following; order: — Carbine 1, Abercorn' 2 .First King 3.
Mr. W. A. Menzies, V,-R,C. handicapper is with those who ' consider Carbine the greatest racehorse Australia has ever known. He possessed speed, staying powers, and weight-carrying capabilities, and was a horse of exceptional consistency.
Jas. Scobie plumps for Carbine, and picks out Emir as the' beat horse that ever went through his hands. But for a curious defect Emir, who was a grandson of Carbine, would have proved himself even a greater horse than, he did. Wakeful and La Carabine in his opinion, were the best mares Australia ever saw.
R. Bradfield, who trained those good-horses Patron, Portsea, and .The Victory, places Carbine first and Abercorn second;
Jacamar's trainer, J. Burton, favours Carbine. He is inclined to give his second, vote to Mooltan. He was a very good horse, but unlucky.. He was, he says, never really seen at his best. Mountain King (a grandson of Carbine) was the best he ever had through his hands. If his wind had not been affected he would have been a wonder.
J. Siely, trainer of Aurofodina and Didus, unhesitatingly votes for Carbine.
The veteran Flemington trainer, W. A. Filgate, has a champion of his own. ' He says: — 'On the question of. Australia's greatest racehorse, no doubt, you will find a great diversity of opinion. Men in the sixties and seventies will be as loyal to their champion as the men of to-day are to theirs. As far as my opinion goes, one horse stands out absolutely on his own, and that is Fishhook. He could both go fast and stay.: He is the only horse I ever saw during over 40 years' experience that could beat fresh horses through and at the end of a/distance gallop.'
Mr. J. Wilson, jun,a racing man of long experience, gives his vote this way— First King 1, Carbine .2, Abercorn 3.
J. H. Hill, the veteran South Australian trainer, who had Newstead and Auraria, decides in favour of The Barb.
Mr. Harry Dawson, an old New South Wales racing man, who is on his annual visit to Melbourne to see the Cup run, expressed the opinion that Carbine was, without doubt, the best, and he had seen them all. He would place The Barb second. The best performance, he ever witnessed, not excepting Carbine's in the Melbourne Cup, was Goldsbrough's in the Metropolitan in -1875. He carried 9st. 2lb., and ran the: mile and a half in 2min. 32 1/5 sec, which was a splendid feat, seeing that .the track was not nearly so fast then as now, and that Goldsbrough was not shoeless. . It was not the general custom in those days to run horses barefooted in races. '
The well-known Caulfield trainer, Mr- Isaac Foulsham, who -won the Melbourne' Cup and other races with Malua, arid scored numerous other important wins, admits that Carbine was the best over a long' distance, but Malua, in his opinion, was more brilliant. Though Malua won the Melbourne Cup, he may not have been a true stayer. He had such great pace that he was going easily all the time in his race, and his stamina was never put to a severe test.
Mr. John, Leek, who won the Caulfield. Cup with Ingliston., and has been a prominent figure on the turf for a great many years, gives his vote to :Carbine, but he thinks that he was not a great deal better than First King, whose three miles' .trial'', before winning his first Champion Race in 1878. was a marvellously good one-
Mr. J..C. Bowden, who has raced numerous horses, has a slight leaning towards: Carbine, but he thinks there was very little between him and Abercorn. He was'; certain that Carbine had not that sustained run at his top that Abercorn had
Mr. W. Maher, a well-known racing identity, whose turf connection extends back a great number of years, says the question is not debatable. Carbine was, without the least doubt, the best Australia ever saw, but First King was also a great horse, and he was much more difficult to. train than Carbine, or his record would have been better even than it was.
Though Grand Flaneur was unbeaten, very few of the racing people asked favour him as being the best. racehorse 'that ran in Australia'. "
What is surprising today is the love for First King. What is perhaps not so surprising is the lack of affection for Wakeful and Poseidon given how recently they were racing at the time.