Bush racing champions: Bobby Mackay and Mulgate

GALLOPING great Mulgate stands out from the crowd when past and present picnic-racing champions are compared – and some good ones have certainly graced bush racing’s Golden Triangle down through the decades.

Great horses like Thalaba, Blue Blood, Right Moment, Elyra, Luluai, Another Tie, Clarebong, Royal Toga, Speribo, Young Steve, Campanella Tale, Passing Trade, Yakinova, Gefilte, Carva Niche, O’ What An Opera and Sahara Bounty were outstanding picnickers.

And, in recent years Dungiven, Tapakeg and Track Flash have etched their names on the Golden Triangle honour roll.

But it is Mulgate that rates ahead of the pack.

Mulgate, trained at Moree by Eric Jurd, was a resilient bush gelding owned by sisters Anne Livingston and Geraldene Farrar and, between 1958 and 1962, won four Mallawa Cups and four Boolooroo Cups.

Incredibly, Mulgate could very well have made it five Mallawa Cups if not for a luckless second to Theleme in 1959 – and that was after winning the Mallawa Bracelet just a few races earlier.

Mulgate made his final appearance at Mallawa in 1963, when third in the cup behind Sarah Bay and Ratanada.

Record established

He also won the Talmoi Cup in 1961, the year he established Golden Triangle history by becoming the first horse to win all three cups at Moree, Mallawa and Talmoi in the same year.

Passing Trade, trained by Harold ‘Bubby’ Wann and owned in partnership by Henry Moses and Percy Stirton, is regarded as the only horse that could seriously threaten Mulgate’s crown.

In 1970, Passing Trade became the second triple-cup winner and in 1973 returned for an encore three-peat – the only horse in Golden Triangle history to win the triple-crown twice.

Garry Bignell rode Passing Trade to win all three cups in 1970 and Bobby Mackay guided the gelding to the same treble in 1973.

Legendary rider Bobby Mackay at the 2019 Talmoi picnic races with (at front) Angela Taylor, Steven Kehoe, Ashley Boyd and (at back) Alan Barton, Brent Evans and Nicholas Perret. Booby was special guest at the meeting as part of the launch of the book, The Triangle (Image: Bill Poulos).

“Passing Trade was a very good horse and won a lot of races,” Bignell said.

Anne and Geraldene purchased Mulgate as a young horse through their friendship with Jack Sullivan.

The Moree newsagent was very good friends with champion Sydney jockey Jack Thompson, who suggested the sisters buy Mulgate.

“He was a wishy-washy young horse when we first got him, and nobody liked him very much,” Anne recalled.

From stark beginnings, Mulgate went on to win 15 races from just 31 starts.

“It was unbelievable to think that we could have a horse like Mulgate,” Anne said.

“He was a great weight-carrier but he wasn’t an overly big horse . . . a very solid horse, though, and very strong.”

During his picnic rampage in the early 1960s Mulgate won on both days of the Moree picnic carnival, winning the Welfare Handicap over seven furlongs on the first day and returning 24 hours later to win the Boolooroo Cup over eight furlongs.

“Winning on both days was a great thrill,” Anne said.

Geraldene’s husband, Geoff Farrar, said Mulgate was a good ‘doer’.

“Mulgate seemed to be able to thrive when the horses were paddocked for three weeks before a meeting,” Geoff said.

“They only had one week out of the paddock in work before racing and Mulgate would get into his racing happily.”

Mulgate in action at Moree picnic races in the early 1960s.

Racing legend

Mulgate was ridden chiefly by picnic-racing legend Bobby Mackay.

“Bruce Burgess and John Scholes also rode Mulgate but Bobby Mackay was on him most of the time,” Anne said.

“Mulgate was a great finisher and always came from behind. Bobby used to start his run from the four (furlongs).”

Mulgate’s incredible picnic cups’ record can also be attributed to its mateship with picnic sprinter Luluai, owned by Anne and Geraldene’s brother, Frank Moore.

“Mulgate was supposed to retire but he and Luluai were great mates,” Anne said.

There was an obvious competitive connection between the sprinter and the miler – Luluai won three consecutive Mallawa Bracelets the same time Mulgate was amassing picnic cup trophies.

“They were inseparable at home, and when Luluai went into work, Mulgate had to go with him,” Anne smiled.

Mackay was often referred to as ‘a professional among amateurs’ during his time in the saddle.

He completely dominated the north-west picnic circuit in the late 1950s and 1960s, and well in to the 1970s.

“I started riding on that circuit in 1956 and at my third ride I got a winner for Eric Jurd. I finished around the middle of the 1970s,” Mackay said.

During his time on the north-west circuit Mackay rode eight Moree Bracelet winners – Calm Day (1958), Luluai (1961 and 1963), Another Tie (1968), Knight’s Success (1969), Speribo (1971), Passing Trade (1972) and Highline in 1973 – and for three consecutive years in the early 1970s rode a quartet of winners at Moree.

He reigned supreme in the Boolooroo Cup, winning on Calm Day (1958) and Mulgate (1962-62) as well as five of six in the early 1970s – Speribo (1971), Charmero (1972), Passing Trade (1973), Highline (1975) and Yakinova in 1976.

He also won the Desmond Martin Trophy at Moree for most successful rider 10 times between 1957 and 1973.

Mackay rode four Talmoi Cup winners – Mulgate (1961), Another Tie (1969), Passing Trade (1973) and Yakinova in 1976 – as well as four Talmoi Bracelets on Electrify (1961), Gold D’Or (1963) and Highline (1972-1973).

Out Mallawa way, Mackay stood without peer on the honours’ board.

Between 1958 and 1975 he rode 10 Mallawa Bracelet winners: Calm Day (1958), Mulgate (1959), Luluai (1961-1962), Australia (1968), Knight’s Success (1969), Young Steve (1971), Highline (1972), Epstar (1973) and Moppin Mail in 1975.

And, incredibly, in 1961 Mackay rode the cup and bracelet winner at all three tracks on the Triangle.

He rode 960 winners during a career spanning more than 20 years and didn’t hesitate when nominating Mulgate as the best picnicker he’d ever ridden.

“Mulgate was an exceptional horse and a very good weight carrier – he was very honest,” Mackay said.

“He won a fair few races – and won them easily with big weights.

“He was a good, solid horse with a real good turn of foot,” he said.

“Another Tie was also a good horse and so was Calm Day, a terrific weight-carrier. I won the bracelet on him at Armidale with 13st-six pounds.”

The former great said that winning all three cups on the Golden Triangle is no easy feat, adding that the third leg was a tough ask around the tight Talmoi circuit.

“You have to be up there (at Talmoi),” he said.

“There is a long straight and a lot of room at Moree, and Mallawa was modelled on the Randwick course, but it’s pretty tight around Talmoi – it’s a fair turn around the back until you get into the straight.”

Professional amateur

Unlike most picnic jockeys, who are just too big to make a career out of riding on the professional circuit, Mackay was the complete opposite – a lightweight rarity among a brigade of heavyweights.

“I had to wear a lead vest with a seven-pound weight in it to make the weight,” Mackay said.

“It didn’t affect my balance at all. Sometimes, when riding horses like Mulgate, Another Tie and Calm Day, which all got big weights, I had to carry a couple of lead bags.”

On rare occasions, stewards permitted Mackay to ride at professional meetings, and he certainly showed that he was equal to the task.

“When horses got a lot of weight at the professionals, you could get permission to ride,” he said.

“I rode Scottish Crag one day at Tamworth when he had 11-stone. He won by a couple of lengths and went on to win the Ramornie handicap at Grafton.

“He’s probably one of the best horses I’ve ridden, if not the best. He also won the Lightning handicap in Brisbane,” Mackay said.

During the 1960s, Mackay rode 22 winners in the space of a week – an achievement documented in the Guinness Book of World Records.

He retired in the mid-1970s before making a brief comeback for one ride for Dr Geoff Abram in the Quirindi Picnic Cup.

“Doc rang and pleaded that I come over and ride in the cup for him, so I started skipping and got fit and we won the cup by about half-a-length,” Mackay chuckled.

“I rode at Coonabarabran the following weekend, but that was the end of it. I had a young family,” he said.

Former Mallawa Picnic Race Club president George Boland remembers Mackay well.

“Bobby was the number one jockey in that era of racing,” Boland said.

“He was revered on the picnic circuit; it didn’t matter where he went.”

Geoff Farrar agreed.

“He was the professional amateur,” Farrar said.

“When he was riding in a race he was always on the fence and he was a great judge of pace.”

Mackay prefers to play down his cult-like status, however.

He reckons he was merely a jockey just doing his job.

“Me a legend,” he questioned.

“I don’t know about that,” he laughed.