As John Finn Kirby led his 3yo colt from the Mt Gambier show ring, victor in the 1908 Best 10 stone Hack, most would not have considered the same horse would be led in as the winner of the Melbourne Cup three years later, almost to the day. But John Kirby had a dream, and his 10 stone hack, The Parisian, was one of several new horses that had the potential to complete the task.
John Finn Kirby was born at his father’s Springbank station, near Casterton in 1858. His father, Edmund Kirby, was born in Northamptonshire and was one of the early settlers at Casterton as was John’s Irish-born mother Mary Finn. John and his sister Ellen each received their mother’s surname as their middle name. As was the way for the sons of the early pastoralists, John was sent away to school, Ballarat College the choice. He then spent seven years working for stock and station agents in Ballarat.
At age 24 he went to work for Smallpage’s stock and station agents in Coleraine and after a year he bought the business. By 1883 he was the secretary of the Coleraine Racing Club. In June 1885, John married South Australian girl Elizabeth Crowe, daughter of the late Edmund Crowe and Johanna Crowe, owners of Mingbool Station near Mt Gambier. The wedding was a social highlight in the town and created much interest.
In 1888, John purchased Mt Koroite Estate near the Coleraine racecourse.
In August 1889, Johanna Crowe passed away, resulting in an interesting battle over her will which ended in the Adelaide Supreme Court. The estate, worth £80,000, was settled with embattled son John receiving £10000 and daughter Elizabeth, Mrs Kirby, receiving half of the balance. Her children received the other half of the estate.
John began to spend time between Mt Koroite and Mingbool. He’d been breeding and racing horses for a couple of years but with the use of Mingbool, his interests grew and in 1890 he established the “Mingbool Stud”, primarily breeding sheep but also horses and cattle. An article from the Border Watch on February 18, 1903, reported that Mingbool ran 19,000 sheep, 500 head of cattle and 100 horses.
From the same article:
By the middle of 1908, John Kirby had acquired three promising young thoroughbreds, Halloween, Benderay and The Parisian. Benderay was the pick of the trio, brought by Kirby in Dublin, Ireland. Kirby eventually sold the out of form horse in 1912. Halloween showed a little more promise and picked up a few races for Kirby, but he sold him at auction in 1911. That left The Parisian, bought by Kirby in 1907 at the Melbourne Yearling Sales. His sire was Bobadil, winner of the 1899 Australian Cup and Champion Stakes and his dam was The Parisienne.
After his victory in the show ring in 1908, The Parisian had gone into full-time work by January 1909 with Ernie Hartwell.
One of his early races, if not his first, was a six furlong Maiden Plate at Sandown Park on April 7, 1909, where he ran fourth, beaten by over 10 lengths.
The Parisian scored his first victory on April 19 at the Mentone Races and backed up an hour later to attempt a double. An undecided outcome in the second race led to a third race at the end of the meet.
Despite his breeding, he was only raced over shorter distances with little success. The Parisian was put up for auction. The great Bobby Lewis, in later years, recalled that time.
Passed in, he was then sent to James Agnew, a Hamilton trainer, joining the stable on January 1, 1910. Agnew soon realised that The Parisian was a stayer and increased his distances with success. The Parisian won the 1910 Warrnambool and Hamilton Cups under Agnew.
James Agnew’s wins with The Parisian were not enough for him to stay in his stables. The Parisian, along with Halloween were leased to Charlie Wheeler of Caulfield in June 1910.
Wheeler took the lead of James Agnew and placed The Parisian over longer journeys and both he and Halloween were nominated for the 1910 Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup not long after their arrival in the Wheeler stable.
On October 1, The Argus newspaper’s ongoing summary of the Cup candidates featured The Parisian. With ordinary lead in form, it looked unlikely The Parisian would line up in the Caulfield Cup, with the Melbourne Cup a more likely option. It was also noted that in his last race he had struck himself and was given a few days off work.
The Parisian did not recover fully from his injury, a cracked heel, in time for the 1910 Melbourne Cup and was scratched.
The Parisian’s first win of any note was the 1911 Australian Cup. The lead up to the race was eventful. Scheduled to run on March 7, heavy rain leading up to the race saw the meeting postponed and rescheduled for March 9, however the rain had not let up and it was again rescheduled for Saturday March 11.
Considered a weak field, there were only 14 runners and The Parisian was sent out second favourite. As the field turned into the Flemington straight The Parisian drew clear and won by six lengths, easing up.
The Parisian then went off to the Sydney Cup, but he was not fully sound and struggled into 12th.
The next big race for The Parisian would be the 1911 Melbourne Cup.
In the week leading up to the Cup, The Parisian again had heel problems and could not put his hoof to the ground. It once again looked like he would be scratched. Charlie Wheeler, put him out in a small paddock, full of cape weed, next to the stables. The move paid off for Wheeler and on the morning of the race, The Parisian was galloping madly around his paddock trying to avoid capture.
A record crowd of 115,000 people headed to Flemington for the 51st running of the Melbourne Cup.
Trafalgar was favourite and The Parisian ridden by Thomas Ronald Cameron, second favourite, in a strong field.
The 33 horse field jumped and went fast early and as the they passed the judge’s box for the first time, the field was well strung out. The Parisian began to make his move coming into the straight for the last time, but Cameron waited, not giving the horse his head until the last. There was no doubt though as The Parisian overtook the leaders and won by two lengths, although many thought it was more. The win was later described as “hollow” and “soft”
After weighing in, Thomas Cameron was mobbed by stable boys and other jockeys. Meanwhile, out in the birdcage, John Finn Kirby’s dream had come true, he was the owner of a Melbourne Cup winner and his delight was clear.
Reflecting 20 years later, Charlie Wheeler, revealed the key to training The Parisian for the Cup.
In the days after the Cup, The Parisian was sent to Bacchus Marsh for a spell, while John Kirby collected his winnings on “Settling Day” at the Victorian Club. His winnings from the bookmakers thought to be around £40,000. The stakes from the Cup another £7000, although Wheeler, as the lessee, would have received the bulk of that. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that at around that time, Mt Koroite Homestead received extensive renovations and extensions presumably from Kirby’s winnings. He had a manager and many staff including a resident Chinese gardener and a chauffeur, Archie Gunning, who drove one of the first cars in the district.
An Autumn 1912 preparation was on the agenda for The Parisian including a chance to repeat his win in the Australian Cup for which he was favourite. Unfortunately, his cracked heel again gave him trouble and he was sent to the paddock, missing all engagements.
Brought back for the Spring Carnival, The Parisian ran in the Memsie Handicap first up, but was needing the run. He returned in the Rupertswood Handicap where he showed more, but was tender after the race. During the following week, The Parisian pulled up lame after trackwork and the decision was made to end his Spring campaign,
Autumn Carnival 1913, and once again The Australian Cup was set down for The Parisian. Punters were wary though, given the ongoing query about the horse’s soundness. That caution paid off, as The Parisian’s cracked heel again saw him turned out.
It would have seemed unlikely that The Parisian would return for the Spring Carnival, 1913, but as a gelding he did not have a stud career to retire to, so he returned again. There were reports in early October that he had gone amiss, however he still ran in the Caulfield Cup on October 18. There were rumours that the horse had problems and would be scratched, however Charlie Wheeler insisted the horse was fine and ran him. The Parisian ran a creditable 4th but pulled up lame.
Wheeler’s patience were wearing thin and advised Mr Kirby the horse should be scratched for the rest of the Spring. Eventually in early November , Wheeler returned the horse to Kirby and The Parisian looked set to retire.
However, in January it was reported that The Parisian would return to racing in the Western District but not before he raced in the Australian Cup in March.
Plans changed again as Charlie Wheeler began an Autumn 1914 preparation with The Parisian. After a few starts, Wheeler finally gave up and once and for all returned The Parisian to Coleraine.
At last , the retirement a Melbourne Cup winner deserves, looked likely. Nothing of The Parisian racing appears in the newspaper racing pages until March 1917. On St Patrick’s Day, 1917, The Parisian returned to racing at the Coleraine Racecourse, across from Mt Koroite Homestead. With a hefty weight of 14 stone 9 lbs, the heaviest ever carried at Coleraine, and ridden by none other the John Kirby’s chauffeur, Archie Gunning, The Parisian broke down again.
There was little doubt that The Parisian had run his last race and around two months later, the sad news came through that The Parisian had been destroyed. Reports stated it was due to a start at a picnic meeting in the Western District. With no reports of the horse racing between March 17 and May, it would have to be assumed that his injuries were due to the unreasonable task given to him on St Patrick’s Day at Coleraine, when he is only purpose in racing, it seems, was to attract a crowd.
This snippet from the Barrier Miner newspaper from Broken Hill, four years before The Parisian’s death, foresaw what was to come. Two further unsuccessful preparations and three years presumably in the paddock, he seemingly needed to earn more oats. One would have thought he had earned more than a life time’s supply.
A sad end for a brave horse.
And what of John Finn Kirby? He passed away at Portland on April 7, 1942 aged 84. Elizabeth had passed away 21 years earlier at the Kirby home “Koroite” in Kew, Melbourne. History shows that The Parisian was the best horse Kirby owned, save for Napier, a winner of the Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank and the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool.
Wondering what my tip is for the 2012 Melbourne Cup? Well I can’t go past the French theme which has been profitable for me the past two years.