A Brief History

On March 4, 1896 at the Moonee Valley racecourse, a 100 pound three heat series called the "Inter Colonial Free For All" was staged bringing together the New Zealand champion trotter Calista, the freak New South Wales' trotter Fritz, Australia’s finest pacer Mystery, the illustrious trotter Osterley and the leading New South Wales’ trotter St. Louis.

The organisers were beside themselves with glee as the series proved to be the greatest exhibition of trotting ever seen in the Southern Hemisphere. The incomparable Fritz won in straight heats and the process slashed more than 10 seconds from the Australasian Mile Record.

Inter Dominion History Video

Tragically, it was the last time the Australian public were able to witness Fritz, then only five years old, in a race. He was forced from racing by "an amalgam of officialdom, an antiquated time handicapping system and his own supreme ability".

The Inter Colonial Free For All was in a sense the first Inter Dominion style championship but it was to be the last harness race run at Moonee Valley for eighty years.

It was almost thirty years later when the remarkable administrator James Brennan revived the concept of a series of races between Australian and New Zealand standardbreds. He visited all states with a proposal for a championship series, which would rotate, between capital cities.

Unfortunately his proposal was lampooned as outlandish and impracticable, but not to be deterred, the visionary West Australian chairman pressed ahead without the support of eastern state administrators, and promoted the first Australasian Trotting Championship in Perth in 1925.

That inaugural championship, won by the New Zealand pacer Great Hope, and the subsequent one in which another enzedder Taraire defeated his compatriot Great Bingen, both incurred a heavy financial loss to the Western Australian Trotting Association and to Brennan personally. The great depression set in everywhere, and consequently the Inter Dominion concept was again laid to rest.

In June 1935, harness racing delegates from all states of Australia and both islands of New Zealand met in Sydney in what was called the "Australasian Trotting Conference".

From the conference was born the modern Inter Dominion Championships with the first series conducted in Perth in 1936 in recognition of the exemplary efforts of J.P. Stratton, president of the Western Australian Trotting Association, who had lobbied for the series with great fervour.

Seven New Zealand horses nominated for the first series but doubts about shipping arrangements saw them withdraw en masse. A shipping strike did eventuate and delayed the start of the series by a week, which allowed Logan Derby, the "Marco Polo" of harness racing to contest the series.

The series was a triumph for 65 year old horseman Free Holmes who secured the drive on Evicus when his New Zealand horse was scratched. Backmarker for the championship was the legendary Walla Walla but his handicap was so severe he didn’t even make the final.

Free Holmes, some 50 years earlier, had ridden the winner of the New Zealand Cup at 6 stone 10 pounds. Due to increasing weight though, he became a cross-country rider and won the New Zealand Grand National Steeplechase before turning his attention to standardbred horses. To cap a remarkable career of horsemanship, he piloted Evicus to the title of Inter Dominion "Grand Champion".

The title bestowed on Evicus is still a matter of considerable debate in harness racing circles. Incredibly, she won the title without winning a heat or the final. On the other hand Logan Derby won all three of his heats and the final but lost the title due to the curious points system used at the championship. Points were allocated on the basis of 3, 2, 1 for the placegetters plus 3, 2, 1 for the fastest times. Evicus had amassed more points from her 24 yard handicap than Logan Derby did from scratch. Subsequently, Evicus was awarded the title and the one hundred pound gold cup but shared the prizemoney with the luckless Logan Derby. Some historians, however, set aside the judges decision and simply record the grand final placings: Logan Derby 1st, Evicus 2nd, Nancywood 3rd.

The Inter Dominion thus started sensationally and has continued to dominate sporting headlines ever since.

The second series was held at Wayville in South Australia’s centenary year. Lawn Derby, without doubt one of the fastest horses in the world – so fast in fact that he later became the first horse to pace a two minute mile outside the United States when he posted 1:59.4 in New Zealand, finished fourth from his handicap mark in the final and became the first of many champions never to win an Inter Dominion.

Even though he was renowned for his speed, Lawn Derby made the clockers rub their eyes in disbelief when he shattered the world record in winning a heat, until they realised the race had been run a lap short. It wasn’t the last time that drivers and officials lost count of the laps on the tiny saucer track at Wayville. The heat was re-run after great argument and Lawn Derby, thwarted of a world record, blew the start and missed a place. The final went to the unheralded Dan’s Son who was purchased at auction as a three year old by Ben Coram for the meagre sum of 11 guineas.

So then it was New Zealand’s turn to host their first carnival and all was sent for the opening night on April 16, 1938 when the heavens opened and forced two postponements. The rain sodden track contributed to the dismal showing by the Australian contingent, which failed to win a heat.

A highlight of the series, however, was the win of American import U. Scott in one of the heats. U. Scott became an outstanding sire and his name features prominently in the bloodlines of many of Australasia’s greatest horses.

Similar to the first Inter Dominion in Perth, the championship was awarded to a horse who was beaten in the final. The mare Parisienne won three heats and finished second to Pot Luck in the grand final but won on points by virtue of her fastest times.

Tasmania staged the 1939 Championships and Globe Derby, the greatest of all Australian stallions, sired or grandsired all three placegetters in the final: Springfield Globe, Globe Dorell and Radiant Walla.

The frustration of grand final winners not taking the championship was again experienced when the Inter Dominion returned to Perth under the clouds of war in 1940. New Zealand’s Grand Mogul won the final and the unplaced Logan Derby, deprived of the 1936 title in Perth in similar circumstances, reaped his revenge and the 1940 title by amassing the most points.

World War II caused the abandonment of the series until 1947 when Perth again played host and big money was introduced with prizemoney of 8000 pounds. The famous Tasmanian mare Bandbox won the final and the championship to become the idol of the apple isle. Bandbox achieved a goal that was to elude her grandson, the ironhorse Pure Steel, in later years.

And so the glamour of the Inter Dominion continued to grow. Stakemoney increased steadily, records toppled and the names of many unforgettable horses were added to the Inter Dominion honour roll.

It was New Zealand’s turn to host the Championships in 1948 in Auckland where Emulous paced two miles in record breaking time, 4 minutes 12.4 seconds, to beat Loyal Nurse.

Back at tiny Wayville in 1949 where the tricky track was responsible for a different horse winning each of the nine heats. Some 45,000 people crammed the track on grand final night to see the triumph of kiwi pacer Single Direct.

Melbourne went under lights for the first time on November 15, 1947 and won the right to conduct the 1950 series. Prizemoney of 10,000 pounds was at stake when Captain Sandy etched his name into the memory of Melbourne’s sports fans with a stirring win.

The Melbourne public, true its reputation of mass support for major sporting events, broke all existing crowd records for the Royal Showgrounds track and the horses followed suit by smashing track records galore.

At Christchurch in 1951, the Championships old nemesis Jupiter Pluvius delayed the opening but again New Zealand horses proved too good on their own soil with Vedette winning the final in record time.

Sydney installed lights at Harold Park and New South Wales was in a position to stage its first championship series, which coincided with their 1952 Jubilee celebrations.

The Championships saw the immortal Avian Derby at his magnificent best to conquer Recovered and Floodlight in the final and compensate for the defeat of his sire Lawn Derby in the 1937 series. Six weeks later, Avian Derby time-trialled in two minutes even, the first two minute mile ever run in Australia.

Captain Sandy became the first horse to win two Inter Dominion Championships when, representing New Zealand in Perth the following year, he triumphed as a rising 11 year old over Ribands. The aged champion then went against the clock in two time trials recording 1:59 in Perth and 1:57.5 at Bunbury.

Wayville once again proved to be an action track when South Australia hosted the 1954 carnival. Top mare Dainty Rose lost her driver and bolted for several laps before pulling up distressed. In another heat Lady Joss fell when looking the likely winner. Finally Western Australia took the title with Tennessee Sky when the pre-post favourite Ribands was unable to take his place in the final. He was another of the champions destined never to win the grand final.

Such also appeared to be the likely fate of the horse many regard as the greatest pacer of them all, Caduceus. Handicapped on six yards, Caduceus gave a glimpse of what was to come when he won a heat of the 1955 titles in Auckland but finished down the track in the final. Ribands (30 yards) again qualified for the grand final but the honours of the race were with Tactician (18 yards) who beat backmarker Johnny Globe (48 yards)

Victoria only had one representative in the next year’s grand final in Sydney but one was enough. Gentleman John eclipsed all opposition.

In 1957 it was back to Perth for a South Australian win by Radiant Venture.

By now the tradition of supremacy surrounding the Inter Dominion Championships was well established and year by year, record crowds were attracted to harness racing’s major centres throughout Australia and New Zealand.

South Australia’s Free Hall won on his home track, Wayville, in 1958 then Young Pedro made it three in a row for the South Australians when he won in Melbourne the following year.

Caduceus was still on the scene and far from a spent force. Nicknamed "The Mighty Atom", the 14.3 hands enzedder gave one of the bravest performances ever to win the Inter Dominion in Sydney in 1960. Coming from a daunting 36 yards handicap before a crowd of 50,346 ecstatic fans, he overcame a bumping duel with the giant Apmat and then survived a protest to record one of the most memorable of all championship wins.

The following year the youngest horse to win a grand final was Massacre, a four year old from New Zealand who won the 1961 Christchurch series.

James Scott followed with a win in Perth in 1962 and then began a golden era for super heroes.

The famed Cardigan Bay, the horse who took the United States by storm and became harness racing’s first millionaire, gave a miracle performance to come from 24 yards at Wayville, Adelaide, and achieve the supposed impossible.

To Melbourne in 1964 for another of harness racing’s "immortals", Minuteman, who outstayed the gallant mare Angelique in the grand final.

In Dunedin, New Zealand, the next year one of the grandest mares in harness racing Robin Dundee shared the title in the only dead heat in a grand final. Her partner in success was Jay Ar, and, in an amazing mix up, Jay Ar had been crowned the winner and paraded wearing the victory sash before the judge had finished examining the photo finish print. With due embarrassment, officials recalled Robin Dundee and irate driver Doody Townley back onto the track to share the limelight and winner’s purse.

Tasmanian Chamfer’s Star gave the apple isle another success in Sydney the following year and narrowly prevented Robin Dundee from achieving a unique double of dead heats as there was only a head separating the horses on the line.

The 1967 Perth series resulted in a hometown victory with Phil Coulson driving five year old Binshaw to one of the biggest winning margins in the history of the race 16 yards.

Australia was still to win a series run in New Zealand but the great Halwes was expected to accomplish that feat in Auckland in 1968. The flying Australian had dominated the heats winning all three with consummate ease. However, a quarter crack in the hoof saw the champion scratched from the final when the Championship seemed to be at his mercy. New South Wales pacer First Lee capitalised on Halwes misfortune and broke the Australian drought in New Zealand.

Victoria had a change of luck on the merry go round Wayville track in 1969 when Richmond Lass scraped into the final then took off first prize.

It was the "V" again in Melbourne when Bold David appeared to jump the start in the 1970 final then ran his opposition off their legs in an all the way win.

Another sensation in the history of the big event occurred in 1971 when Junior’s Image won in Christchurch but was later disqualified after returning a positive swab. Phil Coulson, his Perth based trainer driver, received a seven year penalty. New Zealand’s Stella Frost was elevated to first.

Brisbane secured their first championship in 1972 when the 31st Inter Dominion Series was run at Albion Park. The striking black entire from the New South Wales’ Riverina district Welcome Advice was in top form to take the title in the second of his four grand final appearances.

Then came the "Bathurst Bulldog", Hondo Grattan. The diminutive stallion came again after being headed in the straight, to win the richest championship yet run. Prizemoney for the 1973 series was $155,000, a jump of $67,000 on the previous year.

The heroic Hondo Grattan became the first to win two championships back to back when he took out the 1974 title in Perth after a bad fall marred the final.

New Zealand resumed superiority on their own tracks when Young Quinn won the 34th Inter Dominion the following year in Auckland.

Perhaps the biggest boilover in the history of Inter Dominion grand finals came at Adelaide’s new track, Globe Derby Park, in 1976 when the unfancied Carclew, a descendant of the immortal Globe Derby, defeated Pure Steel to take the crown.

If the money men missed out that year they made amends the next. In Brisbane when enzedder Stanley Rio landed a mammoth betting plunge. Co-backmarker, the mighty Pure Steel, failed to handle the clockwise direction of racing and finished out of a place.

Melbourne, proudly showing off its new Moonee Valley complex, hosted the 1978 Championships with prizemoney in excess of $200,000. The Brian Gath trained and driven Markovina took the honours when Pure Steel, troubled by injury, failed to qualify for the final.

The enzedders monopoly on home ground continued in Christchurch in 1979 as the stakes race continued. Peter Wolfenden won the $235,000 series with Rondel.

The magnificent Paleface Adios was a national idol and the sentimental favourite when Sydney hosted the 39th series. "Paleface" had already won over 100 races including six Inter Dominion heats and although he was to add another two heat wins to his tally. It was the fast sprinting Koala King with an elated whip waving Brian Hancock in the sulky who won the final.

The valiant Pure Steel again missed out, finishing third after being forced to race wide. He was also the centre of a pre-race swabbing controversy.

Pure Steel made his final attempt to take the title when Hobart staged its first Inter Dominion in 1981 but another West Australian star had arrived and the hitherto unbeaten San Simeon won the final although he suffered his first race defeat when he lost a heat to Michael Frost. The small track in conjunction with a severe handicap mark cost Pure Steel his chance.

Pure Steel’s owner Russell Roberts was resigned to not winning the elusive championship until he turned Rhett’s Law out in Perth’s 1982 series. While his old champion succumbed to injuries and the march of time, Rhett’s Law showed brilliant speed and stamina to take the championship, which had so eluded his more illustrious stablemate.

Popular Alm, the modern day superhorse, headed the Australian contingent to attack the $317,000 stake pile in Auckland in 1983. The dour staying millionaire Gammalite was regarded as a strong second string.

Although Popular Alm, like Pure Steel in Brisbane, never handled the reverse way of going he still looked the likely winner as the field left the back straight in the grand final but the powerful Gammalite, who had enjoyed the run of the race on Popular Alm’s back, pulled wide and raced home a convincing winner.

In December 1983, tragedy struck as Popular Alm asserted his mantle as Australasia’s, and possibly the world’s best pacer. He broke a bone in his leg and was withdrawn from the 1984 Adelaide series. A superb example of equine surgery at Melbourne’s Werribee Veterinary Research Institute when two stainless steel screws were inserted through the break, has convinced trainer Bob Knight that Popular Alm, in the light of his tremendous fighting spirit, will be able to take his place in Melbourne’s 1985 Inter Dominion Championships. That Championship, the 44th, is earmarked to eclipse all the great carnivals that have gone before.

The Victorian Government has lent its support to the big event as a centrepiece of Victoria’s 150th birthday celebrations. And, in keeping with the spirit of Melbourne’s Moomba Carnival which will be held simultaneously with the Inter Dominion Series, the theme will be to "Get Together And Have Fun".

Thanks to Harness Racing Victoria for this Inter Dominion Brief History summarising the Series until 1985. The Inter Dominion Chronicles outline the Results from then until the 1995 Championship Series in Christchurch which is highlighted in Down Memory Lane.

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