Fred Marsland, pictured in this file photo working in his saddlery business, rode Lucky Cloud to win the 1973 Stradbroke, but had to waste really hard to ride the Toowoomba trained galloper at his handicapped weight of just 45.5 kilograms.
As the Stradbroke and Brisbane Cup Group 1 features head the wonderful long weekend of racing at Eagle Farm, out in the Brisbane suburb at Wavell Heights there is a 66-year-old former jockey who is long retired from race riding, but who holds fond memories of both races.
Fred Marsland won two Group 1 races in his long riding career. The first one was aboard the George Boland trained Galleon King in the 1969 Brisbane Cup. Galleon King only had the postage stamp weight of 7 stone 6 pounds and with Fred Marsland riding hard, Galleon King proved too strong for the Tommy Smith trained Roman Consul and Cyril Kearn’s top Sydney stayer Sandy’s Hope.
Fred had to wait four more years to ride his second Group 1 winner. The irony was that his second Group 1 victory only came about because he was one of a few senior jockeys who could ride the horse at it’s allotted weight. The imperial weights of “stone and pounds” had been replaced with “kilograms” just prior to the Brisbane Winter Carnival and the Toowoomba galloper Lucky Cloud had been allocated just 45.5 kilograms for the Stradbroke. Lucky Cloud’s trainer Norm Higgins rang Fred Marsland and offered him the ride. Fred Marsland told Norm that he couldn’t make the weight and so Fred was destined not to get a ride in the Group 1 feature. In offering Fred the ride, Norm Higgins had told him that if he couldn’t make the exact weight, he didn’t want him on the horse – no overweight would be allowed. Fred thought about the weight after he got off the phone and told me that he decided he’d ring Norm Higgins back and told him he’d ride Lucky Cloud at 45.5 kilos. “Gee I had to waste hard to make that weight” Fred said, but continued “it was all worthwhile when he led all the way to win the Stradbroke. That horse of Fred Bests’s (Bengalla Lad) came along side me in the straight – in fact for a few strides he headed me, but with the light weight we were able to fight him off again”. When the judge called a halt, Lucky Cloud had beaten Bengalla Lad with Sydney visitor Lord Nelson third.
Fred said he only ever rode that one horse for trainer Norm Higgins. He did get offered the mount in the Doomben 10,000 the same year on Lucky Cloud when the Doomben 10,000 was run after the Stradbroke. “I turned the ride down on the horse in the 10,000 as I was committed to Clive Davis’ galloper Silk Hat, but as luck would have it, Silk Hat never got to take his place in the field, as he had a near fall and injured himself while galloping on the course proper, after rain, just days before the race”. Lucky Cloud ran third in the Doomben 10,000 to Craigola and Charlton Boy. Craigola continued the run of Group 1 winning lightweights during 1973, being asked to carry just 46.5 kilos in the Doomben 10,000 - with a young kid called Mick Dittman steering him.
Lucky Cloud was to be one of the best two performed progeny of his sire Hasty Cloud – a New Zealand stallion and representative of the Hurry On line. The other was top New Zealand galloper Kiwi Can, who ran second to fellow countryman Fury’s Order in the 1975 Cox Plate. Like many stallions, Hasty Cloud was to produce more stakeswinners as a broodmare sire than as a sire. He is the sire of the great unraced mare Blondie who as a broodmare produced four top Group horses, namely Procol Harum (Group 1 Caulfield Guineas), Librici (Group 1 QTC Derby), Beachside (Group 2 Newcastle Cup and Group 3 Ipswich Cup) and Double Take (Group 2 New Zealand Cup).
When Lucky Cloud and Fred Marsland won their Stradbroke and wrote themselves into the record books, their names were etched next to three of the great gallopers of post war Australia whose Stradbroke victories had immediately preceded them – namely Divide and Rule (1970 - one of two inaugural inductees this week into the Stradbroke Hall of Fame), Rajah Sahib (1971) and Triton (1972).
No Stradbroke winner in the now 35 years subsequent to Lucky Cloud’s win has been successful carrying remotely near the weight of 45.5 kilos which Fred Marsland was asked to ride the horse at. Spedito, victorious in 1975 for Graham Cook came the closest, but he carried 49 kilos.
With the current weight scale limits that apply to today’s thoroughbred industry increasing all the time, it is taken as read that Fred Marsland and his 45.5 kilos winning Stradbroke weight will be written into racing folklore eternally. As testament to that statement, no nominated horse for this year’s Stradbroke was even allocated anywhere near 45.5 kilograms by the handicapper – and with weights being raised etcetera, the lightest weighted acceptor in next Saturday’s Stradbroke field is the 3YO Victorian trained filly Ortensia and she will carry 51.5 kilograms.
Sadly trainer Norm Higgins has passed away and whilst Lucky Cloud was to be his only Group 1 winner, 90-odd percent of trainers never train even one Group 1 winner. To win a Stradbroke and run third in a Doomben 10,000 with Lucky Cloud speaks volumes for his training ability.
The Stradbroke of 1973 brought two battlers of the thoroughbred industry – a jockey called Fred Marsland and a trainer called Norm Higgins together and no doubt gave both men wonderful lasting memories on which to reflect. Just 1 minute 22.9 seconds after the gates crashed back, both were the toast of the Australian racing industry when they combined for a great Group 1 victory.
The Higgins’ family continues their involvement in the racing industry to this day, as Norm Higgins son Gary and Gary’s wife Therese operate the highly respected Higgins Thoroughbred Transport from its Toowoomba base. As for jockey Fred Marsland, well until he officially retired and sold the business in October 2006, he and his wife Vivien had worked side-by-side daily, running their successful F & V Marsland Saddlery from under their home, supplying girths, stirrup leathers, bridles, reins, etcetera, to many different countries, after having established markets as far afield as Hong Kong and England. These days the roar of the racetrack and the making of equine gear play second fiddle to the affable couple’s gallivanting around the globe. They have just about seen more of the world than Christopher Columbus, as recently they returned from travelling to England, Ireland and Scotland, then just for good measure they also “sailed down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Budapest, which was wonderful”. Asked what’s next on the horizon in the Travel Stakes, Vivien last night told Justracing “Canada and Alaska are the next two country’s we plan on visiting and we are looking forward to that”.
Come Saturday afternoon, it would be fitting if the Marsland and the Higgins family’s reflected momentarily with pride on their wonderful memories from 1973 - I’m sure they will.