RICHARD MASON....PRINCE OF TRAINERS
Richard John Mason (‘Dick’) was born in Wellington on the 29th May 1853, the 3rd son of English migrants Sidney Mason and his wife Ann Parker. Ann was an accomplished horsewoman whose passion for riding was passed on to her son, culminating in his becoming the most successful race horse trainer in New Zealand turf history. Richard Mason started his career as a jockey. As a nineteen year old he was employed by Henry Redwood of Nelson; ‘The Father of New Zealand Turf’. In the 1850’s Redwood imported many fine horses from Australia including the valuable sire ‘Sir Hercules’. In 1868 Redwood moved from Nelson and established the Chokebore Lodge stud in Riccarton.
The late 19th century was a boon time for racing in the lower South Island where gold mining was creating wealth from breeding, importing, and training horses. In 1876 there were 60 days of racing at thirty venues south of the Waitaki River, with Dick Mason often given the responsibility of transporting horses from Riccarton to the gold fields meetings. Between these venues which were often spaced up to 400 miles apart, he had to locate flat areas of land suitable for his sprinters to have two or three furlong workouts.
In 1875 Redwood sold half his business to George Gatenby Stead (his initials GG were appropriate). Richard Mason, tall and too heavy to contemplate a long term career as a jockey, did succeed in winning the 1874 inaugural Dunedin Cup on Redwood’s mare Lurline.
George Stead saw the potential of Mason as a trainer, and on the death of David Jones, Richard Mason was given full control of training at the Redwood/Stead Yaldhurst property. At 29 years of age Richard Mason married Sarah Franks at Riccarton; their only child Percy was born the following year. Percy became a gifted athlete, swimmer, and rifle shot while in his father’s later years he became a valued assistant and trainer in his own right.
By the late 1880’s Stead had bought out Redwood, taking full ownership of Yaldhurst. Henry Redwood died in 1907.
Money would not always give George Stead the horses he wanted. The unattractive Carbine had been bought by the colourful character Dan O’Brien. This horse was several inches shorter than desirable, bad forelegs, and other features that did not mark him out as being a champion. Carbine did however have something that a physical examination could not detect; courage and a great heart. After winning five races in a row Dick Mason recognised Carbine as a unique colt that would be an asset to any owner’s stable. George Stead asked Mason to make an offer for the two year old, but when asked to name his price, the wily Australian refused to negotiate. Two and a half years later Carbine retired with lifetime earnings of 29,626 pounds, an Australasian record that he held for 30 years.
A great season for the Stead/Mason partnership occurred in 1901/2 when their charges won ten races at the Canterbury Jockey Club meeting. Two years on at the Sydney Spring Carnival talk was all about the Mason trained filly Cruciform. He had been pitted against the brilliant mare Wakeful in the Spring Stakes. Wakeful was considered at the time the best mare ever bred in Australia. Richard Mason was particularly proud that day as Cruciform, the horse he had been training from his earliest ventures on the track, ran down Wakeful to win. The Australian press were now taking notice of Mason trained horses.
In 1903 the Sydney racing journalist known as ‘Milroy’ regarded George Stead as the most successful living race horse owner in the southern hemisphere. Through his racing column, he informed the Australian public that since Dick Mason had taken charge of training, George Stead had New Zealand winnings of about £85000, while capturing almost every important race in that country. ‘Milroy’ noted that since 1887 Mason had trained nine New Zealand Derby winners with Scots Grey, Medallion, Stepniak, Bluefire, Uniform, Altair, Menschikoff and Orloff. The Stead/Mason team had won the Canterbury Cup six times, the CJC Champagne Stakes twelve times (including a run of ten successive seasons), the New Zealand Oaks seven times, the CJC Welcome Stakes six times, the CJC Middle Park Plate eleven times, and the Challenge Stakes eight times
Stead’s last annual trek to Sydney was in 1907, he died two years later. The Yaldhurst stud and racing team were put up for sale. The pick of Stead’s stable went to the wealthy sheep owner G.D. Greenwood who completed the coup by securing the services of Richard John Mason.
The Mason/Greenwood stables at Teviotdale succeeded in winning eleven Derbies, the Jackson Plate ten times, nine CJC Challenge Stakes, six ARC Royal Stakes, six Middle Park Stakes, six Hawera Stakes, three St Legers, four AJC Derbies, four AJC Craven Plates, and the WRC Champion Plate five times. Richard Mason is credited with having trained 30 Derby winners in New Zealand and Australia. This is probably a world record that still stands today. His success was put down to an uncanny ability to judge a horse’s capability. He instinctively knew both his own and the opposition horses advising Greenwood on their chances of victory, withdrawing if he was in doubt.
In 1917 a Brisbane sports journalist gave the following description of Richard Mason. “Tall and erect, a man apparently in his middle sixties, Richard Mason, the trainer of Biplane, does not in appearance give any idea of his profession. He might be taken for a man of business in the city, a lawyer, a bank inspector-anything, in fact, but what he is. There is nothing horsey looking about him, if the term may be used. It is only when one converses with Mason on racing matters that one realises that he knows the subject, but even then he is not given to airing his knowledge of his own particular calling. Mason is a quiet, intelligent man devoted to his horses, but is careful not to become boastful; though in good truth there is much he might be pardonably proud of.”
The most noteworthy of Mason trained horses from the Greenwood stable was Gloaming. At the ages of four, five and six years Gloaming equalled Desert Gold’s record winning sequence of nineteen races, a record held until this year, and now overtaken by Black Caviar. Gloaming’s last race was incredibly as a ten year old, with victory in the J.D. Ormond Memorial Gold Cup. Of his 68 starts he had 57 wins, and 9 seconds.
Gloaming died at Greenwood’s Teviotdale stud in 1932 at seventeen years of age. A week later Dick Mason died followed a few months later by George Greenwood; the end of a remarkable era in Australasian turf history. In 2010 Mason was inducted into the ‘Racing Hall of Fame’.