In 1922 Goondiwindi was ‘on the map’ as a hub of scientific endeavour surrounding the total eclipse of the sun but in the 1970s Goondiwindi’s fame came from another source. Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi Grey, was not the most classy racehorse ever to race around an Australian racetrack but he was undoubtedly one of the most popular horses ever to race in this country. Much of his popularity arose from the rags-to-riches, fairytale nature of his story.
In 1969 Goondiwindi grazier ‘Winks’ McMicking had his eye on a grey colt coming up for auction in Brisbane. ’Winks’ was not flush with cash as times had been hard for a few years so he needed some additional backing to bid for the horse. On his next trip to town he called in at the Victoria Hotel in Goondiwindi. The licensee of the hotel, George Pippos, was interested in forming a syndicate and two other men happened to be in the bar that day. Bill Bishop, the local newsagent, and Jim Coorey decided to join and the four men put up $1000 each.
The young horse had promising but not outstanding breeding and had happened to knock his knee in the float on the way to the sales putting off some potential buyers so the syndicate managed to pick up the colt for a bargain $1300. The hopeful group put the colt in the hands of a former Goondiwindi station manager now trying to break in to horse training in Brisbane by the name of Bill Wehlow. They named the horse Gunsynd as a short version of Goondiwindi Syndicate.
Gunsynd enjoyed early success under Bill Wehlow’s training but it was after he was transfered to the stables of legendary trainer T.J. Smith that Gunsynd started to win major races. No doubt Wehlow was disappointed to lose Gunsynd from his stables and then to witness a great improvement in the horse but such was the lot of many trainers. Tommy Smith was a class above all others in the art of training racehorses.
Gunsynd enjoyed a purple patch over 1971-1972 with a sequence of seven straight victories then a famous win in the W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. This win made Gunsynd the biggest money winner in Australian racing history. Gunsynd then ran third in the Melbourne Cup in a courageous performance carrying 60.5 kilograms after looking like he might run last before putting in a typical late run. Gunsynd was unanimously voted Horse of the Year for 1972.
Gunsynd was hugely popular, not only for his gutsy performances on the track, but because he was such a character. He knew how to play up to the crowd, standing still and refusing to go onto the track. He would look up at the stands and wait for the applause and only when it was loud enough would he consent to go the the barriers. After giving his all trying to win he would look to the crowd and respond to their applause with a bow before heading the the winners stall. He captured the popular imagination and was even immortalized in song by Tex Morton with words by Nev Houritz.
We’ve cheered him from the grandstand’
And we’ve cheered him from the flat
We’ve cheered a little beauty
A real aristocrat
He’s never thrown the towel in
Been a trier all the way
A horse we’re really proud of
The Goondiwindi Grey
For a more wideranging discussion of horseracing in Queensland come to our Out of the Port session on Wednesday November 21 “And they’re off…” – A history of Queensland horse racing
Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland