There was a time, not so far in the distant past, when a thoroughbred racehorse was treated like a horse, that is, they were expected to work for a living.
It was not all that far removed from the time where horses pulled ploughs and were used for herding livestock, along with serving vital transportation functions. In the case of a horse, the job of which was racing, then race they did. Some of them, such as Amounis, was still racing at the age of 10 at the end of a career that featured 79 starts, that may have been quite a few more had he not had health issues as an eight- and nine-year-old. Tulloch made over 50 starts, as did Phar Lap, that died unexpectedly at the age of six.
We are not precisely certain when horses were elevated from the working class to that of pampered pets, but elevated they have been. It may have something to do with their potential value as a stakes winner, where winning a single Group 3 event offers prize money exceeding the career totals of the above examples. The cost of acquiring and training a thoroughbred has certainly escalated when you consider what a foal of Black Caviar sold for in comparison to the 160 guineas Harry Telford paid for Phar Lap, and that certainly plays a role. As much as anything else, however, the internal combustion engine that made motorised transportation a reality did much to move the horse from working to leisure class.
One formidable thoroughbred that seems to occupy the transitional period, when horses were still expected to race, rather than being sent to stud after 25 outings, was Delta, winner of the 1951 Melbourne Cup.
Delta had 41 starts over the course of four racing seasons, and if his last season had been anything like the previous, that number may have been well beyond 50.
Delta was foaled in 1946. Breeder Percy Miller of Kia Ora Stud in NSW used Midstream of Great Britain as the sire and the dam was an Australian mare named Gazza. As best as we can determine, Midstream did win one race, but apart from his role in producing Delta, his biggest contribution seems to have been his role in the saying, “Don’t change horses in Midstream,” but as our puns go, we have had better. To our knowledge, nothing in Midstream’s lines contained anything exceptional, except perhaps his Irish sire, Blandford, that was a leading sire and produced four Derby winners in undefeated Bahram, Trigo, and two foals, both named Blenheim, one year apart. The first, from 1928, made 10 starts, winning the Epson Derby in 1930 before being sent to the U.S. The second Blenheim, foaled in the U.S., made 72 starts, so Midstream, at the least, imparted substantial stamina to Delta.
Delta’s dam, Gazza, is another story. Her sire was Magpie, the British import from 1917 that was Australian Champion sire in 1928 – 29. His sire was Dark Ronald, the stallion whose influence as a stud continues to this day, all over the world and across other racing disciplines as well.
Delta was sold as a yearling to Adolph Brasser for £2,665, to be trained by Maurice McCarten and eventually ridden at times by Racing Hall of Fame jockey Neville Sellwood.
Delta got on the track four times as a two-year-old. In mid-March of 1949, he placed second at Canterbury in a maiden administered by the Sydney Turf Club. His first victory came in late May at that same track, another six furlong maiden. Next, he was tried at Randwick, where he won the Australian Jockey Club’s Entourage Handicap over seven furlongs in June, and then concluded with a third placing at Randwick in the AJC Juvenile Handicap at eight furlongs.
As a three-year-old, Delta’s connections began to lengthen him a bit, although his first race in August of 1949, the AJC Hobartville Stakes, was another seven-furlong affair that found him finishing eighth of thirteen. In the next month, he won the STC Canterbury Guineas over nine-furlongs for his first Group 1 win. Then followed a second at Rosehill, followed by a second at Randwick in the AJC Derby over 12 furlongs that was won by Playboy.
Those results found Delta in fine form leading into the 1949 W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. He was able to pull off his first major Group 1 win when he took the post by half a length over eventual Hall of Famer Comic Court. The following week, he added his third Group 1 win, the VRC Victoria Derby at Flemington over 12 furlongs, establishing him as a proficient stayer. Unfortunately, that string came to an end in the 1949 Melbourne Cup, when he went off favourite at 6 – 1, but managed only fifth despite the best efforts of he and jockey Neville Sellwood.
It is possible to say that Delta dropped off a bit in 1950 when he took to the track as a four-year-old, but that is only due to what he did the previous season. It is also necessary to give a nod to the competition, because Delta was running against the likes of Comic Court, Playboy, Alister and San Domenico. He did win three times, those being the Chelmsford Stakes, the 16 furlong Randwick Plate and the Colin Stephen Stakes. He ran second to Comic Court in the C.B. Fisher Plate, but could do no better than fifth in the Cox Plate after winning the year previous, and he did not contest the Melbourne Cup.
Whilst it might have been a bit of an exaggeration to say he had an off year as a four-year-old, it would be something of an understatement to say that his season as a five-year-old was simply exceptional.
He ran unplaced in his first race in late August, but then added three consecutive with the Chelmsford Stakes, the Colin Stephens Stakes and the AJC Metropolitan at Randwick. Then came a second in the Randwick Plate and a first in the L.K.S. Mackinnon Stakes leading in to the 1951 Melbourne Cup. This time, Delta and Sellwood got the job done, winning by three quarters of a length over the New Zealand stayer Akbar on a good track in a strategically run race.
Delta picked up where he left off when, beginning in March of 1952, he reeled off five consecutive victories at distances ranging from nine to 18 furlongs. He ran unplaced, finishing eighth in a 12-horse field on a heavy track in the Sydney Cup, but then rebounded to take first in the Cumberland Stakes on a dead track, proving undisputedly that he was capable at all distances and conditions.
Delta came out only two more times when he was a six-year-old. He had an unplaced performance, getting to the post ahead of only two of eight others at the Warwick Stakes, perhaps having lost his ability to contest seven-furlong races. His last race on 13 September 1952, however, found him winning his third Chelmsford Stakes by a comfortable four lengths over none other than Hydrogen.
He retired having made 41 starts, winning 22 and placing seven times.
Delta stood at Widden Stud, where he established a high-water mark for the time by commanding a 300-guinea stud fee. It was there that he died in 1960.
He was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2013, alongside Star Kingdom and the jumper Crisp.