Alister Clark was the founding Chairman of the MVRC and renowned for his breeding of roses.
By Michael Manley
The Alister Clark Stakes is a race which boasts a roll call of winners few events can match. Its recent results also indicate it is cementing itself as one of the feature races for the three-year-old age group in the land. Racing Victoria and Moonee Valley Racing Club acknowledged this in early December when it announced a prizemoney hike of $450,000 taking its total from $300,000 to $750,000.
The DCE Alister Clark Stakes (2040 metres), which will be run on Friday, March 18 is now Moonee Valley’s richest three-year-old race and comes in fifth overall for the season at the Club. It also is the seventh richest race for the age group held in Victoria each season and boasts the highest stake money for a three-year-old race held over 2000 metres. RV’s Executive Director, Racing Greg Carpenter said the race had proven to be a high quality one in recent years and the prizemoney boost would ensure that it would continue. Most racing pundits know that the W.S Cox Plate was named after the Club’s founder William Samuel Cox but who is Alister Clark and why does he have such a prestigious race named after him? Simply, Alister Clark was an historical figure of significance for Moonee Valley being the Club's first chairman, but he was also to the forefront in another field as he was Australia’s pre-eminent breeder and grower of roses.
Clark is regarded as Australia’s most influential figure in roses and his devotion to them is acknowledged today with tribute gardens and the proliferation of roses which he bred and named. His Wikipedia entry is as follows: “Alister Clark (1864–1949) was the best known and most influential Australian rose breeder. His roses were the most widely planted in Australia between the World Wars and made an enduring difference to the appearance of Australian cities.” Clark named at least 150 roses and 83 of these have survived.
At his old homestead of Glenara, near Bulla, there is the Alister Clark Memorial Rose Garden built with the roses he had bred.
Moonee Valley not only pays tribute to him by naming the prestigious race after him they also acknowledge his passion and pride of growing flowers as part of the winning connections trophies. For many years, the winning owners of the Alister Clark Stakes were presented with a garland made up of Alister Clark’s roses. Now they receive the Alister Clark vase with a bouquet of roses he bred placed in it.The club also had its own tribute garden, the Alister Clark Rose Garden, and with the redevelopment the roses from it have been temporarily placed in a greenhouse. A club spokesperson said they would be part of the new development and could form either a tribute walkway or a garden in the new redevelopment.
The Alister Clark Stakes was first run in 1939 and has proven to be a race of historical significance as it has been won by some of Australia’s most famous racehorses. It has transformed from its initial incarnation as an open handicap to a weight-for-age event and since 1987 it has been a three-year-old’s only event. The race has also swapped and changed distances back and forth from 1600 metres to the 2040 metres which it has now settled at.
Regardless of race classification or distance it has always held a prominent place on the Valley calendar and as an open age handicap it was won by legendary horses such as Tranquil Star (dead-heated in 1942), Comic Court (1950), Chicquita (1951), Hydrogen (1953), Wiggle (1959) and Aquanita (1962). That trend continued when it became a weight-for-age event with giants of the turf such as 1976 Cox Plate winner Surround dead-heating with Family of Man in 1977. Family of Man went on to win the race two years later. The status of the race hasn’t been diminished since it was made a three-year-old’s only event with the first edition being taken out by Vo Rogue in 1987.
Other notable winners include Zabeel (1990), Durbridge (1991) and Naturalism (1992).
Recently the Alister Clark Stakes has found itself in a sweet spot in the three-year-old racing calendar. As a 2040 metres event it fits in ideally for three-year-old’s who contested the Australian Guineas. Five horses have completed the double which were Flotilla (1988), Zabeel (1990), Dignity Dancer (1999), Pins (2000) and Mr Murphy (2001). The race is proving an ideal lead-in event to the Sydney three-year-old staying features.
Last year’s Alister Clark Stakes was won by Grandslam from Young Werther and Explosive Jack. In the ATC Derby, the placegetters fought out the race with Explosive Jack turning the tables on Young Werther. In 2018 the Alister Clark Stakes runner-up Levendi claimed the ATC Derby. The 2020 Alister Clark Stakes winner Nonconformist finished second in last year’s Caulfield Cup.
Moonee Valley CEO Michael Browell summed it up best when he thanked Racing Victoria for giving the Alister Clark Stakes a significant boost and sharing their vision in growing the race. “It’s a race steeped in history and its future is now assured at The Valley for generations to come,” Browell said.
As will Alister Clark’s name and his roses will also live on into the future.