In our weekly series, we take a walk down memory lane to learn about some of the characters, both human and equine, in whose honour our important races are named. This week we look at Shannon, who has the G2 Shannon S. at Rosehill this weekend.

The 1940s, much like the decade before it, was one for the record books in Australian racing, and it was from this era that the lightly built, lightning-quick Shannon emerged.

Across a six-year career that began in Sydney in 1943, and wrapped up in California at the end of 1948, Shannon, a son of Midstream (GB), ran into the likes of Tea Rose (Mr Standfast {GB}) and Flight (Royal Step) in a sport dominated by such names as Bernborough at home and Citation (USA) in the United States.

His wins included the 1944 AJC Sires’ Produce S. and 1945 Epsom H. He won the George Main twice and the Hill S., along with six American stakes races that included the 1948 Hollywood Gold Cup. Shannon’s 20 race wins and 13 placings from 44-lifetime starts tell only a fraction of his story, however, because his eventful life made as many headlines at the time.

In 1946, when vying for a second Epsom at Randwick, Shannon was odds-on and sensationally left at the barrier by half-a-furlong. His rider, Darby Munro, rode furiously to lose the race by just six inches, the pair going down to Blue Legend in a roof-raising finish. It would become the most famous Epsom ever and, unofficially, the fastest mile ever recorded at Randwick.

In 1947, with the death of Shannon’s owner-trainer Peter Riddle, the horse was sold in a star-lined public auction by William Inglis & Son. Shannon fetched a record sum of 26,000gns, the highest price paid for an Australian thoroughbred to that time.

He was then sold to California by his new owner, WJ ‘Knockout’ Smith, only to find himself excluded from registration to The Jockey Club and, by default, the American Stud Book. A flaw in Shannon’s pedigree 11 generations removed was the issue, and it took all the heel and spur of Hollywood attorney Neil McCarthy, the horse’s new owner, to settle affairs.

By the end of 1948, when Shannon retired from American racing, he was as famous off the track as on it. He held track records on two continents across four seasons on the turf and dirt. He led the 1948 older-horse division in America, and he was the first horse to crack two minutes for a mile-and-a-quarter in that country.

‘Shannon is a 7-year-old bay stallion, Australian by birth and friendly as an overgrown puppy,’ according to TIME Magazine in 1948. ‘Unlike Citation, everything about him is controversial.’

From 1949 until 1955, Shannon was a stallion at Kentucky’s Spendthrift Farm, where he stood under the watchful eye of Leslie Combs II. It was a long way from Kia Ora Stud where he’d been bred in 1941, and he stood alongside Bernborough, his old Australian friend.

Shannon wasn’t an overwhelming sire and, over time, his legacy disappeared from the stud books. But his explicit and complicated life persisted in racing lore, in particular his Epsom of 1946.

The race named in his honour was instigated in 1978 and, run consistently ever since, it has climbed in Sydney importance from a Listed event to the Group 2 that it is today.

Story courtesy of TDN AusNZ