Australian businessman and mega-tycoon John Singleton is a person who is worthy of biographies, TV shows, perhaps even a movie.
He came from humble beginnings as the son of an auto mechanic and built an advertising empire that provided him with a fortune close to $800 million dollars, depending on when the count is made and who is doing the counting.
That sort of success would seem to indicate that Singleton possesses keen sense of business acumen and an intuitive sense of the future trends in his business realm of advertising.
Two things seem to contradict this narrative.
One, Singleton has been married six times.
Most of us figure out the futility of marriage after two or at most three attempts.
Two, Singleton is an investor in Thoroughbreds, a pursuit that has produced more corpses than it has heroes.
It is that second endeavour that concerns us, as we operate a Thoroughbred racing website. True, through his six wives, it could be said that Singleton has left some progeny, eight of them it seems, but until one of those wins a Cox Plate or a Melbourne Cup, they hold little interest for us.
By Singleton’s account, he developed his interest in horses by listening to the races on the radio with his dad. Dad was a working man, labouring as an auto repairman, but he was also a punter. Again, according to Singleton, his father learned the hard ways that which most know, which is that gamblers never break even.
Singleton the Horse Man
There is often some controversy associated with John Singleton and his involvement in the Thoroughbred racing industry. We will look closer at a couple of those later on.
Most knowledgeable racing people acknowledge that Singleton has made many contributions to racing in Australia. He has had some influence overseas as well; as he maintains a breeding operation that will often send his mares to the northern hemisphere to be served by stallions in Europe and the United States.
We do not know precisely when Singleton responded to the siren call of the fillies, but his formative years of listening to racing on the radio doubtless played some role, as similar or divergent things often influence boys and girls during their formative years.
What we do know is that Singleton’s extensive operation of fillies and mare harken back to a single Group 1 winning mare from the 70s named Denise’s Joy. We thought that she might have been named for one of Singleton’s wives, but that turned out not to be the case.
Notable John Singleton Horses
Denise’s Joy was foaled in 1972, sired by Seventh Hussar, a French horse, out of Fun For All, An Australian mare. Looking at her lines, it does not seem as though Denise’s Joy came from a highly distinguished line, but many capable racers have worked and raced without notoriety outside of the industry, so it is impossible to say with great certainty.
Sire Seventh Hussar won some races in England before being shipped to Australia around 1971. Fun For All did not make much of an impact on racing, her best being a win in a Listed race and a third in the Group 2 AJC Flight Stakes. We believe she was never truly meant to race and that she made only nine starts before being converted into a broodmare.
Denise’s Joy was a different matter altogether.
She made 51 starts for 13 wins and 17 placings. She was racing at the time before the current Group classification system went into effect, so all of her wins were given as Principal races.
From 1974 through 1977, she was a reliable stakes producer. Five of her wins would eventually come under the Group 1 classification. Those were the 1975 VRC Oaks. That race got its start in 1861, the same year the Melbourne Cup started. It is for three-year-old fillies is run at set weights and offers a $1 million prize pool. The trip is 2500 metres, a staying race run on the Thursday following the Melbourne Cup as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival.
The other big wins by Denise’s Joy were the 1975 WATC Australian Derby (2400 m), the 1976 Queensland Oaks (2400 m), the 196 VRC Turnbull Stakes (2000 m), and the 1977 VATC Underwood Stakes (2000 m).
She was the top 3YO Australian filly for the 1975 – 1976 racing season, so it could be said that Singleton was not taking anything other than a calculated risk with her, other than the all-too-common outcome in Thoroughbred breeding where the offspring do not equal the success of the champions.
Denise’s Joy would create a line that is responsible for over 30 stakes winning gallopers, something that would accurately be described as a solid return on investment.
A few of those 10 foals she produced, seven of which were fillies, were Joie Denise, Sunday Joy, Tuesday Joy and More Joyous.
Joie Denise was a Queensland Oaks winner by Danehill. Sunday Joy was the winner of the Group 1 Australian Oaks. She would give birth to Tuesday Joy by Carnegie. Tuesday Joy won over $3 million from 24 starts, with four Group 1 wins and numerous Group 2 wins or high finishes in multiple Group 1 races.
By this time, Singleton’s Strawberry Hill Stud was well established.
We will have more about More Joyous, Singleton’s best, further on, but for now, we will mention that she is a daughter of Sunday Joy by More Than Ready, so it is clear that Singleton was breeding and racing his own product, rather than bringing in others.
This fellow, Strawberry Road, was probably the first one that drew attention to Singleton as a racing man. Foaled in 1979, he was by U.S. sire Whiskey Road out of New Zealand’s Giftisa. Whiskey Road was a modest racer; at least, he did not race much. He made four starts for one win, but in the barn, he contributed not only Strawberry Road, but also 1981 Melbourne Cup winner Just A Dash.
Strawberry Road won almost $2 million dollars racing in the 80s. He won in Europe as well as Australia, with wins in France and Germany. He won three Australian Group 1 races as a three-year-old and at four, he won the Cox Plate. Strawberry Road, along with being an Australian Racing Hall of Fame inductee, raced 45 times. Standing at stud, he sired a remarkable 368 progeny that produced 233 winners, some of which won major Grade 1 races in America.
Singleton, however, did not confine his efforts to the descendants of Denise’s Joy.
Singleton invested heavily in his pursuit of top-class mares.
Samantha Miss fetched $1.5 million as a yearling. She won two Group 1 juvenile races, the Champagne Stakes and the Sires’ Produce Stakes. She ran third as a three-year-old in the Cox Plate, so her talent was plainly obvious, enough so that when she went on the auction block that John Singleton plonked down $3.85 million to buy her at the 2009 Easter Broodmare Sale.
Samantha Miss, by Redoute’s Choice, would give Singleton four winning foals, the best of which was Miss Fabulass. Miss Fabulass was the product of Singleton’s decision to send Samantha Miss to England to be served by Frankel. Miss Fabulass has not exactly scorched the turf, but given Singleton’s record, she might one day produce the next Winx or Black Caviar.
More Joyous was Singleton’s best race mare.
Her sire was the U.S.A.’s More Than Ready and some might recall that we made earlier mention of her dam Sunday Joy.
Racers of the calibre of More Joyous do not come along often and this champion left any who were in any doubt as to John Singleton’s savvy and luck when it came to breeding Thoroughbreds with little left on which to base a case against him.
We will commence with the most important figure – prizemoney won.
More Joyous took in over $4.5 million from 33 races. She won 21 of those, with three placings, leaving her unplaced just nine times.
It could have gone otherwise, though.
She won a 2YO filly handicap at Rosehill in 2009, but she did not cross the line in her first big chance, the Group 2 Silver Slipper at Rosehill. This, despite having Gai Waterhouse as her trainer and Nash Rawiller as her jockey.
She made amends in her next race, winning the Group 2 Reisling Stakes at Rosehill under Darren Beadman.
She then pulled another disappearing act in the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes, running 15th of 16. Singleton must have been wondering what he had with More Joyous.
Gai Waterhouse soon righted the ship, however, and More Joyous strung eight consecutive wins together, the last two being the Group 1s George Main Stakes at Randwick and the Toorak Handicap at Caulfield.
After a fifth in the 2010 Cox Plate, she ran off another four straight, including the Group 1 Futurity Stakes and the Group 1 Queen of the Turf Stakes. She would win the Queen of the Turf the following year and take out the Group 1 Doncaster Handicap. A week later, she won the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes by a comfortable 2.5 lengths for her last major win in 2012.
This final win supplied an element of melodrama to a sport that is not lacking by any objective measure.
It came on Sydney Cup Day in 2013 when Waterhouse’s son Tom, a bookmaker grandson of Saint Big Bill Waterhouse, told acquaintances that More Joyous would lose the All Aged Stakes, which would turn out to be the last race for More Joyous. Lose she did, running seventh out of eight despite being sent out second favourite.
That led to John Singleton firing Gai Waterhouse on live television, something that was an unnecessary humiliation, which Singleton could have handled more discreetly.
They Shoot Horses Don’t They, Or is it Kidnap?
Singleton was tangentially involved in a plot hatched in Libya to kill the stable manager of 50 horses kidnapped in at gunpoint in January of 2020.
The horses were part of the Goldolphin operation owned by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. While it seems unwieldy to kidnap horses, one, much less 50, the Sheik is a billionaire who would probably have paid the ransom without blinking an eye or noticing that the money was gone.
Singleton’s connection was that one of the horses was owned by him. It was Churchill Downs. He was foaled in 2003 and won three races for Singleton, including the Listed quality Widden Stakes. He posted a third place in the Golden Slipper Stakes to winner Miss Finland and Pure Energy in second.
Singleton sold the horse to Goldolphin in 2012, so his connection to the Mid-East unrest is tenuous, but it seems another instance of Singleton’s ability to make the right moves at the right time.
John Singleton has had better fortune than many who have tried to make a go at breeding and racing Thoroughbreds. The Strawberry Hill Stud operation is located in Mount White, an hour’s drive north of Sydney, occupying a beautiful acreage devoted to producing the next crop of Australia’s best racers.
Some of the racers coming from the stud wind up with top trainers, including the afore-mentioned Gai Waterhouse, Kris Lees and Chris Waller.
Some of the more recent winners to come out of the stud are Kiss And Make Up and Strawberry Boy. The first won the Group 2 Todman Stakes in 2016, beating Capitalist and Weatherly handily.
Strawberry Boy was by Redoute’s Choice out of Strawberry Girl, one of the other progeny of Strawberry Road, the horse that cemented the name of John Singleton in the ranks of top Australian horsemen.
Singleton’s level of involvement in the stud is probably confined to calling the shots, but he seems vibrant and will celebrate his 80th birthday less than a week after the 2021 Melbourne Cup.
We do not know if Singleton and his operation will field a Melbourne Cup runner, but it is hard to imagine a better birthday present than blowing out 80 candles and sipping a toast from the Melbourne Cup.