Born on 17 April 1880 at
a sheep station on the King River near Wangaratta, Victoria, the son of
Henry Connolly and Elizabeth née Bould; the family settled in
Melbourne in the 1890s where Connolly inherited his love of the turf through
his father, a keen horse trainer. One of his early successes - and a life
long favourite - was with The General a sprinter who Connolly trained
as a jumper and went on to win the Grand National Steeplechase in 1904.
Connolly was no ordinary man. With the motto “money lost - nothing lost,
courage lost - everything lost”, he possessed an extraordinary astute racing
mind and with a sharp eye for horses, he proved to be a fearless punter who
championed the surprise plunge bet; at the age of fifteen he sold his pony
for £8 and backing nearly the entire Flemington programme collected £700.
As a horse trainer, his successes were many and varied: Celerity a
magnificent sprinter in the Oakleigh Plate (1910); Sea Prince in the
Williamstown Cup (1913); Murillo in the 2,600m Metropolitan Handicap
(1927) and what he considered as the toughest race the Newmarket Handicap
with Rostrum (1922) and Sunburst (1923) where he netted
£100,000 in bets. But it was Connolly’s shrewdness as a planner backed by
his fearlessness in the betting ring that brought off one of the most
audacious feats in turf history - control of Nightmarch. Having
attempted to buy the champion New Zealand stayer from the owner/trainer A.
Louisson for £10,000, Connolly instead became the “campaign manager” in an
extraordinary 1929 season on the turf. He backed the horse in the Epsom
(£50,000), against him in the Metropolitan won by Loquacious, and of
all decisions to win over the mighty Phar Lap in the Melbourne Cup
(£180,000) on odds of 6-1 having heard from his close friend, the jockey Jim
Pike that Phar Lap was difficult to restrain in the Victorian Derby.
“Brown-haired, blue-eyed and purse-lipped… (he was a) fastidious and
conservative dresser, reserved, quietly spoken”, the following year Connolly
teamed up with Dave Davis, the American co-owner of Phar Lap to
mastermind the infamous Melbourne-Caulfield Cup betting scandal winning over
£200,000; countless bookmakers all over Australia went broke and many still
remember it as one of the calamitous results in the history of Australian
racing. Not surprisingly, the bookmakers feared Connolly; his tips were
followed by many eager punters and a new Australian idiom was born - “the
luck of Eric Connolly”. A friend of John Wren (Boroondara Cemetery),
he died suddenly on 9 October 1944 at his home 661 Toorak Road, Toorak
leaving an estate valued for probate of £5,741. On 16 January 1906 he
married Ada née Webb.
(above) Eric Connolly
(Reproduced with kind permission of the
Australian Racing Museum)
ADB Volume 8 1891-1939 (Cl-Gib).
The Argus 10 October 1944.
The Herald 5 November 1929, 9 & 10 October
1944, 15 October 1982.
The Age 10 Oct 1944.
Melbourne Punch 16 October 1913.
Griffin, J., “John Wren. A life reconsidered”
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