It was appropriate that horse breeder Sally Oakes was able to claim the WA Oaks in her list of racing victories.
Her filly Gay Affair shared the 1979 classic with Brechin Castle after the judge could not separate them on the post.
Jockey Graeme Webster Snr, who wore the Oakes all pink colours that day, recalled the race: “I had to withstand a late finish by Brechin Castle and neither myself or John Wilson knew who had won as we eased down. A week later Gay Affair and I beat that filly, in the St Leger,” Webster would subsequently ride Brechin Castle to victories in the CB Cox Stakes and a Bunbury Cup. “Both of them were good racehorses and Gay Affair later ran second for me in a Perth Cup. I remember Mrs Oakes as a lovely lady.”
Many others have thought similarly.
Cath Cripps the second of four daughters inherited the passion of not only her mother but also her grandmother, the legendary horse breeder, Sheila Gwynne of Raconteur fame, one of the States’s great gallopers and sire.
Mrs Cripps recalled an idyllic childhood of swimming, netball, concerts and ponies, the latter being ridden every day. The plaiting of manes and tails had to be perfect for both horse and rider for the two older girls, Lib and Cath, under meticulous guidance. However, the younger two daughters, Jen and Caro, had bowl cups, ‘‘so they did not require such personal diligence on personal care,’’ quipped Cath!
The inter-generational interest in horses continues to this day with Sally’s grandsons also to the fore, albeit in different capacities, while Cath and Jen have also raced horses, with their mother.
Sally was the only child of Sheila and George Gwynne, her father being an amateur jockey and prominent lawyer, her parents initially living opposite each other in Adelaide Tce, Perth-a bygone era when residential city properties extended to the Swan River. Later, after moving with her parents to Parliament Place West Perth, Sally had Frank and Betty Boan as neighbours. They were also involved in the Sport of Kings and Boans shop was Perth’s most iconic department store, until demolished, in 1986, to make way for Myers.
Sally, like her mother, was educated at Loreto Convent and was a very good ice skater, a diminutive figure, poised and well balanced on the rink. By then her stamping ground was in Peppermint Grove.
Sally married a Boans director Lew Oakes, in 1960, and the union produced four girls between 1962-7, before they later parted company. In this period her stamping ground was Peppermint Grove and the girls agisted their horses in Claremont.
Sally lost her mother in 1975 and Fairfields Stud also had three moves, from Armadale-Coolup-North Dandalup. Sires standing at their stud included, Chanteclair, Moysater, Helenus, Ron Bon, The Fort, Jeroboam, Speak Low, Umteen. Fairfields was sold in 2008.
Ron Fleming became the Oakes studmaster, after intially doing work practice there during his second year at Muresk Agricultural College (1978).
“Sally had just purchased and built facilities to transfer her mother’s establishment to Coolup. She had some great mares and her dominant stallion was Indian Conquest but she also leased Umteen, from NZ, for three years. The mating of him and a Raconteur mare, Dina Tell, produced the best horse she raced, Gay Affair.”
Fleming said she had a great eye for a horse and was very particular in their presentation, manners and temperament. Indeed, the traits deemed desirable by her for raising children. “She was a wonderful boss and mentor and very supportive to young people in the industry. She provided me with some great opportunities, including being sent to Victoria for experience. When I returned, I was promoted to stud manager.”
Fleming quipped that she had even introduced him to his future wife, something he thought was coincidental at the time but now thinks was a bit of match making……… well, once a breeder, always a breeder!
When Fleming was later appointed WATC Apprentices Training Manager, (Perth Racing), his old boss wished him luck, reminding him that apprentices were like yearlings: “all have potential, some will surprise, some will disappoint, but all would benefit from being given opportunities.” He never forgot that remark.
Sally remains one of only three appointed Life Members of the WA Bloodhorse Breeders Association. The others being, Sir Ernest Lee Steere, and John Andrew, (from Alwyn Park Stud and the only one still living). Sally and John were awarded it on the same day. Sally was also on the Australian body (TBA), including as treasurer.
Veronica Jackson-Smith recalled her time on the WA body: “In Sally’s time, as President or Vice-President, we got the Sunspeed Bonus Scheme implemented (now Westspeed) and she helped form Goodwood Bloodstock (later Magic Millions). We had many meetings with politicians to get funding for the breeding industry and she was liked and respected.” Both received a Centenary medal for service to the industry.
Sally was an promoter of WA bloodstock in Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa and encouraged buyers from there to visit Perth.
A stroke in 2016 led to a nine-month rehabilitation period but she bounced back to undertake a European tour with her girls in 2018. An earlier highlight, for all of them, included seeing undefeated champion mare Black Caviar win at Flemington.
Racing was made for someone like her, not only because of her love of horses but also for her fine fashion sense. An elegant dresser, she possessed a shoe collection that achieved legendary status-in style and numbers.
The Oakes girls produced 10 Grandchildren for her. She even saw one grandson, Patrick Cripps, get married, and two ‘great grandies,’ arrive, with a third being born in April. As a Perth FC supporter, in the WAFL, Sally ended up ‘singing in the Carlton FC changerooms at Paddy’s 100th game celebrations with the Blues, with ‘Narney,’ receiving boisterous acclaim from his teammates.
Born: West Perth, 5 July 1938
Died: Claremont, 16th February 2023
By John Elsegood