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BLAST FROM THE PAST


CARDIGAN BAY: Champion

CARDIGAN BAY

"He's done it!"

This simple exclamation conveys more than a Poet Laureate could write to pay tribute to our one and only Cardigan Bay, the first millionaire standardbred in all light-harness history; bred at Chimes Lodge, Mataura, Southland, by D (for Davey) Todd, sold to Mrs Audrey Dean for $5000, for whom he won a fortune and was sold for a fortune; and went on to amass (overall) ten-fold the price the American syndicate paid for him.

Cardigan Bay, the seemingly indistructable pacer now in his 13th year to NZ time (he would have been 12 on August 1 last if he remained here) has already more than Tennyson's Brook - he has not only gone on for ever - he has become a worthy offspring of Old Father Thames as well!

With only three years of racing on American tracks under his belt, the durable gelding has already proved a star of stars. From coast to coast, he became recognised as a 'personality.' His duels with some of the all time greats of pacing have gone into the harness racing archives as some of the greatest races ever witnessed in the history of the sport. In 1964, he took part in three thrilling races with the speedy Overtrick, beating him only once, but two of the races were so close it took the judges several minutes to seperate the horses in the photo-finish picture. Appropriately, the two races were named after a pacing immortal, Dan Patch.

Again in 1966, another young rival, the speediest pacer ever, Bret Hanover, was the opposition. In their first meeting, 'The Pace of the Century' at Yonkers Raceway, a crowd of 36,795, which bet a season's record handle for all tracks of $2,802,745, saw Cardigan Bay beat the great Bret by a length. Bret came back to whip Cardigan Bay in subsequent races but it is that first meeting in 'The Pace of the Century' that fans still talk about.

Last year at Windsor, Ontario, for example, on March 8, despite a 22 degree temperature, he broke all kinds of records in winning the Provincial Cup Pace. Other Windsor track records racked up by Cardigan Bay were: 1) Most money bet on a horse, 2) Most money bet on a single race, 3) Most money bet on a programme, and 4) Record crowd.

It is a tribute to the training ability of Davey Todd, Peter Wolfenden and Stanley Dancer that this aged gamester kept going so long and tirelessly. He broke the two-minute mile mark many times and holds all-time track records of 1:57 2/5 for the mile at Hollywood Park, California, and 1:58 1/5 at Yonkers Raceway. He scored victories in practically every important event available to free-for-allers in America. In NZ and Australia Cardigan Bay, at least in the eyes of th present generation, replaced the legendary thoroughbred Phar Lap as the greatest equine hero Down Under.

Purchased by Stanley Dancer in 1964 for $100,000, Cardigan Bay had to end his American racing career at the close of 1969 according to an agreement Dancer signed with the previous owner, Mrs Audrey Dean of Auckland. A clause in the the contract stipulated that "Dancer will ship Cardigan Bay at his own expense back to Mrs Dean when he is retired from racing, but no later than the age of 13 years." Actually, the purchase price was $100,025.70. The $25.70 was a service charge levied by a Melbourne bank for handling the transfer of funds to Mrs Dean's account in Auckland. Add to this the shipping costs of Cardigan Bay, plus a six months quarantine in England, would be about $106,025.70. For this investment, Cardy has returned to his owners, Irving W Berkemeyer and the Cardigan Stable the bonanza of over $825,000. His grand total is $1,000,671.

The saga of our Cardigan Bay began at Chimes Lodge, a training and breeding farm at Mataura. Davey Todd, a veteran trainer, had a considerable reputation for having a knack with problem horses. With his brother Sandy, Todd runs Chimes Lodge. Cardigan Bay was gelded while a weanling, a common practice with the Todd Brothers. Cardigan Bay did not race as a 2-year-old. He started only eight times as a 3-year-old, winning twice and finishing second once. He was campaigned lightly again at four, and this was largely because he was laid aside for three months at the height of the season because of a cold. In four outings, he won three times and finished second on the other occasion. One of these races, incidentally, was in saddle on January 11, 1960. Cardigan Bay finished second. This was one of the last races in saddle in the harness sport in NZ. At the conclusion of his 4-year-old season he was sold for $5000 to Mrs Audrey D Dean of Auckland.

Today, an observer can tour NZ and literally meet hundreds of horsemen who claim that they could have bought Cardigan Bay but didn't act quickly enough to grasp the opportunity. It was ever thus. In most of his subsequent engagements, while owned by Mrs Dean, Cardigan Bay was trained and driven by Peter Wolfenden, one of the top reinsmen in NZ. Martin Tananbaum, president of Yonkers Raceway, who pioneered the International Pace in 1960, first held discussions in Perth about inviting the gelding to the International Pace held annually at Yonkers Raceway. The Inter-Dominion Grand Finals were about three days off and it appeared certain that every attendance and betting record at Gloucester Park, Perth, would be toppled when the exciting Cardigan Bay raced for the Inter-Dominion Championships.

At Cannington track, a training oval some six miles outside Perth, Cardigan Bay was put through a light jogging session by a groom attached to the stable of Billy Wilkins, who was 'standing in' for Peter Wolfenden as trainer-driver at the time. As the lad dismounted and held the reins lightly, one of the sulky wheels suddenly crumbled and collapsed, some say due to a flat tyre. The usually easy-going Cardigan Bay was startled and bolted from the grounds through an open gate dragging the damaged cart behind him. He headed, terror stricken, for his stall. Before anyone could could flag the great animal down it was too late. He had crashed his right hip severely against one of the walls tearing his flesh open to the bone and it looked as though a merciful end, at the hands of a veterinarian, was the only future for Cardigan Bay. As a matter of fact, one story current at the time was that if Cardigan Bay had been insured, he would have been destroyed there and then.

Most of the credit, according to Australian and NZ sources, for the miraculous recovery of Cardigan Bay should go to a Perth trainer named Ted Greig. He insisted the horse could be saved and arranged for special slings and contrivances to shift the weight off the injured member. The damaged hip was actually six inches lower than the other. Greig once told newsmen: "I know you'll think me silly but Cardigan Bay was almost human. He never kicked or nipped me, or anyone else and he had lots of brains. Somehow he knew he was badly hurt by his accident and so he rested for a long time, until he himself knew he had the strength to move. When I took him out to graze," Greig related, "he was very unsteady and I had to brace my body against his so he could lean on me. I'll never know how really big his heart is," concluded Greig.

Cardigan Bay was out for four months and when he went back to light training his pronounced limp was easily visible. Nevertheless, by the time the Inter-Dominions of 1963 rolled around in February, Cardigan Bay was ready. On hand at Adelaide again was president Martin Tananbaum of Yonkers Raceway with a firm invitation to Mrs Dean to bring the horse to the 1963 International. On the first night of the Inter-Dominion Championships Tananbaum met Mrs Dean and her husband, Merv, near Cardigan Bay's stall. "Mr Tananbaum," said Mr Dean, "speaking for my wife, anyone can have the horse beginning right now for £25,000 sterling ($70,000 American currency), I mean" continued the husband, "starting tonight all the purse money goes to the man who buys him."

That night, after the races, the overseas telephone operator from Adelaide was kept busy as the Yonkers track president realised that only through a purchaser could he hope to obtain the services of this obviously great horse. He had no luck after contacting several of the leading standardbred owners in America. The conversations all raged along the same lines. "Seventy thousand dollars for a 7-year-old gelding. What's the matter, Marty, are you nuts or something?" Had any of the men contacted by Tananbaum, taken his advice they would have immediately reaped a return of $30,000 from the Inter-Dominions against their $70,000 outlay.

With Peter Wolfenden back in the sulky, the year 1963 was undoubtedly a most remarkable season for Cardigan Bay. He won the Inter-Dominions after four gruelling heats. In the first qualifying heat, which he won, a horse put a foot through his wheel that almost unseated Wolfenden. Cardigan Bay also won the second qualifier easily but in the third he was unable to avoid a three-horse pile-up and somersaulted over the fallen horses. Wolfenden was hurled from the sulky onto the track. Even the Final was not without incident. Handicapped from 24 yards back,Cardigan Bay got up to the field but on the final turn was forced very wide by another pile up yet finished strongly enough to win setting a track record at Adelaide, South Australia.

That same year, 1963, Cardigan Bay also became the first horse to win both the Inter-Dominion Championships and the NZ Cup in the same year, a feat which had eluded such great horses as Caduceus, False Step, Johnny Globe and Highland Fling. He won several more classics in his native NZ and as his reputation grew so did the crowds. A record 26,107 turned out for the Auckland Cup in which he beat the field from a back mark of 78 yards. Cardigan Bay continued to break attendance and track records from handicap marks of 30, 42, 60 and 78 yards in various races. In December, 1963, at Hutt Park, he paced against time in a blazing record of 1:56 1/5(the fastest mile of his entire career) to round out a most remarkable year for a horse whose racing days had been declared finished by veterinary surgeons the previous year, and his 1:56 1/5 is still the Australian and NZ record.

The news of the last performance of Cardigan Bay was by January, 1964, well-known to most horsemen in American harness racing circles, but the alert Dancer, it appears, was first to act. He contacted some friends in Australia and NZ who confirmed that Cardigan Bay was indeed as good as the press clippings indicated. When Martin Tananbaum, made plans to attend the Inter-Dominion Championships in Melbourne, to invite horses to the 1964 International Pace, Stanley Dancer asked if he could accompany the Yonkers boss and try to purchase Cardigan Bay. Tananbaum himself, although he was to make a third attempt to invite Mrs Dean, went with little hope of collaring the fabulous gelding. Transportation plans were changed as Dancer and one of his owners, Dr Thomas Siciliano, embarked on the trip Down Under with Tananbaum.

Instead of heading directly for Melbourne a six-hour stop-over was arranged at Auckland, the home of the Deans. In the modest brick house, over traditional tea, scones and biscuits, Dancer bid $90,000 for Cardigan Bay. Mrs Dean said that her price was now $140,000, double that of a year previous. It was agreed after some preliminary discussions that they would continue their talks after Dancer had a chance to see Cardigan Bay train and perform in Melbourne. Strict orders were given that Dancer could not test-drive the swift pacer. It was a "look but don't touch" edict.

In Melbourne, one Thursday morning, before the first heat of the Inter-Dominions, scheduled two days later, Dancer saw Cardigan Bay in only one work-out. He turned to the group around him and said: "He's mine if I can buy him. I'll give her $100,000 for him." Later, in an automobile heading back to his hotel, Dancer was asked how he could make a judgement to spend so vast an amount of money after only one work-out. Dancer revealed that he was impressed with Cardigan Bay's stamina, and the way he had shrugged off an unbelievable work-load in only one week of training sold him on the gelding. That and, of course, the 1:56 1/5 mile he had paced on the small track with a heavy sulky at Wellington the previous December. Stanley said: "When I saw him work on that Thursday morning he paced an easy mile in 2:20 and then when Peter Wolfenden blew him out he did the mile in 2:03 3/5." The secret to Dancer's decision was the fact that Peter Wolfenden in conversation had revealed that on this same morning he had jogged Cardigan Bay some 17 miles. His jogging schedule seemed to run between 17 and 20 miles at least four days a week, plus a mile or more of hard work every day.

When on the following Saturday night Cardigan Bay threaded his way from a 36-yard handicap through a 12-horse field to win for fun by four lengths Dancer was determined more than ever to acquire Cardigan Bay for his syndicate, which was headed by Irving W Berkemeyer who also owned another great gelding - the trotter Su Mac Lad. Negotiations began early the following Sunday morning, Dancer was scheduled to leave for the United States at 3pm. The deal appeared to be at a standstill at the $100,000 mark until Dancer, remembering the many cups and trophies, and other momentos, back in Mrs Dean's living room in Auckland, sensed the deep devotion and affection she had for Cardigan Bay, promised to ship the horse back to her at his own expense when the gelding's racing days were ended. A hurried, hand-written agreement was drawn up, signed and witnessed, and Dancer was on the plane headed back to America with minutes to spare.

The rest is now history, and already two journalists, one in NZ, the other in America, are planning to write books about him. And he has, perhaps, also been NZ's greatest ambassador. The men in Parliament must have ideas along these lines, because it has been mooted that his feat will be marked by the issue of a special stamp in NZ. Trotting interests have made representations to the Department of Internal Affairs and to the Postmaster-General(Mr Scott), who has shown interest in the idea.

Cardigan Bay was by Hal Tryax(imp), 3, 2:00, from Colwyn Bay(4:25 for two miles), by Josedale Dictator(imp) from Pleasure Bay, by Quite Sure(imp) from Helen's Bay, by Guy Parrish(imp) from Gold Patch, by Geo M Patchen. Gold Patch, foaled at Green Island, Otago, was out of Trilby, who was claimed to have been a thoroughbred and is probably the same Trilby who appears in Vol II of the NZ (thoroughbred) Stud Book. That Trilby was by Torpedo from Christina, by Javelin from Cascade, by Sledmere. Trilby was apparently of little account on the racetrack, but some of her relatives were good - one in particular her full-brother, Torpina, won three times in a row as a 3-year-old, including a hurdle race at Riccarton. Torpedo, sire of Trilby, was by the famous imported sire Musket, sire of the immortal galloper Carbine, winner of the Melbourne Cup as a 5-year-old in 1890 carrying 10st 5lb, still the highest weight ever carried to victory in one of the world's greatest races. Carbine later went to England and became an outstanding stud success. Torpedo himself was a capable racehorse. In the 1890-91 season he won his first seven races on end and later on in the same season he won four more on end.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 18Sep68

 
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