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WAYNE FRANCIS: Owner & Co-Founder of Nevele R Stud


The 'Franco' name will be a lasting legacy to the huge contribution Wayne Francis made to the harness racing industry in New Zealand.

His death from cancer, at the age of 56, in the early hours of Monday morning, came well before its time. Even as his health deteriorated in recent months, Francis kept in contact with his racing interests and continued business dealings until the last few weeks. "Just a fortnight ago we were discussing the offer on a horse for $18,000," said Peter O'Rourke, who managed the sale of young horses from Spryeydon Lodge. "Wayne said 'see if we can get $20,000,' After knowing him for 30 years, he was a hard man but fair. His word was his bond. He was a straight-shooter who didn't like others who weren't," he said.

Francis developed Spreydon Lodge into a state of the art training facility, where trainer John Hay prepares young horses to race and for sale. "Each year, he would send in 40 to 50 yearlings, and process them from there. Spreydon Lodge always made a profit. He knew the problems of the industry, but never complained," he said. O'Rourke said Francis was very interested "on a daily basis. He kept close contact with what was happening up until the last week or so. He gained immense satisfaction from coming into the stable and being up with what was going on," he said.

Well before the introduction of the Franco name, Francis had formed a partnership with Bob McArdle that started with the importation of the stallion Nevele Romeo in 1972 and the establishment of Nevele R Stud a year later. "We set out in 1973 to develop a showplace stud, and through years of persistency this has come about," said McArdle. "There have been a lot of highs and lows in that time, but to survive 27 years shows the amount of respect we had for each association between a Canterbury farmer and a Tasmanian trader. One of the biggest thrills I had was selling Wayne, and George and John Noble Stanley Rio as a 2-year-old for $25,000. He was the best horse Wayne raced, and the only one I sold him personally. And if I had one disappointment, it was that Wayne would never make a presentation at the races the stud sponsored. I said once that the only way I could get Wayne to do this would be for me to win the Oaks, so he would have to make the presentation, but he has got out of that," he said.

Nevele R Stud has stood approximately 25 stallions, including last season's leading sire, Holmes Hanover, along with Soky's Atom, Live Or Die, Caprock, Falcon Seelster and OK Bye. Francis was involved in the purchase of them all, and in the negotiations of a new stallion the stud hopes to acquire for the coming season. "The stud has continued an upward spiral since we started," said McArdle. "I know Wayne would want it to continue on in that way," he said.

Aside from Stanley Rio, who won the New Zealand Cup and an Inter-Dominion Grand Final, Francis was represented by the top-liners Franco Enforce (1:50), Smart Son (1:49.6), There's A Franco and Nostradamus. He was a steward of the New Brighton Harness Racing Club while in his early 20s, and was involved in the formation of the New Zealand Sires' Stakes Board in the early 80s. "He has been Treasurer of the Board right through, and the success of it has in many ways been due to Wayne's financial ability," said Secretary, Doreen Graham.

Outside of racing Francis was a major land developer. He loved his outdoor pursuits; especially wild game hunting and fishing. And one of his regular companions was 'Bessy,' his rottweiler who would ride on the back of his pick-up. "He would call in every day, pick up his mail and have a chat," said Hay. "Bessy was always with him. We had a pretty hard task, what we were doing, but we always got on pretty well," he said.

Wayne is survived by his wife Debbie, and daughter, Helena.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 30Jun99

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