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CECIL DONALD: First trainer to 1000 wins


The first trainer in either code to train 1000 winners (in 1972) Cecil Donald has a special hniche in harness racing history. But a simple stat hadly does him justice. In an erawhen the Purdon have rewritten most training records, the innovation and scope of the vintage Donald years stand out as exceptional.

Donald was the "young man in a hurry" of the trotting world from the time he started out training at Addington in 1922. Having five horses was considered a large professional stable then, and only people like James Bryce had 20. Donald soon had 30 in work. Within seven years he had won his first training and driving premierships, his 45 training wins being 11 more than the previous best. He also held the driving record.

After a hat-trick at Forbury he was described in the media as a "healthy vigourous young man whose secret is his personal supervision every day of a huge team of 30 horses." When Cecil won his final Premiership in 1961 he had equalled James Bryce's enduring record of seven. He had won an Auckland Cup (Carmel) and quinellaed the Dominion Handicap (Kempton, Writer) within 12 months of his first. He also posted the lowest winning total of any premiership with 17 wins in 1941-42 when there were only 559 races and huge travel restrictions. Through that era his operation and enterprise constantly attracted headlines.

Some of the major ones:

* In 1931 he became the first to drive and win a race at Addington (the first) the morning after driving in the seventh race at Alexandra Park. Donald had arranged for Captain McGregor to fly his primitive aircraft from Christchurch to Feilding, left the Northern Express near there for his first plane ride and was able to inspect his stable before the first race.

* Early trainers stood stallions to make ends meet but Donald went a lot further with Jack Potts which arrived from America as a 3-year-old in 1922 imported by Alec Anderson. Jack Potts, a lovely pacer, and the only American pacing-bred sire available then, became the breeding phenomenon of his era winning nine successive sires premierships.

* In 1938-39 Jack Potts was the first to leave 100 winners in a season. Donald also stood sons of Jack Potts such as Gamble (2nd in a NZ Cup) which at times caused some problems with officialdom. In 1937he had over 150 horses at Belfast, unheard of in that era. He also raced and trained gallopers and stood thoroughbreds at stud.

* Calumet Axworth, a disappointment, and Lusty Volo, a £1500 purchase, were stallions Donald imported from America. Lusty Volo died from heart failure whe his oldest crop were only two. He left top liners Great Venture and Sir Michael as well as the dam of Our Roger.

* At the 1937 New Zealand Cup meeting Donald was the leading trainer, the leading driver and his stallion Jack Potts the leading sire - another unique record. At the 1940 New Zealand Cup meeting, Donald trained the winner of the NZ Cup (Marlene), the Dominion Handicap (Tan John, a $16 buy and then aged 14) and the NZ FFA (Plutus) - a feat not repeated in the 72 years since.

* Cecil quoted his feat of training the home-bred but chronically unsound Marlene, then seven, to win the Cup as his finest achievment. As usual his skilful brother, Ron, drove, Cecil believing lightweight was an advantage in the cart. He had also been severely injured in a fall driving Accountant that year. But Cecil drove Cairnbrae (an 8-year-old) with supreme judgement (led last mile) to win his second Cup for owner Ted Lowe in 1964 at a time when the various brackets including King Hal, Gildirect, Urrall, Falsehood and Dandy Briar were popular combinations with the public. Donald had minor placings in other Cups with Lindbergh, Jack Potts, Bayard, Lary Shona and Falsehood.

* More than once he produced three horse brackets in the race. Dandy Briar won an Auckland Cup. In later years Chief Command, Indecision and Rauka Lad were his top pacers.

* In 1941 Donald based his entire racing team at Oamaru in the weeks leading up to the August Addington meeting because of the drier tracks. "The Belfast track was always a problem in winter but those were the sort of ideas he would come up with," Donald's former chief assistant Bob Nyhan recalls.

* A Donald innovation relieved a disastrous fire at Belfast which killed his high class pacer Accountant, a brother to Marlene. He had a special irrigation system for his track. "It was something new," Nyhan said. "Nobody bothered to water their training tracks like that. He also groomed the track during training sessions." When a rear barn burst into flames during the night in June, 1944, only the resources of the track watering system saved the main barn. Five horses died in the fire, most by suffocation.

* In 1950 Donald who had held some large sales of his own of young stock here in the 1930's, landed in Sydney with 25 horses to sell or, if not sold, to race. Among them was the stallion Gamble which fetched 1300 quineas. Most of the rest found a new home.

* The Donald training regime accentuated the basics. He had extraordinary patience in "setting a horse up" - claimed as 12 months or more by some. "He was a great feeder," Nyhan remembers. Glocose was a staple part of the horse's diet and his biggest successes were with stayers.

* Don Nyhan used to recall how Donald would put colts together on trucks without stalls as part of their education.

* Beside all that Ces Donald was a leading cattle dealer and eventually bought farms to cater for his stock. To manage one of the biggest racing teams in the country, a stud, and maintain his dealing interests makes him one of the rare achievers in the Kiwi harness world.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 2May12

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