C E R (Closer Economic Relations) agreement signed between Australia and New Zealand.
June 6 - $84 million redevelopment of Ch-Ch Hospital approved.
June 8 - New Zealand becomes nuclear free. The New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act was passed into law, establishing this country as a nuclear and biological weapon-free zone.
June 20 - All Blacks win the first World Cup. With tries to Michael Jones, John Kirwan and captain David Kirk, the All Blacks defeated France 29-9 at Eden Park. Kirk became the first (and so far only) All Black captain to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy
July 23 - Outlets opened to long queues, with the first division prize in the inaugural draw worth $360,000. In the first year Kiwis 'invested' nearly $249 million in the new lottery, which was based on a weekly draw of six numbers.
The TranzAlpine rail service to Greymouth begins.
Credit: Ch-Ch City Libraries
Television viewers were introduced to an innovative visual technique called "Trotcam" at Addington last Saturday. And such was it's popularity, it will be an intergral feature of Television NZ's Inter-Dominion coverage beginning on Saturday week.
Trotcam, a special camera mounted on the back of the mobile gate, was the brainchild of TVNZ senior cameraman Chris Stanbury and sports producer Doug McCammon.
The pictures Trotcam transmitted communicated a true impression of speed and excitement as the competitors swung in behind the mobile arm for the $75,000 TVNZ Mile. We saw Our Mana bumping keenly against the meshed grill, under a strong hold fron trainer/driver Colin De Filippi, and we saw the eventual winner Cinimod Junior lope lazily into his handy front row draw. This was "live" harness racing, not a dead spectacle filmed at medium range from the grandstand.
Stanbury told the Weekly Trotcam had long been an idea he wanted to see used for covering feature harness races, but, until now, technology had been the obstacle. "It's something we've been thinking about for several years - I saw it done at the Brisbane Inter-Dominions last year - but we haven't had the technology to do it. Cameras always needed to have a cable to send signals back to the control van, but now we use a transmitting receiver called a "golden rod" to send the signals through the air."
Stanbury and his workmates modified the utility tray of the mobile, cutting a hole in the roof and mounting the camera. "We were originally going to sit a cameraman on the roof, but it was so high it would have been very unsafe going around the corners," he said.
Permission to use the mobile was quickly given by club officials, the starter and stipendiary stewards, and the TVNZ crew used Addington trials to test the camera. Trotcam will be one of nine cameras TVNZ will have at Addington during the Inter-Dominion carnival, and the ground crew will number at least 30. "We tried a few new ideas (last Saturday) and what you saw was a scaled-down version of what you will see in the Inter-Dominions. It's going to look excellent," Stanbury said.
Credit: Matt Conway writing in HRWeekly 19Feb87
Jack Litten, whose colourful career in harness racing concluded with his death aged 81 in Christchurch last week, had many attributes. These included a sharp wit and a keen sense of humour. Several notable incidents in his life showed him also to be a man of principle.
Litten, as will be reiterated to eternity, "made" many top horses. He will best be remembered, of course, for Caduceus, that little bombshell he nicknamed "Charlie" because he stood in front with his feet turned out, a la Chaplin.
With Caduceus in 1960, Litten became the first "Down Under" representative in international competition in America - programmed by Yonkers Raceway, New York. Fourth in the first race of the $150,000 three-leg series, and third in the second leg, Caduceus dead-heated for first with Canadian rep. Champ Volo in the final leg, only to be disqualified from that placing after an inquiry into interference allegedly caused by Jack by crossing over too acutely in the early rush. Litten accepted the decision with a grace that made him forever and a day 1-1 favourite with his American hosts. Caduceus had also proven his point and endeared himself to harness racing buffs in what was to be his new home. Pushing his career record to 53 wins and earning $329,937 - in those days a record for a horse bred in Australasia - Caduceus sparked an American demand for NZ standardbreds that has since proved the life-blood of our sport.
The two other most outstanding horses made by Litten - who made a belated entry into the sport after early experience with the famous Button family and their horses at New Brighton followed by some years as a bush-whacker - were Vedette and False Step.
Moulding Vedette into great shape for Christchurch breeder Charlie Johnston and his racing partner Mick Jenkins, Litten gained four wins, five seconds and three thirds with him in his first campaign as a 4-year-old in 1949-50. Knowing Vedette to be a budding topliner, but disturbed by the things Johnston was telling him to do with the gelding, Litten came in after finishing third with him when hot favourite at Hutt Park in February, 1950, and told Johnston he wanted nothing more to do with him, and he could take the horse away. Top horseman Maurice Holmes "inherited" Vedette, who wound up winning 19 races including the 1951 Inter-Dominion Grand Final at Addington and £27,710 - a national record, racing or trotting.
Litten educated and trained False Step for 18 wins before owner Jim Smyth complained about Jack appointing Bob Young to drive him at the 1957 Auckland Cup meeting. Litten had been suspended, along with contemporary Cecil Devine, from driving for six months for their infamous whip-slashing duel in a mobile free-for-all at the 1957 NZ Cup carnival. Unplaced in th Auckland Cup, False Step had finished third and fourth in the other tight-class races at the Alexandra Park meeting. Litten would not be shaken in his faith in Bob Young. Again it was a case of Litten letting go a top horse to stand on his rights. False Step, handed on to Devine, went on to win three NZ Cups, came within a whisker of an Inter-Dominion Grand Final win at Addington and also starred in America.
Litten possessed great humility. Whilst nobody doubted his educating and conditioning skills, he was often criticised for his driving - and just as often announced to those around him that he knew he was "no Maurice Holmes." Yet when Caduceus won that epic encounter over Australia's Apmat in the 1960 Inter-Dominion Grand Final in Sydney to the roars of a sardine-tight crowd of 50,346 (where have they gone to today?!), it was with Litten at the helm in Caduceus' sixth Inter-Dominion attempt. He had been piloted in earlier unsuccessful bids by such top flight reinsmen as Australia's Frank Kersley and Jack Watts and NZ's Doug Watts.
The writer first met Jack Litten in the flesh immediately after he had won the 1951 NZ Derby with his own great pacer Fallacy. A green 18-year-old cadet in the racing room of "The Press" in Christchurch, I was asked to do a leader-page feature on the Derby winner for the following day's edition. Jack was so helpful that the article earned me a letter of commendation from the chief reporter of the time, the late Charlie Powell, from whom praise to the lowly such as I was almost never elicited.
I found Jack no less helpful for the rest of his life - to the day, only a few weeks ago, when, with Fred Freeman, I went to get for the "Weekly" a few lines from him and a photo to go with them (and to see him, of course) as he lay waiting for it all to end in Princess Margaret Hospital. Even then the sense of humour had diminished not a fraction. Suffered gangrene of the lower legs, doped to the eyeballs to allay the pain, and his feet encased in fleece-lined hug-boots up to his shins, he told us: "I think I'll get a patent out for these shoes - I think you could win a race or two with them."
Finally, a story from Jack that will live for all time: The approach to him on the eve of his 1960 Inter-Dominion Grand Final win with Caduceus. The mystery caller to his hotel room in Sydney said it was "worth the stake to get beaten with Caduceus in the Final." Jack informed the briber: "No business. One or two of my friends in NZ have put a £ on his horse, and I would hate to let then down; and I would hate to let the horse down." I can close my eyes and picture Jack, as cool as a cucumber, saying exactly that.
(Article by Frank Marrion writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 19Jun84)
The Jack Litten story began in February of 1906.
Born John Duncan Litten at Little River, he has been known as Jack for as long as he can remember. He was one of six children. As is so often the case, it was Jack's father James who was to introduce him to the world of horse racing. His earliest recollection of the sport, "I think I was about six", was attending a local meeting at Motukarara to see his father's horse Wai Rakau race. Wai Rakau was no more than a passing interest for James Litten, leasing him at an advanced age, but he had some success.
His father owned a team of bullocks, and more often than not this was the mode of transport for the Litten family. Jack easily recalls the occasion his family moved to Burwood. "We drove them all the way from Little River to Burwood. It was quite a spectacle," he said. His father had been employed to haul timber from the felled Burwood tea gardens, a well known land mark in those days, to the sawmill. It took about 18 months to complete the job, and then the Littens went into the saw milling business themselves. It was soon after shifting to Burwood that Jack remembers getting "hooked" on trotting. He would quite often attend meetings at the nearby New Brighton racecourse and there were a number of horses being trained in the area. "I remember a horse called Sunrise winning at New Brighton one day. It made quite an impression on me," he said.
When about ten years old, Jack began working with horses at the nearby stable of Miss Isabel Button. "Bella" Button was something of a celebrity in those years, through her exploits with show horses and racehorses. "She was a wonderful horsewoman, a great side-saddle rider," Jack recalls. However after a few years Miss Button was tragically killed in a freak accident. The accident occurred the day before they were due to take a team of horses to a Dunedin Royal Show. "I was to have ridden a horse called Patience at the show, but that day Miss Button said she would ride him. She was sitting on top of him when he threw his head back. It stunned her and she fell off backwards and broke her neck," said Jack. "The funeral was quite an event of the day. She must have requested to be carried to the service by horses. There were three each side," he added.
Jack competed at many shows and among his rivals was none other than Bill Doyle. They were the same age. He was also involved with a number of trotting trainers in those days at Burwood, among them the leading New Brighton horseman "Manny" Edwards. "It was tough then. The trotters were always rather shortly bred, being out of variously bred mares. They were rough going things. You really had to work at making a racehorse. Not like nowdays. You can just about qualify any horse as long as it has four legs," said Jack.
When the depression arrived, the first people to feel the effects were those involved in the building industry. Jack could see there was no future in sawmilling and began making ends meet by breaking in young horses. In the 1920s the family moved to Addington. Jack worked his horses at Addington and became good friends with the top horseman Vic Alborn. Alborn's home, directly opposite the main entrance to Addington on Lincoln Road, is now dilapidated and surrounded by barbed wire, being occupied by "bikies".
In 1931, Jack made his first venture into standardbred breeding, securing the Logan Pointer mare Logan Lass at an advanced age and mating her with Native King (Dominion Handicap). Jack named the resulting filly Royal Romance and she was to give him immense pleasure. At her third four-year-old start, Royal Romance won at New Brighton in December of 1935 by six and 15 lengths. She was officially trained by Morrie Holmes, but Jack was doing all the work with her. Royal Romance continued to win races for Jack in following seasons but as a seven-year-old he sold her to Alborn. "I was ofered a bit of land next to our place and I badly wanted it. I sold her to Vic on the understanding that I could have her back as a broodmare, though," said Jack. Royal Romance won the 1939 Dominion Handicap for Alborn and retired the winner of 10 races. She left a couple of minor winners for him, while one of her daughters, Sure Romance, produced Royal Mile (NZ Trotting Stakes)and another in Royal Triumph left the Cup class pacer Junior Royal and a fine broodmare in Vignon, although Jack did not breed those foals fron Royal Triumph.
In 1939, Jack also bought the aged mare Diversion for £70 from Billy Morland, of Country Belle fame. Diversion had already won races and was to credit Jack with his first success as a trainer-driver in December of 1939 at Wesport. Jack has fond memories of the trip. It was his first race day drive. "I went over there with Bob Young, through the Lewis Pass when it was just being completed," he said. Later that season Jack was approached a Addington one morning by Alborn, who was interested in buying Diversion. Another friend, Clarrie Rhodes, overheard the conversation and also wanted to buy her. "Clarrie ended up with her, but under the same understanding that I would get her back for breeding," said Jack. But Clarrie wasn't so keen on that idea, and Jack agreed to take alternative foals from the beautifully bred mare. Diversion's second foal for Clarrie was the Light Brigade colt His Majesty, while Jack sent her back to the champion sire the next year and she again produced a colt, which he named Fallacy. In his debut as a three-year-old at Ashburton, Fallacy won the Second Eiffleton Handicap, beating His Majesty. Fallacy went on to sweep all before him that year, winning seven of his ten starts including the 1951 NZ Derby in 12 lengths in record time.
In 1940 he married his wife Iris. "I used to see him running to catch the trams," Iris recalls. Jack had moved to his present property in 1945 and left him almost penniless. There was just a little farmer's cottage and the bare land," Jack recalls. "We had a lot of work to do for a couple of years," he added. The property, which was already called Preston Farm, was soon being knocked into shape however. A five furlong track was laid, which would have few equals even to this day. With lengthy straights and perfectly curved bends, it served the purpose of getting young horses 'organised' admirably.
Jack didn't have much time for training horses, but luckily success came quickly. The first 'outside' horse to arrive at Preston Farm was a youngster by Gold Bar. "Allan Holmes dropped him off soon after we settled in one day. There weren't any stables, he just tied him to a tree," said Jack. The youngster was a colt called Congo Song and Jack produced him as a juvenile in 1947 on three occasions for two placings including a second in the Sapling Stakes. The following season Congo Song finished second at Addington in August, and had made such a suitable impression that even as a maiden he was considered the favourite for feature 3-year-old events at NZ Cup time. However, less than a week before the big meeting, Jack was injured on an incident on the track at home and was unable to continue training Congo Song. Allan Holmes took him home and won the Riccarton Stakes on Cup Day, the Derby on Show Day and the Metropolitan Challenge Stakes on the third day, starting favourite on each occasion. Jack was not credited with training Congo Song in those events, but Holmes gave him his percentage. Iris remembers the occasion well. "Allan wandered into the kitchen and put £50 in my hand. I had never seen so much money in all my life," she said.
The following season Jack produced another promising juvenile in Preston. Part-owned by him, Preston was placed at two and won twice as a 3-year-old, but later broke down. There were many other training successes for Jack in the early years of Preston Farm, about 30 by 1950, but it was Fallacy who really sent him on his way. Tragically, at the beginning of his 4-year-old campaign, Fallacy dammaged his back in an accident in training. "We tried to patch him up, but he was never the same," said Jack. Retired to stud, Fallacy was to initially suffer the fate of many locally bred horses. That was a crippling shortage of mares, and any quality. "I remember Allan Matson coming out one time when Fallacy had just begun his stud career. He had a browse at the mares Fallacy was serving and said he would never leave a winner," said Jack. The first foal born by him was False Step and the following year he produced Dignus (NSW Derby).
Fallacy went on to become one of the most successful New Zealand-bred stallions ever, also siring True Averil (NZ Cup), Junior Royal, Falsehood, Allakasam, Rain Again, Happy Ending, Kotare Legend, Doctor Dan, Doctor Barry and Individual among his 240 winners. He is now a leading broodmare sire, with around 360 winners and 30 in 2:00 to date, including Hands Down, Graikos (1:56.6PL), Royal Ascot, Mighty Me, Shavid Skipper (US1:55f) and Whispering Campaign among his credits. "He was foaled right outside the kitchen window and is buried there as well," said Jack.
Fallacy's outstanding 3-year-old form was only the beginning, however. That season, 1951/52, he prepared 17 winners and entered the 'top ten' in the trainer's premiership for the first time. That was a position he was to maintain for the next decade, winning the premiership in the 1959/60 season.
In the early 1950s, Jack had also been educating a couple of promising geldings in he shape of Our Roger and Vedette. He won races with Vedette as a 4-year-old, but that son of Light Brigade was to be passed on to Morrie Holmes, who won the 1953 Inter-Dominion Final at Addington with him. Holmes has always maintained that Vedette was the best horse he ever sat behind. Our Roger was to win a New Zealand Cup in 1955 under Jack's guidance, but there was still so much more to come.
Early in 1952, a diminutive U Scott colt had arrived at Preston Farm to be educated. This youngster looked far from inspiring, he stood in such a way that he was soon being called Charlie, after the legendary comedian of earlier years. But he was a blood brother to Highland Fling, so Jack needed little encouragement to let him show his paces. Caduceus, was originally the name of the rod carried by Mercury, the messenger of the gods, but to the trotting world he was to be known as the 'Mighty Atom'.
Jack found that the U Scott colt had ample speed in his early education, and as a juvenile he was registered and made his debut in the Timaru Nursery Stakes. However, he attracted little attention in finishing down the track and was put aside to develop. Caduceus had his first 3-year-old start at Nelson in October, 1953, and in Jack's hands won by three lengths. He was on his way. He won again on the second day of that meeting and went on to take the NZ Derby and the Champion Stakes and Futurity Stakes at Ashburton.
As a 4-year-old, Caduceus again won six races, including the All Age Stakes at Ashburton in October from 30 yards, beating Tactician (60 yards), Johnny Globe (60) and Young Charles (60), the NZ Metropolitan Challenge Stakes at Addington on Show Day, the Auckland Cup, and a heat of the Inter-Dominions at Alexandra Park. His Auckland win came on the first day of the Championships, with Jack also handling Our Roger to win the other heat. Caduceus finished third on the second day to easily qualify for the £10,000 final, but that event was to be the beginning of a long and frustrating search for Inter-Dominion honours that would end after no less than six attempts. Handled by Doug Watts, Caduceus set all the pace but broke for no reason when in front 100 yards from the finish. "It was just one of those things," said Jack. It was a dramatic contest, Tactician and Morrie McTigue holding off the gallant back-marker Johnny Globe to win by a head.
That season Jack also produced the first of Fallacy's progeny in False Step, winning the Methven Stakes with him before running second in the Sapling Stakes. Caduceus could win only one race in NZ as a 5-year-old, but False Step and Our Roger more than made up for that. At the NZ Cup meeting, Our Roger won the Cup in the hands of Doug Watts and False Step won the Derby by a head over the fine filly Glint, recording 3:12 3/5 for the mile and a half, which was 2/5 of a second outside Fallacy's race and NZ record. Caduceus had enjoyed no luck in the running of the Cup, but straight after False Step's Derby, came out and won the Ollivier Free-For-All by six lengths over Rupee and Johnny Globe, recording a brilliant 3:04 2/5 for the mile and a half from a standing start. "That was one of his best efforts," recalls Jack. False Step won three of his remaining four starts that term, including the Champion and Futurity Stakes at Ashburton, emulating the feat of Caduceus two years earlier.
Caduceus was in the meantime in Sydney for the Inter-Dominions, but in the care of Jack Watts had to be content with two placings in the heats and a third in the Final to Gentleman John, finishing a little over a length from the winner after starting from 36 yards. However, soon after he trounced a similar field in the Lord Mayor's Cup at Harold Park.
The next season Caduceus won the Ashburton Flying Stakes, beating False Step, but was no match for Ces Devine's rugged stayer Thunder in the NZ Cup. Jack won later in the day with False Step, the first of three successive wins at the meeting. Caduceus won the mile and a quarter Express Handicap from 30 yards on the second day and downed Johnny Globe in the NZ Free-For-All on the third day to wrap up the Cup Meeting, which was run over four days that year. A fortnight later the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club held a Summer Meeting and, after finishing second to Ces Devine and Captain Sandy in the NZ Pacing Championship, Caduceus won the last race, the mile and a quarter Shirley Sprint, by six lengths from 36 yards. False Step and Our Roger were unplaced in each event, but it was indeed a formidable bracket.
At Easter that season, Tactician beat False Step by a nose in the mobile mile Rattray Stakes in 1:59 4/5, the first occasion 2:00 had been bettered in a race in Australasia. On the second day False Step downed Tactician under free-for-all conditions and Jack also handled the smart Fallacy 3-year-old Dignus to win. Meanwhile, Caduceus had been in Perth for his third Inter-Dominion under the guidance of Frank Kersley. A free-for-all win at Gloucester Park elevated him into favouritism for the final, but it was obvious even a horse of his undoubted quality was going to be hard pressed from the backmark. Starting from 36 yards in the series, Caduceus was the equal top points scorer with eventual winner Radiant Venture after two wins and a second in the heats, but had to settle for fourth in the final, run in front of over 30,000 people.
The next season the NZ Cup proved a showcase for Clarrie Rhodes' brilliant 4-year-old Lookaway, who was out by five lengths at the finish over Thunder, with Jack and False Step fourth and Caduceus unplaced from 30 yards. Caduceus was placed on the second and third days of the meeting but really came into his own on the final day, winning both feature events, the NZ Pacing Championship and the mobile mile NZ Flying Stakes by five lengths in 2:00. On each occasion Jack was second with False Step. While Caduceus sped away with the Flying Stakes, Jack and Ces Devine (Don Hall) staged their infamous 'whip lashing' battle. "It was just one of those things that happened in the heat of the moment. They do it all the time in rugby, but because it happened in trotting, it was all blown up," said Jack. Both Jack and Devine were suspended for six months.
Caduceus was handled at the meeting by the young Australian Tony Vassallo, who often handled the stable runners during a two year working holiday with the Littens. Vassallo, who was originally from Malta, had met Jack through his good friends in Australia, the Kersley family. Caduceus and False Step then travelled to Auckland for an unsuccessful bid on the Auckland Cup, Bob Young being engaged to drive False Step, with Vassallo handling Caduceus. Although placed, False Step raced below his best and owner Jim Smyth returned home in a somewhat disillusioned state, insisting that Young had "driven for another horse". Everybody knew that Bob Young was a man of principle, and so was Jack "Take him away. Not tomorrow, today," were Jack's sentiments.
Of course it is now history that 11 months later Caduceus and Jack gave the NZ Cup their best shot, and were beaten a head by False Step and Ces Devine, the first of their three successive wins in our most prestigious event. In between times, Vassallo and Caduceus were in Adelaide for another Inter-Dominion, but after a simple defeat of most Inter hopefuls at Wayville, their luck was all bad. Caduceus finished fifth on the first night and pulled up sore. He returned to NZ without racing again. False Step was also in Adelaide that year, with the Kersleys, but after a second night heat win was unable to make any immpression in the Final, won narrowly by the local horse Free Hallover the bonny mare, Sibelia and Jack Watts.
When the 1958 NZ Cup meeting rolled around, Caduceus and False Step were arch rivals (at least in the eyes of the public) instead of stablemates, and predictably the champion pacers dominated proceedings. In the Cup, False Step started from the front and Caduceus from 30 yards, and after neither had enjoyed any luck in the running, they drew clear to fight out a desperate finish over the closing stages. As was so often the case, the predominantly black colours of Litten and Devineflashed across the line together, with False Step in front by a head. Caduceus won his second Ollivier Handicap, from 48 yards, on the second day, with False Step unplaced, and then they shared the honours on the second day of the meeting. False Step (30 yards) won the two mile NZ Pacing Championship over Caduceus (48) in 4:11 1/5, while Caduceus was clearly the better sprinter in the NZ Free-For-All later in the day.
The Inter-Dominions were in Melbourne that season and Caduceus took his tally of heat wins to six when unbeaten on the first three nights in the hands of Frank Kersley, much to the delight of the big crowds which turned up at the Melbourne Showgrounds. By now long overdue to win the title, Caduceus received a shocking run and flashed home late for fifth. There were thoughts of retiring him. But Caduceus returned as a 9-year-old and produced magnificent form, winning six of his nine outings here, and at last, that Inter-Dominion.
Wins in the Ashburton Flying Stakes and Hannon Memorial led to another NZ Cup meeting, but a 48 yard handicap and a trained to the minute False Step (24) saw him a well beaten third in the Cup, Devine winning by eight lengths over Gentry that year. Thunder and a youthful Derek Jones did little to help his cause, attacking him hard once Caduceus reached the lead. Sharing the back mark of 48 yards in the Ollivier on the second day, False Step was again an easy winner over Caduceus, but the Mighty Atom took his revenge later in the day, winning his third NZ Free-For-All. Driven by stablehand Ray Morris, Caduceus won the Allan Matson Handicap from 48 yards on the third day in a near record 3:21 3/5 by three lengths. In that event, False Step had faltered soon after the start, gone down on his knees and broken a front carrier strap. With a hopple daggling around his legs, he bolted for three furlongs before choking and collapsing on the track. False Step suffered no serious physical injuries, but was often fractious at the start from that point. On the final day of the meeting, Caduceus went against time in an effort to better Highland Fling's mile record of 1:57 4/5, and earned £500 in clocking 1:57 3/5. At Addington on January 2, Caduceus set another record when he won the appropriately named mile and a quarter Au Revoir Handicap from 66 yards in 2:31 4/5. It was to be his last start in NZ.
He was set one more task, the Inter-Dominion in Sydney. Cheered on by an amazing 50,000 plus crowd, Jack got Caduceus home in the Final by half a length over Apmat, survived a protest and tasted the success. Jack has always played himself down as a reinsman, but he had worked the oracle where others had failed. The Inter-Dominions that year were a chapter in themselves, but needless to say it was 'J D' and Caduceus' crowning glory. On hand to see Caduceus take his 46th win (28 in NZ) and his earnings to a record £68,000, were Yonkers Raceway president Martin Tananbaum, publicity director Irvin Rudd and secretary Ted Gibbons. Prompted by Noel Simpson, they had made tentative arrangements for a three race International Pace series in New York, and needed the Down Under stars. "Marty approached me soon after the final, but I told him I wasn't very interested. But he asked me if I would meet him for breakfast. I'd never been invited to breakfast before so I agreed," Jack recalls. Jack explained to Tananbaum that he simply couldn't afford to make the trip, but the American was to make him an offer he couldn't refuse. "In the year I was lucky enough to be leading trainer, my accountant told me the only money I made was from the sheep. And I didn't have many sheep," said Jack.
Farewelled at Addington in April, Jack and Caduceus arrived in New York, only to find Tananbaum was too ill to complete his arrangements. "I never even saw Marty on that trip," said Jack. But it wasn't long before he was approached by another Yonkers official. "The Americans always honoured their word. I can't speak too highly of them." Caduceus and Jack were celebrities in New York, appearing on television and doing radio interviews. After placings to Widower Creed and Bye Bye Byrd in the opening legs of the series. Caduceus deadheated for first with the Canadian representative Champ Volo in the final race, only to be relegated for interference. Taken over by a New York stable and Billy Houghton, Caduceus continued to race boldly for a couple of years, endearing himself to the American public. Seemingly racing against horses twice his size and half his age, he took his earnings to around $US320,000, a record for a standardbred or thoroughbred bred in Australasia, and paced the fastest mile of his illustrious career as a 12-year-old, 1:57.4 in California. Caduceus eventually returned to Southland for a stud career, but died after only one season from a haemorrhage, the result of a chest injury.
Jack returned to NZ and began 'scaling down' his training activities, preparing horses on a more personal basis. In 1964, he trained his fourth NZ Derby winner with Doctor Barry, while in 1972 Black Miller credited him with his fourth NZ Trotting Stakes win, following on from General Lee (1952), Royal Mile (1955) and Highland Glen (1956). He also dabbled in the thoroughbred world and struck up a friendship with world renowned Irish horseman Vincent O'Brien. David O'Brien, who trained the winner of the recent English Derby, beating his father's horse, was a guest at the Litten household in his younger days. Vincent O'Brien was instrumental in Jack importing the Irish stallion Aristoi to NZ.
There have been numerous talented performers produced by Preston Farm since the golden era of the 1950s, the likes of Westland King, Bravine, Peerswick, Harlequin Parade and Junior Royal, and the West Melton establishment is far from finished yet. One of Jack and Iris's four daughters, Jackie, married Robin Butt in the mid 1960s, and the Butt winners have continued to flow at a regular rate in recent years. Robin and Jackie's son, David, has proved himself a highly competent young horseman also during the present season. David has his ambitions for the standardbred world, and presently Jack's old shearing shed is being converted into a separate stable.
Jack has no intention of severing his life long love entirely. His offsider in recent years, the very capable Brian Kerr, will continue his training activities from a stable on an adjacent property of Jack's, and prepare the handful of youngsters Jack has bred in recent years. One of those is the appropriately named juvenile trotter Borrowed Time, a son of Game Pride and the Fallacy mare White Plains. He has revealed exceptional ability in his brief career, but has enjoyed little luck on raceday. White Plains is also the dam of a yearling filly by Plat Du Jour, and Jack's admiration for the standardbred is most evident as he describes her capabilities. "I saw her trotting full steam over the paddock the other day. They still send a shiver down the spine," he said.
As he casually strolls the impressive surroundings of Preston Farm, the admiration of family and friends is also not hard to gauge. "Hello there boss," says a passer-by. And as usual, Jack is only too happy to pass the time of day. "Giving them corns in their ears," as he often says.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 9Dec06
After bravely fighting cancer for several years, "Snow" Whitford, one of Canterbury's more colourful harness racing identities, died in Christchurch last week, two days short of his 77th birthday.
"Snow" will best be remembered as the trainer of the smart pacer Sam Tryax, whom he raced with his wife Laurel. But his connection with horse racing in NZ went much deeper than that, and began when as a 12-year-old he commenced working near Yaldhurst in the stable of a famous horseman, the late James ("Scotty") Bryce. With that experience as a foundation, "Snow" Whitford became a successful jockey and then a successful thoroughbred trainer, one of his best galloping recruits being Accountant. Apart from Sam Tryax, other winners including Star Globe and Charles Twinkle gave the Whitford colours prominence in the trotting sport.
Sam Tryax, by the Hal Tryax horse Lucky Tryax from Scotland's Pride mare Preferable, was arguably the best juvenile of his time. He won an unprecedented eight of his nine two-year-old starts in the 1968/9 season, then three of his eight starts at three before going amiss. He came back at four, and while only able to win once made it a significant victory, taking out the NZ Messenger Handicap at Auckland. His final race win was as a 5-year-old in the 1971 National Handicap at Addington. Doug Watts, Derek Jones, Peter Wolfenden and Barry Anderson were among the drivers of Whitford winners.
Mrs Whitford, also claimed by cancer, died about two years ago, and "Snow" has bequeathed his handsome home on the Cashmere Hills to be utilised as a hospice for cancer sufferers. Last year, knowing of his illness, "Snow" purchased a showcase for the NZ Trotting Hall of Fame and despatched to the society various cups, trophies, photographs, ribbons and other material relating to his winning moments in the sport, to be displayed in his memory.
Credit: HRWeekly 16Jul87
No trainer in the history of horse training in NZ can match Roy Purdon's 14 premierships, and only Gore galloping trainer Rex Cochrane (1265) wins can boast a better tally than Purdon's 1146 wins to date.
Only one other standardbred trainer (the late Cecil Donald) has topped the 1000 mark. In a career spanning 51 years, Donald topped the national trainer's list nine times, hit the 1000 mark in 1972 and geared up a total of 1025 NZ winners, plus a good few in Australia. Cochrane became the first galloping trainer to reach four figures - in 1980. The late Bill Sanders of Te Awamutu, the late Eric Temperton of Awapuni and Matamata's Dave O'Sullivan were the only other galloping trainers to have topped the thousand mark. Gore's Eric Winsloe is another galloping trainer knocking on the door of the "1000 club".
Roy Purdon, now 60, began training in 1953, and between 1959 and 1963 gave it away while developing a farm property. To have done what he has in the space of 34 years with a four season lay-off is remarkable, even comsidering the fact that there are many more races to be won now than in the old days. No other trainer harness racing or galloping has tallied 100 wins in a season, whereas Roy and Barry notched 102 victories in the season just ended. What is more remarkable is Roy's streak of 13 premiership wins in the last 13 years. He first topped the list in 1970-71, then four seasons later shared the title with Charlie Hunter, each with a record 67 wins. Since then, Roy has been unchallenged at the top, the last 10 years in partnership with his son Barry.
Roy's 1000th winner came on September 21, 1985, in the form of the Max Harvey-owned filly Kiwi River. It has been claimed that he reached the milestone 10 wins earlier, but that was in the misunderstanding that he had trained 10 winners in 1960/61, when in fact that was his winning-drive tally for that term. Roy would have been the last one to worry about breaking records or to have any bad feelings about not winning the Racing Writers' 1986/87 Personality of the Year award, which went to Matamata thoroughbred trainer, Jim Gibbs.
The irony of it is that he is one person who so richly deserves this honour, but it has eluded him in the past, and now again this year. And this despite capping his accomplishments with a national record 102 winners - 27 more than the previous record of 75, held by himself and Barry since 1982/83. For Roy is indeed a personality; and nobody could be more co-operative with the media - or anyone else for that matter. "One of nature's gentlemen" is a description bandied around somewhat, but, in the case of Roy Purdon, it couldn't be more accurate.
In the long years I have known him I have never caught him not wearing that friendly smile of his, and have never heard a mean word pass his lips. He is popular with everyone who has anything to do with him and, despite his long and continuing success, he is completely down to earth; just one of the boys, be it race-night, a black-tie dinner, or round his busy stables.
One of a famous NZ trotting family, Roy started out in the game as a 17-year-old just after World War II, when his father, the late Hugh Purdon, was given a few horses to train by the famous horseman of his day, the late F J ("Wizard") Smith. Hugh Purdon leased a property at New Lynn, and, with Roy as his right-hand man, their venture into the harness racing sport began. It was a hard struggle. As well as aiding his dad, Roy had a night-shift job, so was kept constantly busy. Father and son battled along, and gradually their team of horses increased, leading them to lease boxes at Mt Roskill from trotting enthusiast Alf Taylor.
With the Purdon team on the increase, a bigger set up was necessary, so Hugh then rented the Mangere property of Brian and Ash Ogilvie. Purdon-trained winners were by this time becoming more frequent, and, after two more years, the Purdons purchased a property at Pukekohe. Roy stayed with his father about four and a half more years before branching out on his own.
His first break came when Doug McAlpine offered Roy a property at Te Awamutu with a five-furlong track. Roy accepted and with a team of six horses began making his imprint upon the list of NZ's trotting trainers. Success came within three months, and he was on his way. Roy rates Te Koi and Ruth Again as his best early winners. Te Koi, a big gelding by Ubakim from the good mare Te Huarau, won six races for the young trainer before it joined the Templeton team of Wes Butt, for whom he went on to gain Cup-class status. Ruth Again, by Dillon Hall from Girl Black, was another who kept the Purdon flag flying high; and she became a good broodmare.
When he had been training a year, Roy married Margaret Hughes, sister of Pukekohe horseman Jack Hughes, and a nationally prominent golfer. With Margaret at his side, Roy continued to go from strength to strength in the profession that has been the livelihood of so many Purdon family members throughout NZ - including his brothers Sandy and Les, who have both enjoyed their share of success as northern professional trainers.
The inception of night trotting in Auckland (on New Year's Eve 1958) prompted Roy to move closer to the hub of the sport, and in 1959 he purchased 10 acres alongside the Pukekohe training track. With Arnie Gadsby as his foreman, Roy soon had a team of between 20 and 25 in work at Pukekohe, with the first star of his stable Governor Frost, winner of 14 races for Waiuku owner Charlie Hadley. "The Governor's" wins included a heat of the 1968 Inter-Dominion Championship series in Auckland, in the Grand Final of which, he finished fifth after pulling a flat tyre for the last mile and a quarter.
Roy first won the Great Northern Derby in 1958 with Charlie Blackwell's Call Boy, the won it again with Governor Frost in 1966 - driven by Peter Wolfenden, who became first driver for Roy's stable. The Purdon/Wolfenden combination dominated northern harness racing through the 1970s, but in more recent years, Roy's sons Barry, Owen and Mark and son-in-law Tony Herlihy have done the bulk of the Purdon stable driving, with Brent Mangos chipping in with some fine reinsmanship behind Luxury Liner among others. Wolfenden, his own sons Glen and Ross maturing into the game, has set up as a trainer in his own right and in recent years has been faring very well on a scale a bit smaller than that of Roy's.
Roy recalls his first winning drive was behind a horse called Whistler, trained by his father, and with whom he scored at Awapuni in April, 1949. His last driving win at a tote meeting was with Jack Sprat at Alexandra Park on November 14, 1970. A hip injury shortly after this forced an early retirement from race driving; but he soon became to recognise this as a bonus. It was allowing him to pay more attention to the training side and the detail of harnessing-up and other vital perparation on race-nights. Lonesome Valley, Charlie's Task, Swartze Pete and the good mare Scottish Charm were just some of the topliners trained by Roy at Pukekohe.
In 1972, he purchased his present-day establishment at Clevedon, with it's 900-metre track originally laid by Monty and Sonny Baker. Ably assisted by sons Owen (who started work with his dad when the family moved to Clevedon) and Barry (who joined the stable in 1973 after two years with Charlie Hunter at Cambridge), Roy continued in the limelight. Purdon stars in the 1970s - generally with Wolfenden at the helm - included 1977 NZ Cup and 1978 Auckland Cup winner Sole Command, and 1977 Rowe Cup winner Framalda. Melton Monarch won the 1981 Great Northern Derby and the NZ Messenger the following season with Barry the driver, while Wolfenden quided the Max Harvey-owned Billbob to his $100,000 2-year-old Sires' Stakes Final win in 1984, Tony Herlihy piloted the Harvey-owned Comedy Lad to his 1986 Auckland Cup win, and Brent Mangos did the honours at top level last season with Luxury Liner.
With Owen now branched out on his own (occupying the Pukekohe property that Roy trained from in the 1960s), the current set-up at Clevedon includes Roy, Barry and Mark Purdon and Tony Herlihy, with six other assistants. At the moment, 38 horses are being worked and major improvements and upgrading are being carried out on the 20-hectare property. Roy, who was assisted by Mark in training for a few years at Ruby Lodge, Ardmore, intends making the Clevedon property a similarly impressive showplace.
Having done most everything there is to do in the sport, Roy's main ambition is to train an Inter-Dominion Grand Champion. Sole Command, whom he part-owned, represented him in two Grand Finals, but had bad luck both times. Roy came closest to an Inter-Dominion title in 1975 in Auckland when he produced Hi Foyle and Irish Kiwi, second and fourth respectively behind Young Quinn.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 9Sep87
The retirement of former leading trainer Alec Purdon passed just the way he wanted it...quietly.
An unassuming gentleman, Alec had slipped from the limelight in recent years after losing the services of brilliant pacer, Master Dean.
Never one to hog the headlines anyway, Alec went about the task of getting smart trotter Game Way back in racing trim. The stallion had been put aside with leg problems soon after dead-heating for third with No Response in the Dominion Handicap in November.
Leading trainer in the 1953-54 season with 29 wins, Alec trained a succession of smart pacers and trotters, beginning in the early 1950s with Imperial Trust, Onward, Poranui and Prince Charming. Later he handled good sorts Zany(1957 NZ Oaks), Annual Report(1959 Dominion Handicap), Gay Robin, Smokey Express, Our Tim(1959 New Brighton Cup), Cloudage(1964 Rangiora Cup), Superfortress, Cherry Queen(1955 Reefton Cup) and True Friend(1955 Marlborough Cup).
Around the same time he produced Master Dean to win 17 races including the 1976 NZ Free-For-All and Pan Am Mile he also had speedy types Master Leon and Arden Bay. Master Dean, who won in 1:57.3, is one of the fastest pacers this country has produced.
Born in Glasgow in 1915, Alec came to NZ when only four and after trying his luck as an apprentice jockey, turned to trotting, working for Gladdy McKendry, Vic Alborn and Colin Berkett before going it alone. Alec has the distinction of winning his last drive - Bonaparte in a maiden trot at Addington in July, 1980.
Dave Cannan: DB Trotting Annual 1981
One of Canterbury's more proficient horsemen, seen at his peak in the 1950s, Alexander (Alec) Purdon died in Christchurch recently following a short illness. He was 70.
After experience with noted conditioners Bill Tomkinson, Gladdy McKendry and Vic Alborn, Purdon enjoyed a successful association with the late Colin Berkett, which in no small way contributed to Berkett heading the national list of winning trainers in 1947/48 and 1948/49.
Purdon set up as a professional trainer in the early 1950s on a property purchased by long-time Trotting Conference executive member, the late Bill Desmond. He eventually took the property over himself, and in 1953/54 he topped the trainer's list. Alec's important training and/or driving wins included the 1957 NZ Oaks and Ashburton Cup with Zany, the 1959 Dominion Handicap with Annual Report, New Brighton Cup with Our Tim and NZ Free-For-All and Pan Am Miracle Mile with Mister Dean. Other good winners Purdon trained included Smokey Express, Superfortress, Thurber Command, Cloudage, Onward, Double Cross, Grand Charge, Poranui and Game Way.
Alec is suvived by two daughters, Elaine and Janice.
Credit: HRWeekly 19Mar87
A gap will be created at the top NZ harness racing administrative level that will be extremely hard to fill when Bruce Woods of Prebbleton follows his plans to move with his wife Colleen to live in Queensland. Due to depart in April, Bruce is relinquishing his posts as Treasurer of the NZ Trotting Conference, director of Addington Raceway and committeeman of the New Brighton Club, not to mention various positions on harness racing-affiliated organisations. He first joined the Conference executive six-years-ago; he is a past-chairman of Addington Raceway; he is a past-president of New Brighton and has been chairman of its programme committee for some 15 years.
"I haven't got a horse left, I have sold the lot," said Bruce. "I've had this move in mind for years. There's not a lot more I can do here - I've been involved with the sport every which way, and I want now to try a change of pace. I don't intend to drop my trotting interests, and, possibly, I'll become embroiled in it all over there - not that I'm going out of my way to do this. But I've a feeling that is what could well happen."
On the practical side, Woods was licensed as a stablehand in 1943 before getting his amateur trainer's licence, while he has contributed greatly to the installation and improvement of various harness racing tracks.
Born next to the Addington course, Woods grew up with the sport. He remembers crawling through a hole in the fence as a 9-year-old to see Pot Luck and Maurice Holmes win the first Inter-Dominion Final at Addington in 1938. Soon after, Bruce lived at Templeton with Dick Humphreys - "a great horseman" - who let him take his first horse into the birdcage. That was Cantata, who finished second to Lucky Jack in the 1939 NZ Cup. Cantata's stablemate Blair Athol finished third.
Woods learned the rudiments of educating, training and driving not only from Humphreys but also a string of fine horsemen associated with Humphreys, including Jack Pringle, Howie Smith, Wes Butt, Doug Watts, Alan Fields, Jack McLennan, Gordon Collinson and Snow Upton. In 1943, Bruce began working full time for Methvem breeder-trainer Andy Wilson. "My first job there was taking Loyal Friend, who was owned and trained by Andy, up for the 1943 Auckland Cup. He won, with Bill Doyle at the helm. Andy had a top trotter in Royal Worthy. He used to be driven by Free Holmes or 'F G' Holmes, who seemed to get on with him best. A lot of times he never went away. He had 30-odd starts and won 15. He remains one of the best trotters I've seen and I'm sure he would measure up to today's best. Realm Again, a Jack Potts horse, was another fine performer of Andy's."
After four years at Methven, Woods returned to Halswell, just down the road from Addington, to work for Howie Smith, who was to the fore at the time with good pacer Navigate among others. On marrying, Bruce embarked on a more dependable vocation, general contracting in the earth-moving line, gleaning considerable expertise that would serve him in assisting with developing racetracks later on. "But I retained an interest in the horses. Over all the years until the present, I have been very closely associated with Felix Newfield. We went to school and worked a milkround together. He has trained and driven horses over many years for me.The best of these would be the trotter Power Cut, which I trained and either Felix or Fraser Kirk drove. The best horse I actually ever had was Lunar Chance, who I trained on lease from Keith Lawlor after he had won the 1975 NZ Cup. For me he was second in the New Brighton Cup (clocking 4:06.6) before going to the States."
Bruce in his youth at one point worked a stint with Jack Fraser, who often drove champion Indianapolis for Bill Tomkinson and subsequently trained gallopers. He was associated briefly with the top flat performers Bruce and Finalist, and the very good jumper The Vulture.
Another part of the Woods story is the chapter over the past eight or nine years in which he has built horse floats. He boasts that he has been responsible for something like 190 of these that are on the roads. In hotels for a few years (Avonhead Tavern, Esplanade, Black Horse, Blenheim Road Motor Inn), Bruce has led a more settled existence over the last 15 years at Prebbleton, where he has "bred and raced the odd horse or two". The best horse Bruce has seen? "Highland Fling"
For some 15 years, Woods has contributed his knowledge significantly to the development and improvement of tracks around NZ. He served as consultant to the Racing Authority in the establishment of the Ruakaka, Greymouth, Rangiora and Timaru tracks, and has also assisted in several other areas where advice was required, more notably at Manawatu.
In association with Addington course superintendent Charlie Anderson, he mastermined the reconstruction of the Addington racing strip around 1970. "We felt sure our work would make it a top track," said Bruce. "This has been proved. Vin Knight (Bag Limit, Alpine Fella), who is tops in his own right in Australia, told me Addington is two seconds faster than Moonee Valley - and that is saying something because Moonee Valley is pretty quick."
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 26Mar87
Freeman (FG) Holmes, who died in Christchurch last week aged 88, apart from being one of NZ's most accomplished and successful horsemen, was an enigma. Many of the old school have insisted he was every bit as gifted a reinsman as his famous brother Maurice. His record leaves no doubt that he was not only a top driver but also an outstanding trainer.
'FG' was a loner; an introvert who shunned publicity and well wishers, and was very selective about who he even spoke to. He was harder to get on with when he'd just won a race than when he had been tipped out from a favourite. Yet catch him in the right moment and he would chat the breeze for as long as you would care to listen - and listening to him could at times be very enlightening and rewarding. Besides breeding, racing, training and driving, he had other pet pursuits, high among them hunting and shooting. He was also, in his early days, a fine athlete.
The writer well recalls as a junior in the racing department of "The Press", Christchurch, in November, 1953, calling on 'FG' at home at West Eyreton a few hours after his NZ Cup win with Adorian, in the hope of getting a feature story to phone through in time to make the next morning's paper. People were phoning to congratulate the family. Freeman refused to be called to the phone. "Don't ask them here," he insisted. "We're not having a party." Trying to get the background to Adorian from him was nigh on impossible. He insisted, with that curious humour of his, that I sang a song before he would tell me anything. When I obliged, instead of telling me about Adorian, he played for me, over and over, a record of an Australian race in which, in a skirmish with top Sydney driver Jack Watts, 'FG' had been tipped out over the rail and quite seriously injured. "He's a bloody good driver, that Jack Watts," said Freeman each time we listened to the incident. I finally got some sort of story from him - which took some working out as he spoke of horses, mares, colts and fillies without bothering about their registered racing names.
'FG' was the first son of the famous Free Holmes to come to prominence. Insofar as NZ horse racing is concerned, the Holmes saga began with Freeman Senior. Born on a farm near Ashburton in 1871, he was, as a rising 12-year-old five-stone stripling, pressed into service, because of a shortage of jockeys, to ride, laden with "ballast," in an Ashburton galloping event - which he duly won. "Old Free" as he ultimately became reverently known to the racing and trotting fraternities in NZ, successfully rode gallopers on the flat, and over jumps, and then became a prominent trainer and owner of thoroughbreds.
Turning his hand to the sister sport of trotting, Free became a leading saddle exponent, driver, trainer, importer and breeder. Race driving until he was 73, Free continued to train, and when well into his 80s was training - and riding to and from Riccarton racecourse from his property nearby - the thoroughbred Tarantella, owned by his then teenage grandson Graham (son of FG), and a winner for them.
Of Free's four sons, first Freeman, then Maurice, then Allan became actively involved as drivers and branched out to become trainers in their own right. Walter stayed at home, assisting with the stud side of Free's activities. 'FG' was a proficient jockey. He was 13 when he won the Apprentice's Plate at Wingatui in February, 1913, and subsequently won several hurdles and flat events. He first drew attention to himself riding saddle winner Law Chimes at the 1916 NZ Cup carnival. Two years later he finished third with Sungod in Author Dillon's NZ Cup.
Freeman's first classic win came in the fourth edition of the Auckland Trotting Club's Great Northern Derby in 1919, driving Lady Swithin for successful Ashburton owner and administrator H F Nicoll, later to become long-time president of the NZ Trotting Conference. In 1921, then aged 22, Freeman drove Sherwood to win the NZ Cup for owner S G Lemon. After a protest alleging interference by Holmes to the previous year's winner, straight-out trotter Reta Peter (whom he beat by two lengths), Sherwood was relegated to second and Holmes was fined £25. The incident was hotly debated for years by many who saw the race. And, when, 32 years later, 'FG' trained and drove his own good horse Adorian to win the 1953 NZ Cup, he seized the opportunity at the presentation to insist again that he should not have been disqualified with Sherwood. "It was unjust," he said.
'FG' drove NZ Sapling Stakes winners Richore (1926), Sonoma Child (1928), Captain Morant (1942)and Forward (1951). He won the NZ-GN Derbies double in 1927 with J Washington's Daphne de Oro, drove J Duffy's Native Chief to win the NZ Free-For-All that year and was the nation's leading reinsman of 1927/28 with 33 wins. He trained Graham Direct to win the 1935 Auckland Trotting Cup for J Westerman (driven by his father, Free) and drove him himself to win the 1938 NZ Trotting Gold Cup at Wellington. He won two further NZ Derbies with Bonny Bridge (1943) and Blue (1958).
Much of the credit for tough NZ-bred gelding Captain Sandy becoming the first two-time Inter-Dominion Grand Champion must go to 'FG'. At the 1950 series in Melbourne, with regular pilot James Bryce junior suspended, FG Holmes filled the breach and from the awkward 24yd mark got him into the final by gaining a fourth and a third in the heats. But Holmes himself was suspended on the third night for alleged interference to swift Melbourne Claude Derby. Jack Watts replaced 'FG' and Captain Sandy won the Grand Final by a head from Globe Direct, trained and driven by Freeman's brother, Maurice. At the same carnival, brother Allan won a Consolation with Congo Song.
At the 1953 Inter-Dominions in Perth, Freeman again did most to get Captain Sandy in the Grand Final, finishing fourth with him the first night and second in fastest time the second night. Committed to drive good NZ mare Blue Mist (with whom he won on the first two nights) in the Grand Final, Freeman had a rocky run with her on the way to finishing fifth. His replacement behind Captain Sandy, West Australian Bob Pollock junior, emerged triumphant.
'FG's 1953 NZ Cup winner Adorian was one of four good winners he and Miss P Norton bred from a very good mare for them, Coquette. Miss Norton and 'Old Free' bred Coquette by Free's importation Grattan Loyal from Bonny Logan, daughter of Free's importations Logan Pointer and Bonilene. Racing from three to ten years, Bonny Logan won 14 races for Free and his principal stable patron W H Norton, then produced nine live foals, eight of them winners. 'FG' raced and trained Coquette for eight wins including the 1942 National Cup. Apart from Adorian, Coquette's only other three foals were top winners for 'FG' in the shape of Vigilant, Morano and Forward.
In a memorable contest for the 1951 Canterbury Park Juvenile Stakes at Addington, 'FG' was skittled and tipped from Forward's sulky at the start, ran with the colt holding on to his reins for some fifty yards, climbed back into the cart, wheeled the field in the last half-mile and won. In 1953, 'FG' drove Brahman, son of the first two NZ-bred 2:00 pacers Gold Bar and Haughty, to an Australasian record 2:02.2 time trial as a two-year-old. In 1957 he drove Blue, trained and part-owned by his brother Allan, to a world yearling record of 2:09.2. Both marks lasted for more than 20 years.
In the 1960's, 'FG' became associated with champion trotter Ordeal. Seven before she won a race, she was handed to him after five wins for Reefton trainer Charlis Murcott. She won two more as a seven-year-old under Holmes. After having a season off to have a mystery foal that was destroyed because the sire was unknown, she returned to racing as a nine-year-old. Her next victories under Freeman were the Worthy Queen-Dominion Handicap double at Addington. She went on to win the 1961 Rowe Cup (driven by Maurice Holmes from 78yds in a national record 4:14), and wound up winning in America.
In later years, Holmes dabbled as an amateur trainer of gallopers, winning with good chaser Hogan. His last racing win came with Delargey at Wingatui in October,1980.
'FGs' sons Freeman ('FL') and the late Graham Holmes followed in the footstep of their father, uncles and grandfather as prominent horsemen, and 'FL' has been associated as part-owner, trainer, driver and now studmaster of a modern-day champion, Noodlum.
'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 30May51
If you read about it in a Nat Could or Edgar Wallace racing thriller you wouldn't believe it, which only goes to prove that fiction, after all, is not such a complete stranger to the truth!
It happened at Addington on Saturday (May 26): the race, the Juvenile Handicap, the horse, Forward, and the hero of the piece F G Holmes, trainer-driver of Forward.
When the barriers were released, Centennial Hall swung across and tipped up Forward's sulky on its side, throwing Holmes on to the ground. With the field well on the way, Forward instinctively went after them. Holmes, holding firmly on the reins, was smartly on his feet, and he secured a tenuous hold on Forward's sulky with one hand while holding the reins in the other.
For upwards of 50yds, Holmes was forced to put in some giant strides to keep up with Forward, and he eventually managed to get one foot in the sulky, followed immediately by the other; by the time he was seated safely again the leaders must have been 60yds in front of him; it was a wonder he retrieved the situation with no greater loss of ground.
The majority of the public had not been unaware of the incident, and Holmes was warmly applauded on passing the stands the first time round. Excitement mounted as Forward improved his position and hotly challenged the leaders with two furlongs to go. Wide out, he strode to the front at the distance and won full of running.
It was an astonishing recovery, to say the least. Most of the people who made him hot favourite must have been persuaded that all chance had vanished when Holmes was deposited on the ground at the outset. Presence of mind, a full measure of grit and determination, and an ounce of luck were the main ingredients in perhaps the most dramatic spill and its sequel ever seen at Addington; it at least ranks equal to Indianapolis's win in the Christchurch Handicap at Addington in 1934 with a broken hopple.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 4Jun87
Never before in the history of Inter-Dominion conflict has the cream of NZ pacing and trotting talent been so comprehensively beaten on its own soil as last Saturday night at Addington.
It was all "Waltzing Matilda" as Victorian 4-year-old Lightning Blue, Paleface Bubble fron New South Wales and Queensland's Sunset Candios outgunned the Kiwis (headed by Skipper Dale, Luxury Liner and Master Mood) in the $350,000 1987 Lion Brown Inter-Dominion Pacing Championship Grand Final. It was "Irish Eyes Are Smiling" for Lightning Blue's likeable Melton trainer/driver Jim O'Sullivan who produced a 100% result also carrying off the First Consolation with the Grand Champion's stablemate Quite Famous.
And it was "Victorious Victoria" as Game Ebony, trained and driven by Dick Lee, triumphed gallantly in the $35,000 Curtins Farm Trotting Free-For-All, thereby halting the outstanding winning streak of champion NZ mare Tussle. The only crumb from "the Met's" lavishly-laid Inter-Dominion table salvaged on the night for NZ was Saucy Star's win for the Ian Cameron stable in the Second Consolation. And, on reflection, the Kiwis were probably saved from a complete whitewash by the fact that Lightning Blue had the wonderful fortune to graduate from Saucy Star's race into the Grand Final with the scratching from the big event of Lightning Blue's arch rival, the brilliant fellow Victorian Bag Limit.
"Thank goodness they didn't bring any 3-year-olds over here," said Tai Tapu trainer Bill Denton at the end of the night. He was inferring, no doubt, that Emcee, his stable's winner of the $25,000 National Bloodstock 3-Year-Old Championship, as impressive as he was, was probably lucky he had to face no opposition from across the Tasman.
Not counting Junior's Image (who won and was disqualified on dope charges in 1971), this was Australia's first Pacing Grand Final win in six series at Addington. But they have had better luck at Auckland, scoring with First Lee in 1968 and Gammalite in 1983, and Australian stables have produced the winners of the eight Pacing Grand Finals at other venues since Rondel scored for NZ at the previous Addington Inter-Dominions eight years back.
Admittedly, the three latest Grand Champions - Preux Chevalier, Village Kid and now Lightning Blue - were all bred in NZ; and this is going to have an excellent spin-off from the point of view of Australian demand for our stock. But what must be a source of consternation to the NZ harness racing fraternity in general is the supremacy of the Australians over us now showing on the results board. The honours list reveals that the Inter-Dominions have been run 46 times; NZ has produced 13 outright Grand Champions as well as the 1965 Dunedin deadheaters; Australia's tally now advances to 32 - New South Wales and Victoria eight apiece, South Australia and West Australia six each, Tasmania four. NZ produced six of the first 10 Pacing Grand Final winners, and from 1960 to 1965 it had three outright winners and two deadheaters. This was the purple patch for us.
What do we have to do to reassume such dominance? It could well be that, with such a busier roster of feature racing from State to State for the top horses, and with competition for these so fierce, the Australian horses have to train and race harder a lot more often than is the case here. Vinny Knight, at one stage of the Addington carnival, when speaking admiringly of his outstanding representative Bag Limit (who must have been the one to beat had he not been forced by injury to stand down from the Final) referred to "Aussie guts". At the time it sounded like a bit of skite. After Saturday night it seems a very accurate way of describing something the Australian horses were able to produce at the end of this testing four-night series that the Kiwis appeared not to be able to find.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 19Mar87
"It's the biggest thrill ever; he's the best horse I've had, and I've had some good ones," said Jim O'Sullivan, returning with his 1987 Lion Brown Inter-Dominion Grand Champion.
In his regular acquisition of NZ horses, O'Sullivan almost invariably uses the services of former Australian John Devlin, professionally known as the South Auckland Standardbred Agency. Devlin, who in the last 10 years has secured something close to 80 horses for O'Sullivan's clients singled out Lightning Blue for him. "He was trained by Mike Berger at Morrinsville," recalled Devlin after the Final. "I watched him at the trials, saw him win at an on-course-only meeting at Cambridge and then run an unlucky second at Alexandra Park before recommending that Jim come and trial him.
Of the three owners only Mr Conidi was at Addington for the Grand Final. "Alan will be very upset about not being here," he said. "He saw all the bad luck in the heats, got called back home on urgent business and was unable to get back here for tonight." Although his horses have won many hundreds of races, Alan Hunter's biggest victory prior to Saturday night was in the $43,000 Cranbourne Cup last December with Saturday night's First Consolation winner Quite Famous, whom he owns outright.
Apart from securing Lightning Blue (who races in Australia as My Lightning Blue) from the O'Sullivan stable, Delvin is a quarter-share owner of the 4-year-old's sire, the Meadow Skipper horse Lonero. Lightning Blue's dam Lightning is by the good Hal Tryax horse Holy Hal (second to First Lee in the 1968 Inter-Dominion Final in Auckland and winner of two heats at the 1971 Addington Inter-Dominions). Lightning's dam Lightning Lass was by Lighterman Tom, remarkably still alive in South Canterbury, aged 40. By Light Brigade, Lighterman Tom is a half-brother to Cherry Blossom whose daughter Robin Dundee shared the Inter-Dominion title in Dunedin in 1965 with Jar Ar and was fifth in Melbourne in 1964, second to Chamfer's Star in Sydney in 1966 and fourth to Binshaw in Perth in 1967.
Lightning was the first venture into harness racing of Peter and Mrs Doris Miller, semi-retired farmers of Mystery Creek, near Hamilton airport. The bought Lightning on the advice of Ngaruawahia trainer Joe Goodyer after she had won a 2-year-old parade from the Mataura stable of Dave Todd, of Cardigan Bay fame.
Goodyer won two races with Lightning for the Millers, but her race career was cut short by injury incurred in a training spill. Before putting Lighting down in 1983, the Millers bred five foals from her, the three to have raced being Lightning Blue, Rainbow Light (winer of three before injured) and Millertime (sold at two and the winner of two races so far). The Millers are breeding from Rainbow Light (by Adover Rainbow) and are looking forward to racing with Mike Berger's wife Brenda and his father Geoff her first offspring, a yearling Tudor Hanover filly they have named Lightning Belle.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 19Mar87
'Old Tom' Our Mana was retired in May, the winner of $331,900, the result of 96 starts for 20 wins and 20 placings for his Loburn owner, Mrs Jenny Barron.
"It will be sad not to see him racing again but he's lost a little bit of his kick," said trainer-driver Colin De Filippi of Our Mana, whom he transformed from being a regect to a top-line pacer. Our Mana made astonishing progress for De Filippi after being virtually given to Mrs Barron for a token $200 after he had been tried and found wanting in several stables.
The impressive bay burst on the scene in the 1982-83 term winning eight of his 12 starts and being awarded 4-Year Old of the Year honours over NZ Messenger winner Hilarious Guest. He won the inaugural $10,000 West Coast bonus for winning his first three races on the Christmas curcuit and ended the season by taking a 1:57.3 mile record at Addington.
The Schell Hanover-Taimoni gelding attained open class ranking in just his 15th start and went close to winning one of the major cups on three occasions. Unfortunately the history books will show Our Mana was the runner-up in the 1984 NZ Cup behind Camelot, the 1984 Auckland Cup chasing home Enterprise, and the 1985 NZ Cup when he ran second to the boilover winner Borana.
Our Mana's big win came in the 1985 Lion Brown Easter Cup at Addington, while other major wins for him came in the Lion Red Mile at Cambridge(twice), the Castlemaine XXXX Handicap(now the Henkell Trocken) at the Auckland Christmas meeting over 3200m.
The horse that put De Filippi on the map as a trainer, the successful Pukekohe-based horseman also rated Our Mana "as good as any he has driven. 'Old Tom' proved a grand money-spinner for Mrs Barron, earning a cheque in 69 of his 96 starts.
Credit: NZ Trotting Annual 1986
"The dirty, low, mongrel. He's always been a cow of a thing." That ain't no way to treat a lady and Denis Nyhan certainly isn't sincere as he talks about his old favourite Robalan. He's just annoyed because 'Robby' gets a kick out of playing hard to get. "He never lets me catch him and I reckon he enjoys it. Denise is the only one whose got a chance"
Robalan is rising 21 and looks it, but remains in fine heart, enjoying his retirement with his old mate 'Annie', or former smart trotter Relinquish. It's hard to imagine this ageing gelding was once the free-legged pacing phenomenon whose mere presence on the track was enough to fill the stands. Robalan had character and charisma, special qualities that elevate horses from merely outstanding to champion status. People loved him and that's the most important ingredient. He was big and powerful and possessed astonishing speed. And he was different...he was free-legged.
Most of Robalan's achievements on the track have now been passed with time, and to the younger generation he is just another name in the record books, but to those fortunate enough to witness this freak of the equine world, his was a most colourful chapter.
He came from total obscurity. Born in 1966, Robalan and his dam, the lightly raced U Scott mare Elsinore, were consigned to the 1967 National Yearling Sale and purchased by E Broad of Invercargill for 475gns. Gil Shirley, who weaned and initially handled Robalan, recalled some years later that he was "as mad as a snake." As a late yearling he was leased by locals Rob Pollock and Alan Devery, from whom he derived his name. When Broad passed away soon after, Pollock and Devery exercised their right of purchase of $1500.
Robalan showed an inclination for free-legged pacing at this early stage but Devery was finding him more than a handful. He could jump anything in sight and had a pet hate for workcarts, on which he often inflicted severe damage. After showing enough promise as a 2-year-old to take to the trials, Devery handed him over to Wyndham horseman Alex Townley. At this point Devery did not have a professional licence to train. Robalan's future was soon in doubt, however. In just his second trial for Townley he finished swinging a leg, which turned out to be the aftermath of a shoulder injury sustained as a yearling. After a second veterinary examination discovered the problem and Robalan was successfully operated on, he was sent back to Townley, who produced him to run placings in the NZ Kindergarten Stakes and Welcome Stakes.
Recommissioned as a 3-year-old, Robalan was soon troubled by a wind affliction and his career was again in doubt. At this point Denis Nyhan enquired after him, saying he and a Blenheim friend, Peter Hope, were interested in buying him. Business was quickly done, Pollock selling his share and buying a taxi business. This was to be the turning point in Robalan's fortunes. Nyhan's no non-sense attitude, a willingness to try the unorthodox, and the constant care of wife Denise, was to send Robalan along the path to stardom.
His rise was not spectacularly fast - he took two years to reach open class - but as time passed it became increasingly evident that Robalan was something "out of the box." Nyhan had finally thrown the hopples away for good after Robalan failed hopelessly in the 1971 Inter-Dominions at Addington. There were still chinks in the armour, but as a five and six-year-old, his emergence became very real.
Robalan won five races as a 5-year-old and six at six, looking particularly good in winning the Ashburton Flying Stakes, NZ Free-For-All, Wellington Cup, a heat of the Easter Cup and a heat of the 1974 Inter-Dominions in Sydney. This was a golden era in Australasian harness racing. Robalan, along with Royal Ascot, Arapaho, Manaroa and Globe Bay, travelled to Sydney to do battle with the likes of Hondo Grattan, Just Too Good, Jason King, Glamour Chief, Bold Biami, Reichman, Welcome Advice and Adios Victor. And to the day he dies, Nyhan will vow and declare that Inter-Dom should have been his. In the Final, Robalan was waiting to pounce as the field rounded the home turn, but a skirmish saw them knocked sideways and lose all chance. "I really felt that Robby was travelling better than Royal Ascot, and as Royal Ascot was only beaten a head (by Hondo Grattan), he must have been very unlucky," Nyhan said.
The following season Robalan was to emerge as a truly great pacer. Arapaho hogged the prized plums, the NZ and Auckland Cups, but Robalan was voted Harness Horse of the Year over the sensational juvenile Noodlum. Robalan won a record 12 races during the season and all things being equal was invincible. An impressive double at Forbury Park in October saw him installed second favourite for the NZ Cup, but after being slow away and forced wide to make his run from the half, he was unable to make any impression on Arapaho and Globe Bay and a brand new rival, Young Quinn.
Back to sprinting in the NZ Free-For-All, Robalan waltzed home for the second year in succession, beating Arapaho by five and a half lengths. Then came a thrilling win over Young Quinn in the Miracle Mile, sprinting twice during the running before holding on to win in 1:58. Now on the top of his form, Robalan toyed with Young Quinn and Arapaho in the National Flying Pace, a lead-up to the Auckland Cup. The big event was to elude Robalan - he was squeezed up early and broke, eventually being pulled up. As if furious at that defeat, Robalan scored six consecutive wins, including his second Wellington Cup (by three lengths over Young Quinn), the Commonwealth Games Free-For-All over Arapaho, and the Canterbury Park Free-For-All effortlessly in 1:57.6, a lifetime best.
About this time there was considerable speculation as to what Robalan was really capable of over the magic mile. Never one to mince words, Nyhan said his champ would go 1:52 in America, or at least better than the then world record of 1:53. This drew its share of criticism, but, given events since, Nyhan's prediction was obviously pretty close to the mark.
Young Quinn was all the rage for the early part of the 1974/75 season, sweeping all before him with eight consecutve wins in the north leading up to the NZ Cup. Robalan looked back to his best for his fourth attempt until struck down by a blood disorder less than a fortnight before the coveted event. A start looked very doubtful, but largely through the dedication of Denise, Robalan bounced back at the pre-cup trials to signal his intentions.
It is now history that Robalan cruised home amidst wild applause, in what Nyhan later described as "little more than a workout," and he set the seal on his greatness a few days later with a world record in the NZ Free-For-All. Recording his third straight runaway win in the event, Robalan stunned the race-going public, putting the mobile 2000m behind him in 2:26.6, a mile rate of 1:58. This bettered the record credited to top American pacer Irvin Paul by three seconds. It wasn't so much the time, but the ease with which he accomplished it.
Young Quinn, a battling third in the NZ Cup, was to gain his revenge over the next few months. He took the Miracle Mile in a NZ record 1:57 after Robalan had sensationally broken when vying for the lead at the top of the straight, and bolted away with the Auckland Cup, Robalan finding the 20 metre handicap too much. Forced to miss Young Quinn's Inter-Dominion in Auckland through an ailment, Robalan reappeared at Easter to again thrill the crowds on his favourite stomping ground. A hot favourite from his 35 metre handicap, Robalan looked hopelessly out of it when he galloped, cantered and trotted away from the mark, more than doubling his initial deficit. But Nyhan seized the opportunity to follow Lunar Chance around the field with a lap to travel and Robalan went on to win easily in a track record 4:07.4. Bill Doyle, Nyhan's father-in-law, had timed Robalan post to post in 4:02. This was his crowning glory.
Robalan returned as 9-year-old and, while he again struck winning form, he was obviously past his best an finding long handicaps to the younger brigade too much to overcome. His career finished on a sad note when he broke down in the Claredon Free-For-All at Addington on January 2, 1976.
Robalan had originally been bought strictly as a business proposition...he was bought to be sold. There were plenty of offers along the way as well, but either they weren't enough or the right money didn't front up. As time passed it became obvious that Robalan was simply priceless, gelding or not. How could you sell a chance at winning the NZ Cup? And he certainly vindicated Nyhan's faith. "Put it down to sentiment," was Nyhan's reaction to several tempting offers during his whirlwind 7-year-old season.
Robalan was at the height of his career as a seven and eight-year-old and really struck a purple patch in the summer of 74, with six consecutive wins. Nyhan doesn't have an explanation for this, except that every great horse has his time. "When Robbie had his first season or two in open class, there were several other top horses around at the time. It was just a case of who got the run on the day. As time passed these horses fell away. Arapaho, Royal Ascot and Manaroa had had their time at the top. As Robby's career was drawing to a close, Young Quinn was coming to it," Nyhan reflected.
Nyhan can see parallels between his times in the limelight with Lordship and Robalan and today's stars. "Master Mood is obviously NZ's top pacer at the moment, but throw Roydon Glen and one or two others in the same race and it would just be the luck on the day. Seldom does a horse remain undisputably tops for a long period of time," he said.
Prior to Robalan, Nyhan had been associated with two other great pacers. As a boy he closely followed the fortunes of his father's wonderful pacer Johnny Globe, and then in the 1960's he was the regular driver of his mother's 'pocket battleship' Lordship. How does Robalan compare to these and other champion horses of their time? "Not many horses reach the absolute top bracket and I can't see any point in comparing those that do. They are the sort of horses you dream about...they keep you going. Robby was special to us because we had so much to do with him. I just wish I had another one that could run like him."
The free-legged pacer Robalan will not have to suffer the demands of another winter. With arthritis setting in, Denis Nyhan made the decision at the weekend to put him down and spare him any further discomfort.
He was buried on Nyhan's Templeton property, where he spent most of his 29 years.
Mike Grainger: HRWeekly: 6May96
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 9Apr87
Addington favourite Hands Down was humanely destroyed last Friday after breaking his shoulder in a paddock accident on the North Otago farm of his owners, Bill and Fay McAughtrie. The 1980 NZ Cup winner who scored 22 other wins at Addington during his brilliant career, has been buried on the McAughtrie's Omarama farm, where he retired to 13 months ago.
Trained by master Canterbury horseman Derek Jones, Hands Down - affectionately known as "Old Bill" - will be remembered as a super-tough and versatile pacer who could drain the breath from his rivals with merciless front-running performances, or scorch home from the tail to find the winning post first.
"It was quite strange, though," Derek's son Peter Jones, Hands Down's regular driver, said in a radio interview at the weekend, "I kept all the press clippings and he was never named a champion by the media. Maybe it was because of his robustness, even ugliness." He may not have bee as handsome as some, but the chunky son of Armbro Del and Snow Chick could have done nothing more to earn the accolade of "champion."
Hands Down raced once as a 3-year-old (he was unplaced) but made a huge impact at four years, winning nine races and capping his season with a typically brave win over Philippa Frost and Bonnie's Chance in the Canterbury Park Winter Cup. His stylish 4:09.3 for the 3200m stand that night reflected his staying powers, and, although not yet open class, the 1980 NZ Cup became his major 5-year-old aim.
And what a stirring performance he gave, just 11 months after clearing maidens, to deny the classy Delightful Lady by a neck in race record time of 4:07.2 after forging to the front down the back the last time. Later in the Metropolitan Cup meeting, Hands Down added the NZ Free-For-All (2000m) and Allan Matson Free-For-All (2600) - a rare and prestigious treble. Seldom at his best too far away from home, Hands Down's rollcall of successes includes the Kaikoura Cup, Waikato Cup, an Inter-Dominion Consolation and three Easter Cups.
But give "Old Bill" a 2600m stand at Addington in August and he was happy. His tremendous heart and some skillful early season conditioning by Derek Jones saw Hands Down string together four successive Louisson Handicaps in the early '80s. And it was so nearly five, with Norton and Our Mana stretched to stave off the 9-year-old (who began 25 metres behind) by a nose and half-head in 1984.
Father Time was rapidly catching up with Hands Down, but he had one surprise left for his Addington fans. It came on the final night of the 1984 NZ Cup meeting, just three months after he narrowly failed to bag his fifth Louisson. With regular partner Peter Jones sidelined with torn ligaments in an ankle, the reins were passed his then 18-year-old nephew Anthony Butt and the combination of young and old scored an emotional win in the $20,000 Christchurch Airport Travelodge Free-For-All. He rated a sensational 2:01.6 for the flying 2600m, and left struggling behind him such accomplished pacers as Camelot, Borana, Hilarious Guest, Enterprise, Our Mana and Gammalite. The race marked Hands Down's 23rd Addington victory, and also his last, surpassing the previous best of 21 held by dual NZ Cup winner Lordship.
The strapping gelding had a cluster of outings as a 10-year-old, but had long since passed his peak and was retired after failing in the Ashburton Cup on Boxing Day, 1985. Derek Jones, who named his Templeton training establishment "Soangetaha Lodge" after his dual Auckland Cup winner but leaned towards Hands Down as the best he has trained, regularly visited his mate at Omarama. "He was like an All Black; every time he went out he tried his best. He is the best horse I've ever had and probably one of the best NZ has ever seen."
Peter Jones: "I'm sure he used to sense the atmosphere. After a win at Addington he'd pause, even if for only 10 or 12 seconds and look at the crowd as if to say, "gotcha again!"
Credit: Matt Conway writing in HRWeekly 12Feb87
Melbourne businessman Alan Hunter, 52 year old co-owner of Inter-Dominion titleholder and yesterday's $300,000 Toyota NZ Trotting Cup winner Lightning Blue, has raced horses since he was 23.
"I bought my first horse, a Van Derby pacer named Great Effort, for a thousand pounds," he recalled. "I had to borrow money to do it, and I didn't know how to tell my father about it. He won a good few races for me, and I thought: 'This is easy.' I later found it wasn't so easy, but it hooked me on trotting. I have a few gallopers, including a jumper called Mister Mint, who could win our next Grand National Steeplechase; but I much prefer trotting and football to galloping."
Hunter estimates that he has won about 700 races with his horses. The bulk of this success has come since his profitable business involving cleaning chemicals and detergents has enabled him to spend up large since 1981. "I've had 78 winners at Moonee Valley since then," he said.
"My first NZ horse was Hubert Campbell, who won me 14 races and about $60,000. He was my favourite and a real top-liner. Since then, I've bought, through John Devlin, Paul Davies and other agents, at least a dozen Kiwi horses including My Surdon, One Happy Fella, Kilrush (who cost me $100,000, broke a pedal bone and didn't win me a race), Conga's Pride and That's Incredible. I tried to buy the NZ-bred Jay Bee's Fella, who has done so well in Western Australia, but the deal fell through; and he was beaten at the weekend so I might have been a bit lucky, as it was big bikkies involved. I pay a lot of money for good horses, but I would be ahead of it. It's a wonderful game, with wonderful people in it. Jim (O'Sullivan) is a super man with a horse, and a super man to know."
Hunter was obviously thrilled to be on hand to see Lghtning Blue's Cup win. "I went back to Melbourne at Inter-Dominion time, thinking I wasn't going to have a horse in the Final and opting to see a two-year-old race at Moonee Valley. As it turned out My Lightning Blue won the Final, my other horse here then, Quite Famous, won one of the consolations, and my youngster won at Mooney Valley all on the same night."
Yesterday, Hunter's partners in the horse, (Nes Conidi and Tony Prochilo) who had watched him win his Inter-Dominion Final, were both home in Melbourne.
Nothing made quite the smart start in the Cup as Skipper Dale. And this was rather unusual because Skipper Dale was off the second line and was fortunate to dash through a gap left by Sossy and Metal Mickey after only 70m. At the same time, Frangelico was being held up a place further out, Happy Sunrise broke briefly and Master Mood didn't make marvellous acceleration.
Tony Herlihy wisely sent Luxury Liner forward after 600 metres, and with two laps to run he was in front, ahead of Gaelic Skipper, Lightning Blue, Skipper Dale and Sossy. Four hundred metres later, Rum Brydon swept round, running hard, and he made the front near the 2000 metres. Jim O'Sullivan had Lightning Blue out of the trail at the same time, to sit in the 'death', outside Luxury Liner, and ahead of Gaelic Skipper.
The pace slackened near the mile and remained that way until near the 900 metres. Master Mood and Happy Sunrise were the last pair and facing an awfully difficult task, with the pace by now right on and Lightning Blue, Luxury Liner and Skipper Dale many lenghts in front of them.
On the corner, O'Sullivan had made his move passing Rum Brydon and receiving very generous response from Lightning Blue.
Herlihy, with more hope than confidence, sent Luxury Liner into the attack, Patrick O'Reilly joined in with Skipper Dale and Sossy came too. But Lightning Blue, showing the same extraordinary strength and courage of eight months ago, was quite supreme in the end, winning by a length and a quarter, with a short neck and three-quarters of a length between the others.
Rolls Hanover made progress strongly near the end which was commendable allowing for the fact he pulled a punctured tyre for the last 1400 metres.
The time of the race was 4:05.13. Lightning Blue ran his last 2400m in 3:00.7, and his last 1600m in 2:00. The first 800m of that 1600m took an easy 1:03.4, and the last 800m followed in 56.6, the last 400m in 28.5.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HR Weekly
Young Eden had to overcome a long list of adversities to win the New Zealand Oaks in race and New Zealand record time. Indeed, on at least two occasions, Edendale trainer Alex Milne really wondered if she was finished as a racing proposition.
The first occasion came before Young Eden even lined up in a totalisator race. Milne recalled after Young Eden's surprise success in the $40,000 Nevele R sponsored classic how the daughter of Noodlum had crashed to the track in training in the early stages of her two-year-old preparation. "She smashed the sulky and a broken shaft dug deep, high up on the inside of a hind leg. I had to tell the owners she was finished for the season at least. She'd just been to her first workout and shaped up pretty well...well enough to consider racing her later in the season," Milne said.
Ken Milne and Russell Hollows had originally leased Young Eden from her Stirling breeder Frank Young with no right of purchase, but with the right to her first foal. When advised of the accident, Young gave his friend, Milne, one month's option to by the filly at a 'pretty reasonable' price. She is the first foal from Young's smart racemare Eden's Joy, a winner of six races and a half-sister to six winners. "Ken asked me if I thought she would recover from the accident and whether she was worth buying," said Milne. Saying he could see no reason why Young Eden shouldn't make the grade as a three-year-old, Milne persuaded Milne and Hollows to buy her, and what a bargain she has proved.
The Oaks success took her record to four wins and four placings from nine starts for stakes worth $43,000, with the promise of much more to come. But it's been far from plain sailing this season as well.
From the time she stepped onto the track, Young Eden has looked one of the better fillies around, but her racing programme was again in doubt a couple of months ago. "She curbed a hock and was actually a bit lame when she won the DB Heat at Ashburton. Then she tore some ligaments in a hind leg in the DB Heat at Forbury Park. Both hind legs were a bit of a mess but we tried everything we knew and then sent her up to Craig Buchan at Dunedin so he could work her on the beach at Brighton. "I worked her there about a week ago and she felt alright, so we thought we would give the Oaks a try. With no workout or trial to get a line on her, I really had no idea how she'd go," said Milne.
Young Eden, a hot favourite in her previous outing at Addington when she was a gallant third in the Fillies' Triple Crown, was allowed to start at odds of almost 30 to one in an Oaks seemingly dominated by Bionic Chance and Victoria Star. Settling at the rear from her second row barrier draw in the mobile 2600m contest, Young Eden was able to leave the rails when Coma Berenices choked and fell after 800 metres. Eddie Cowie, who won the Oaks last season with Free's Best, suffered minor bruising after parting company with Coma Berenices. With Young Eden travelling strongly, Milne decided to press forward three wide entering the back straight the last time and was up outside the leader Bionic Chance 600 metres out. "I got a hell of a surprise when I got up there and found Bionic Chance wasn't going so well," Milne said, "Pat looked at me and said something about being flat." Young Eden took the lead early in the run home and kept going strongly to win by a length and a half over Victoria Star, Rosy Score and Bionic Chance.
There was considerable merit in the performance of Victoria Star as well. The daughter of Lordship was trapped three wide during some scorching early sectionals and then became badly placed back in the field. She rallied gamely in the straight to leave a fine impression. After a slightly disappointing run in the Great Northern Derby, Bionic Chance raced right out of character. Hunted out from barrier nine to lead after 200 metres, Bionic Chance ran herself into the ground, being timed through the first mile in 1:59. Only Lightning Blue, in the Inter-Dominion heat won by Skipper Dale in New Zealand record time, has run the first mile of a 2600m race at Addington faster. "She wasn't so much pulling or hanging, she was just on one rein the whole way," said driver Pat O'Reilly Jnr later. "I thought there was something wrong in the preliminary and I knew as soon as we were underway, we were in trouble," he added.
After being tucked away for much of the suicidal pace, Young Eden proved the best stayer on the night. Her 3:16.41 (2:01.5) easily bettered Free's Best race and New Zealand record.
It was by far the biggest success to date for Edendale horseman Alex Milne, 31, son of renowned Southland trainer Alex Milne Senior. A professional licence holder for about eight years, Milne has had some handy pacers before, the best of them King Farouk and Auburn Bret, but rates Young Eden in a class of her own. "I really don't know how good she is. To have done what she has done after all the trouble we have had...well."
Russell Hollows, a sawmiller in Balclutha, was on hand to accept the trophy and found the experience rather bewildering. "This is the first horse I've had. This racing game is all very new to me." Russell said. His partner Milne, a Stirling wool buyer whose only other venture in the game was the smart pacer King Farouk, was unable to make the trip due to his commitments as coach for a Balclutha rugby team.
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HR Weekly
Some magnificent racing at Addington on Show Day was capped by the breathtaking finish in which New Zealand Cup runner-up Luxury Liner turned the tables on his victor Lightning Blue in the $100,000 Air New Zealand NZ Free-For-All.
This time honoured race has seldom failed to provide an exciting spectacle; Friday's had the crowd up on its toes and roaring as a dozen crack pacers bore down to the wire in a group that could in the end have been covered by a tarpaulin. The gutsy Lightning Blue had again worked early and sat parked, and this time he had to contend with the spriting abilities of Happy Sunrise, who zoomed around to replace Master Mood in front 1400 metres out. Jim O'Sullivan, Victorian trainer-driver of Lightning Blue, aware of Happy Sunrise's reputation, decided he couldn't let that rival his own way and that he had to apply pressure. When Happy Sunrise shook him off momentarily straightening, it appeared that the Methven wonder - whose sale to Queensland at a reputedly huge but undisclosed price was clinched on the eve of the race - was going to embellish his outstanding local record with another win. But somehow Lightning Blue, under hard driving from O'Sullivan, delivered up more. Nearing the finish it was Lightning Blue in charge again, with Happy Sunrise dying in the hole.
Then, from the centre of the pack, Luxury Liner, who had been three back on the rail most of the way and then all over the place in the run home as Tony Herlihy searched for a split for him, exploded to the wire to take a photo decision by a nose. O'Sullivan couldn't believe it. "You must have caught me in the very last stride," he said to Herlihy as they returned to greet the judge. "I didn't even see you; I thought I had won." Thrilled with the way Luxury Liner had performed, Herlihy said that it was well inside the last 100 yards that he had secured an opening to shoot for. It capped a great week for the Reids, of Waiuku, owners of Luxury Liner and of Fay Richwhite Sires' Stakes runner-up Top Vance.
Only half-head from Lightning Blue, Frangelico, who had been fairly handy throughout, fought strongly for third, with another half-head to Levendi, who finished boldly along the rail. Unused to the angle, Levendi's driver Glen Wolfenden thought he may even have won.
After the first mile of the race had been cut out in a remarkable 1:56 the pressure was kept on. The last 800m required 58.1 and the final 400m in 28.3, with the total time for the mobile 2000m 2:26.4 - a 1:57.8 rate.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HR Weekly
Dick Prendergast, the popular Chertsey trainer joined the list of harness racing 'notables' by winning the $125,000 DB Dominion Handicap with Simon Katz.
It was a rare achievement. With his future son-in-law Anthony Butt handling the big, bay 8-year-old, Simon Katz won the Worthy Queen Handicap on the first day of the meeting, the New Zealand Free-For-All on the second day of the meeting and the jewel in the crown came when he led for the last 2600 metres in the Dominion. Simon Katz was in commanding form throughout the meeting and Butt took full advantage of his form and fitness.
"Dick said to me before the race not to be afraid to go to the front; he sticks on good," said Butt. Once Simon Katz had mastered Jamie Higgins - after 800 metres - Butt decided to follow the advice Prendergast had passed on. There were some brief sorties from the middle and back, from Troppo early, Tussle and Game Ebony later, but Simon Katz never really had much to worry about.
Having his 102nd start, Simon Katz took his earnings past $200,000 and his number of wins to 15. He has finished in the first three 49 times. Simon Katz is an 8-year-old by Noble Lord from the Eagle Armbro mare, Carly Tryax.
Tyron Scottie, a 5-year-old and something of an apprentice in the role, made a strong, late run from the pack, followed by Landora's Pride and Tussle. Landora's Pride was five back on the rail, level last on the turn, and put in telling strides too late for her third. "She's not racing as well as last season," said driver John Langdon, "she's actually going better."
Credit: Harness Racing Weekly
As Bionic Chance shot past Race Ruler apparently on her way to an epic New Zealand Derby win, Joe Goodyer remained quietly confident "Spike" had the race won. He was not alone in those feelings either. Driver Maurice McKendry knew his charge had something left and had yet to ask Race Ruler for a supreme effort. "I was never worried. He's proved he's a top horse at the business end before and Maurice hadn't hit him," Joe said later.
It was breath-taking stuff. Winning the 73rd running of the New Zealand Derby would have been enough, but Race Ruler was also shooting for the much publicised $102,500 bonus, which would see him collect $248,750 in 10 days and have the chance at another $238,125 pay-out in the Great Northern Derby. All that seemed lost when Race Ruler, after having things pretty much his own way in front, was suddenly second to the flying filly Bionic Chance passing the 200m peg. But, just as quickly 150 metres later, Race Ruler put the issue beyond doubt when he forged ahead again to pass the post half a length clear. McKendry, 32 next month, was suitably impressed. "You hate comparing top horses, but I'd have to rate this one the best I've driven," he said, adding "Placid Victor would be a close second."
The success gave the Methven born and raised McKendry five wins in the John Brandon series from six drives, having won two legs - beaten a head in the third - with Placid Victor two years ago. "I'm beginning to like this series," McKendry said with a grin. Asked if he felt added pressure with the bonus on the line, McKendry replied, "No, it's not the money or the bonuses - the pressure comes every time you drive a top horse."
Bionic Chance, the only filly in the race, was beaten but far from disgraced. From four back on the outer, Pat O'Reilly Jnr set her alight with 1000 metres to run and in an electrifying move she was up outside Race Ruler at the 800. O'Reilly then grabbed a handful again, content for the run home. "We were going better around the home turn and she easily put a good length on him (Race Ruler) when I asked her to. Then for no reason she just knocked off and it was all over," O'Reilly said.
Emcee followed Race Ruler all the way and was two and a half lengths away in third, just holding out Megatrend and Elmer Gantry. Megatrend was the only unlucky runner. From barrier seven he somehow wound up four back on the rails and was still looking for pacing room inside the 200 metres. When a gap came he charged through but then took exception to a flailing whip in front of him. "He should have got third," a disappointed driver Jack Carmichael said.
For Goodyer, 54, it was a highly rewarding and emotional victory. Originally from Murchison on the West Coast, Goodyer has been in the game for over 30 years but has never "put the cart before the horse". "I've usually only kept about six in work at one time. Any more and I would have needed to get help in. I've always tried to keep a team that's profitable," Goodyer said. Now at Taupiri near Huntly, Goodyer recalled how he moved to Canterbury to "learn the ropes" with different horsemen in the early 1960's. "I did three years with Jack Litten when he had several top horses, including Caduceus. Jack was one of the best around in those days. You can't beat experience."
Mainly through the deeds of Race Ruler, Goodyer has now built up his stable to around 16 horses, and has several youngsters waiting in the wings. Among them are two juveniles owned by Alf Wallis and Len Giraud, the owners of Race Ruler. Goodyer bought the Noodlum gelding at the 1985 Great Northern Yearling Sale for $4,500 - "because I liked the look of him" - and, inspired by his deeds last season, Wallis and Giraud asked Goodyer to buy two more youngsters. Wallis recalled how he used to live in Huntly and Goodyer was "just down the road". "We had a horse but he had a bad heart, so I asked Joe to find another," said Wallis. Goodyer bought two at the Great Northern, the other being Maurie's Boy, a winner of three races and $10,000 last season. Prior to Race Ruler and Maurie's Boy, Giraud had also raced one other horse, having some success with a galloper.
For young Trish Lowry, Goodyer's 'right hand man' for the last two months, Saturday was a day of both exhilaration and relief. She admitted to being 'totally worn out' by the end of the week through worry and lack of sleep, and actually slept (or attempted to) last Friday night in the box with Race Ruler. It was definitely a long way from home in the quiet county of Dorset, England. Goodyer credits much of Race Ruler's success in the last fortnight to Trish's dedication and Laser - the latest development in laser therapy from North America.
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HR Weekly