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Master reinsman Colin DeFilippi wasted no time landing his 2000th NZ driving win at Addington on Friday, September 8.
In his first drive for the night, he produced a customary magical drive on Izmok, a horse he co-owns and co-trains with wife Julie, to reach the milestone.
The same horse had provided DeFilippi with his 1999th at Addington on August 18, when he also positioned him perfectly behind the leaders before edging past them in the run home.
DeFilippi became the sixth New Zealand driver to join the 2000m club, joining Tony Herlihy, Maurice McKendry, Ricky May, David Butcher and Dexter Dunn, the latter becoming the youngest at Addington on July 8.
He displayed a rare show of emotion with a controlled salute at the finish.
The first of many to offer their congratulations to the popular Canterbury reinsman was former employee Sam Ottley, driving runner-up Michelle, 200 metres after the finish.
DeFilippi was welcomed back to happy scenes at the presentation area by wife and training partner, Julie, daughter Mandy, and long-time family friend, Kerryn Corbett.
He knew the milestone would come but it had proven elusive in recent weeks.
DeFilippi, who turned 65 in May, followed in the footsteps of his brother Michael, also a very successful reinsman, who drove over 1161 winners before officially retiring from race-driving four years ago.
Colin gained his first driving win behind Brother Eden, trained by his father Rod, in a one-win pace at Greymouth 43 years ago.
He says race-driving had changed over the years.
"Now you have got to be up there because they don't come back to you like they used to," said DeFilippi.
He achieved the lifetime ambition of every driver by winning the 2001 New Zealand Cup with top mare Kym's Girl, who he co-trained with wife Julie.
"You always want to win a New Zealand Cup but it’s just one race," he said.
"Courage Under Fire (former champion two and three-year-old pacer, trained by good friend Bruce Negus) was very good because he lasted two years (being unbeaten for his first 24 starts and winning a record six Derbys)."
"Going to Australia with Stent (2015 Australasian Grand Circuit trot champion he co-trains) then coming home to win the Rowe Cup was pretty good too."
"And Our Mana, even though he didn't win a New Zealand Cup, he ran second in it twice and was a good horse to have when I was getting started," he said.
He won the NZ Drivers Premiership in 2006 with 121 wins, 22 years after a premiership second to Peter Wolfenden, and has regularly featured among the top 10 on the drivers premiership.
DeFilippi, who has driven five winners on a single programme on three occasions, finished second to Belgian Christophe Martens in the 2007 World Drivers Championship, when held in Australasia.
He is an inductee in both the New Zealand Trotting Hall of Fame and Addington Harness Hall of Fame
Credit: NZ Harness News writing in The Press
BOB NEGUS - Trainer-Driver
Bob Negus, one of a rare group of harness drivers to win both the New Zealand Cup and the New Zealand Free-For-All, with champion mare Armalight in 1981, died from cancer in Christchurch on Saturday. He was 89.
Trainer son Bruce, also associated with a champion pacer, training Courage Under Fire in the late 1990's, said his father had still been driving a tractor until the final two weeks of his life. "His mind was still pretty sharp," Bruce said. "He was good about it. He had all his affairs in order."
Bob Negus cleverly out-drove his rivals with Armalight to win the 1981 New Zealand Cup. After being left parked out, he didn't force the issue, knowing his mainrivals were back in the field. He ulitised Armalight's speed inside the final 800m, leaving their rivals flat-footed. Armailght was in a class of her own, winning by seven lengths and paying $27.
Three days later, Armalight, trained by Brent Smith, made international headlines with a world record win in the New Zealand Free-For-All. Bob Negus let her run freely in front over the mobile 2000m, winning as she liked by three lengths in an astonishing 2:23.5, at the time an unheardof mile rate of 1:55.4. He had driven Armalight in her first four wins and was back at the helm when helping Smith with the mare's preparation during her stellar five-year-old season. He also drove her to win the 1982 Kaikoura Cup and run second, off a 10m handicap toanother top mare of the era in Bonnie's Chance in the 1982 New Zealand Cup.
Good friend, former Nevele R Stud founder and Bromac Lodge proprietor Bob McArdle, was saddened by his passing. "He was one of the most talented New Zealand horsemen that has ever been," said McArdle. "The guy did amazing things without having the best bred horses. God knows what he would have done had he had the best ones."
A skilled trainer and driver with his own horses, Negus trained first at Springston and then at Broadfield. His biggest win as an owner-trainer was with Willie Win in the 1972 New Zealand Derby at Addington, in the hands of NZ's champion driver of the time, in "The Maestro", the late Maurice Holmes. After breaking and losing 30m early, his performance to recover and win in a then NZ-record time for a three-year-old was sensational. He won going away from Kotare Scott, with subsequent top pacer Young Quinn, who beaten him into second in the NZ Sapling Stakes at two, finishing fifth. Willie Win later ran second to Speedy Guest that season in the 1973 Great Northern Derby. By Good Chase, Willie Win also won the 1972 Methven 2YO Stakes in the hands of the trainer and retired winning eight of 33 starts.
Negus also owned and trained Willie Win's younger half-sister Glint to win the 1955 New Zealand Oaks and the 1956 Ashburton Cup, both driven by Holmes. She won 10 of 38 starts. Glint's first foal, Bruce (named after his son) won seven, while another of her foals in La Romolaonly won once, but left six winners including eight-race winners for other trainers in Bardolino and Winning Note, and Early Riser (four), the latter leaving a feature Victorian El Dorado winner of the 1980s, First Glimpse, for Invercargill trainer Wayne Adams.
Captain Jura, secured off Balclutha trainer Len Tilson, was another Ashburton Cup winner raced by Negus, and driven by the late Doodey Townley in 1975. It was a Negus-trained quinella, with the trainer driving Willie Win to finish second. Negus also trained the quinella in the 1972 NZ Welcome Stakes for two-year-olds at Addington with another smart youngster in Hardcraft, who beat close relative Willie Win.
Hardcraft, driven by the late Derek Jones in the Welcome Stakes, was also by Good Chase, but from Gleam, a one-win daughter of Willie Win's half-sister Glister(Whipster-Spangle), who won five. Negus bred, owned and trained Hardcraft, who won five of only 16 starts and at three won the 1973 Queens birthday Stakes at Ashburton, when driven by Maurice Holmes.
Negus also bred, owned, trained and drove Glint's son Patchy to win the 1962 NZ Golden Slipper Stakes, formerly a feature two-year-old event on the NZ Harness calendar. He had his share of success in country cups, being the owner and trainer of 1963 Waimate Cup winner Flynn, and 1967 Kurow Cup winner Bronze Lad, both in the hands of Maurice Holmes, and 1969 Geraldine Cup winner Kran, which Negus drove himself.
Legacy, who won four, was another useful pacer for him in the early 1970s, while he also won three with his namesake Robert Henry (Out To Win-Gilt), before the latter was exported to North America in 1982. He also did a good job after securing one-win pacer Piper McCardy, converting him to trotting and winning seven races as an aged trotter before retiring him as an 11-year-old in 2001.
Bob Negus also had a support role in the career of subsequent world champion driver and now successful trainer Mark Jones. He employed him when Jones was on his way to becoming NZ's top junior driver.
"In his last week he had a session playing with a jazz player as it was always something he wanted to do, which was nice," McArdle said.
Negus died 80 days after his daughter, Robyn Garrett, who also died from cancer. He is survived by sons, Bruce and Keith, and daughters Christine and Gail Dolamore
Credit: NZ Harness News appeard in The Press 5/9/2017
Twelve-time New Zealand training premiership winner Mark Purdon had achieved just about everything imaginable in harness racing. But at Addington on a moderate Thursday card this evening, he hit another career milestone, joining his father, Roy, and brother, Barry, as the only trainers to have accumulated 2000 training wins in New Zealand.
“It was a real thrill,” Mark said after guiding Bettor Trix to victory. He co-races Bettor Trix with Vi Hancock, wife of Inter Dominion kingpin trainer, Sydney’s Brian Hancock.
“Both Roy and Barry would be thrilled, too,” he said.
Roy and Barry Purdon won 17 premierships in partnership from 1978 until 1995. Barry then won two premierships on his own account, while Roy earlier won four on his own account, the first in 1971.
Mark, now 53, has a laugh when asked whether he has any immediate thoughts of slowing down. “Yes, I do have thoughts of taking things a bit easier. Maybe, in two years, when I turn 55 things might change as I would like to think my sons Nathan and Michael could carry on and do a bit more,” he said.
He has dominated the sport in this country for most of the new millennium, and latterly also in Australia. Of the 2000 wins, 908 came on a solo basis, 558 in partnership with Grant Payne from 2007-12 and, latterly, 534 with Rasmussen since mid-2013.
As far as a career highlight, Purdon can’t single out any one feat as being bigger than the others.
“You always focus on the most recent because they are the most vivid in your memory, but I’ve been so lucky to have had so many top horses further back like Pride Of Petite (dual 1996-97 Inter Dominion Trot champ), Il Vicolo (dual 1995/96 NZ Cup winner) and Young Rufus (2002 Auckland Cup winner). “There are so many.”
He is currently riding the crest of a wave with training partner Natalie Rasmussen with reigning NZ Harness Horse Of The Year, Lazarus. A 10-length winner of last year’s New Zealand Cup in record time, Lazarus again leads at least four leading hopes from the stable for this year’s $800,000 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup on November 14.
The landmark came after Purdon eased Bettor Trix to take a one-out trail over the last 1200m behind stablemate Major Hippie. She raced clear to win comfortably in a quick 1:56.6 mile-rate (1950m), while Major Hippie tired to run ninth. Bettor Trix is now unbeaten in two race starts and is eligible for the upcoming Alabar Sires Stakes 3YO Fillies Series.
The All Stars stable were also to the fore in the only other race they had starters in on Thursday. They ran the quinella with two three-year-old debutantes, Tennyson Bromac and Ohanzee, in a maiden event. This time it was Natalie Rasmussen to the fore as the winning driver with Tennyson Bromac, a colt by Bettor's Delight getting the decision. Tennyson Bromac pressed to the front with a lap to run, taking over from stablemate Ohanzee, driven by Purdon.
The pair had the finish to themselves with Tennyson Bromac holding by a head in a 1:58 rate (1950m), with favourite Bright Diamond, who led early, then eased three back for trainer Gavin Smith, finishing on for third.
"They both haven't done a lot yet," said Purdon.
Twelve-time New Zealand training premiership winner Mark Purdon had achieved just about everything imaginable in harness racing.
Credit: NZ Harness News - 13 October 2017
MEG & MERV BUTTERWORTH
Few owners have made such a big impression on both sides of the Tasman over the last 20 years than Merv & Meg. Both were involved in trotting stables in younger years, Merv recently recalling he fed and watered Cardigan Bay when he was making his miraculous recovery from a hip injury back in the 1960's.
Arden Rooney was their first major buy at All Stars, stayed in the stable won the New Zealand Cup after being transferred to Kerryn Manning ("better than winning a Melbourne Cup," Merv said, who also races a few gallopers). However there has been a stream of smart ones including Golden Godess, Mr Mojito, Supersonic Miss, Motu Premier, Itz Bettor To Win, Motu Meteor, Didjamalem Bolt and Blackguard's Corner to name a few. And a lot, lot more in Australia where the Butterworths hold the record for most winners in a season (nearly 150). Merv and Meg have won Harness Jewels events.
Virtually non-breeders, they have also invested significantly at yearling sales of the Tasman. They have horses in many stables including several in New Zealand and a pre-training arrangement in Southland. Unlike a number of Aussie owners here they are partial to a good trotter and have bought several - and with great success in Harness Jewels.
Trivia Fact: Merv and Meg Butterworth were Owners of the Year at the 2016 Horse of the Year Awards thereby being the first Australian-domiciled winners since John Buckland 112 years before. Their Decron Hoof Care Company sponsors the Cranbourne Cup.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Jan 2017
JEAN & BILL FEISS
When it comes to total winners Jean and Bill Feiss don't match some but when it comes to strike rate they are simply sensational. Their first runner in New Zealand was only in 2009 when Sammy Maguire was sent over from Victoria to the All Stars stable for better racing opportunities here and won at Ashburton and on Cup Day.
Jean and Bill, who race their horses as a partnership but in separate names, moved on to buying horses to be trained at All Stars and what a list it is. It includes two, Two Year Old of the Year Titles, (Chase the Dream and Spanish Armada) the brilliant Messini; top mare and Sires Stakes Final winner Willow; Backup, Benecio, MacKenzie, and now highly rated Derby prospect, Vincent and the brilliant Riccardo.
It is not as if they have been buying big numbers, either. "I do a bit of research on the pedigrees and then we consult with Nat and Mark on type and it seems to work out ok so far," says Jean, who rarely misses a NZ race day when her small team are racing. Ok? A typical Feiss understatement.
Trivia fact: The association with All Stars was largely through Natalie whom the Feiss's have known for a long time and Mark was based at their former property Woodstock during one Australian campaign. Jean was with racehorses from an early age, rode gallopers in work and trained Sammy Maguire among others,
Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Jan
The son of a Sydney hotel owner who swapped punting for Accountancy and Real Estate, Brodie has been based on the Gold Coast for many years and has had sustained success buying and racing Standardbreds that has been rarely matched in his time. He started here in 1990 through Marty Herbert and Bruce Negus, generally horses in the middle range.
The first star was Ginger Man (Chariots of Fire) who won over $500,000 and Bell Byrd who won the Golden Easter Egg then run at Fairfield. He hit the headlines with Courage Under Fire which he bought on trainer Negus' recommendation for six figures as a two-year-old, he won over $1.5m and 41 of his 54 starts only three times being worse than fifth.
24 of his wins were in succession and he won six Derbys so added to his stud career he was a wonderful bargain. Sly Flyin won close to $1m and currently Quick As A Trick is competing in top company from the Bruce Negus stable, while Brodies strong association with Mark Jones continued with Rocker Band being fine-tuned for the major mare's events at the Auckland Cup carnival. there ARE MANY OTHERS.
TRIVIA FACT: Like many Brodie prefers to buy rather than breed and is realistic about the fortunes of the racing game. He recalled that Courage Under Fire was not the most expensive of the six horses he bought that year.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Jan 2017
The man who trained and co-owned the late Starship to run second in the 1990 New Zealand Cup and 1991 Auckland Cup is still going strong in his beloved Westport. John Redmond Reedy is still training and breeding standardbreds and is actually one of five John Redmond Reedys in his family. His father, who introduced him to harness racing back in the early 1950s, was the original John Reedy Snr. That name has now spanned for generations.
"I'm 70 now and the oldest of 14 children(six sons) and we are all still alive. I live on Dad and Mum's(the late Jack and Bonnie)original farm but my son now farms about 300 cows on our property at Westport.
I've always loved harness racing for as long as I can remember. Starship was the best I trained. Me and a few mates went on a spending spree one day and paid $200,000 for him. He went on to win $341,000 but it could have been a lot more had it not been for one Dunedin horse," Reedy said.
That horse he was referring to was the Brian O'Meara trained Tuapeka Knight, who won 12 of his 14 starts and placed in one other. "When we bought Starship we didn't know that Tuapeka Knight was sitting in Otago waiting for us. We finished second to him in 9 races as a two-year-old. We actually beat him one night at Addington and then they relegated us. Starship was a lovely horse all right. He won 16 races for us and was a New Zealand record and track record holder in his peak," Reedy said.
Harness racing in the Reedy family dates back to the late 1930s and 1940s. "I was born when Dad got back from the Second World War. His horse, High Noon, even won for him when he was away serving his country. When he got back he still had horses but he bought a grocery shop in Westport. H was badly shot up so Roy Powell decided to take Dad to Bill Lowe's place at Hinds in Ashburton to fatten him up. Bill was the father of Ted Lowe and he went there the year Highland Fling won his first New Zealand Cup (1947). Dad was looking a bit miserable. He was 14 stone when he went away to the war and seven stone when he came back, Reedy said.
He said his father got a good insight into harness racing. He was working with some nice horses and stallions including Lucky Jack, who won the 1937 and 1939 New Zealand Cups. "Dad never trained horses because he worked too hard in the grocery shop and on the farm but he did own some nice ones. Not long after Dad bought our farm Bill sent him up a draft horse named Belle. We toyed with a few horses over the years and then came along the Garrison Hanover mare, Golden Rule.
"She was the best Dad owned. She threw herself backwards one day and strained a tendon. She went on to win several races, including an Interdom heat for her new leesees. The only reason Dad let others race her was on the condition she was returned to our farm at the end of her racing career. We then bred from her and Jason Rulz is the last one from her line to make an impression," Reedy said.
The Reedy breed is renowned for the 'Rule' name. The family has raced some nice horses over the years - Evil Roy Rule(Starship-Atomic Rule) who won 6 races; Deb's Rule(Starship-Timely Rule) 8 wins; Hi Rule(Starship- Atomic Rule) 3 wins; Sam Rule(Mystical Shark-Virginia Rule) 3 wins and Lady's Rule(Regal Yankee-New Rule) 3 wins.
"When Dad died we sold a couple of mares to Richard Dellaca. He was the man who changed the breeding name from 'Rule' to 'Rulz'. He owns and bred Jason Rulz(Courage Under Fire-Rule Zona) who has so far won 14 races. Actually the first horse I ever trained I couldn't qualify so I sold her to Richard when Dad died in the 1980s. Her name was Ima Rule. She was out of Golden Rule and left Franco Ice. He wasn't a bad gelding was he? He went on to win 20 races and more than $600,000.
While a constant figure at his home circuit on the West Coast each year as well as a prominent figure at meetings at Nelson and Blenheim as well, Reedy hasn't tasted success for quite some time. "I haven't had a winner for ages(2012-2013), and I'm getting sick of it," joked Reedy. "But it won't stop me . I absolutely love the game, and the people involved in it. I always have," he added. Reedy has trained 25 winners 1984 and although he rarely drives these days he saluted the judge eight times since 1985.
The Westport-born and educated Reedy is a past president of the Westport Trotting Club and also served on the New Zealand Racing Board. Racing is in our blood. My great grandfather was an 18-stone Irishman who I've been told never had an ounce of fat on him. He was all muscle and bone. He trained gallopers on the West Coast in the 1880s. "Our family has always loved racing and I'm no exception," said J R Reedy the second.
At last year's annual awards ceremony, Reedy was bestowed with the honour of the Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing prize for his lifetime involvement in the industry. A fitting reward for a man who lives and breathes the sport.
Credit: Duane Ranger writing in Harnessed Feb 2016
The cheerful, genial Charles Frazer Kerr, a popular trotting identity, took his successes modestly, his reverses in good spirit.
Born in Christchurch in 1860 into the large family of Margaret and Peter Kerr, he grew up on the family's 6000 acre leasehold farm, Sand Hills Run, which reached from the Styx River to the Estuary. Kerr's Reach as we know it today was a drainage for the holding and later named for the prominent New Brighton family. 'Fond of horses and their ways', Charles and his brother, William, bought horses and trained and raced their own and others stack at Wainoni.
Their triumph was the purchase and training of the outstsnding American-foaled dam and sire 'Thelma' and 'Wildwood'. After Wildwood's death, the brothers split. William continued to breed and race his own horses while Charles worked as a public trainer and reinsman. He argued that, as the public provided the stakes, it was the duty of trainers and owners to provide good horses at every major event. His stables were invariably full.
Generous, a clean sport and kind to his horses, Charlie as he was known, was great company. At 46, he married Mabel Grant and two years later, a daughter, Muriel, was born.
In May 1914, William presented Charlie with Admiral Wood 'a handsome upstanding colt' which "Willie" trained. On May 16, Charlie, the leading driver, posted a career highlight driving the unbeaten rising star Admiral Wood to win the first New Zealand Derby at the New Brighton Trotting Club course (later QE2 Park). It would be his last ride. Late that night after celebrating in Woolston, he headed home.
Driving his sulky "at a fast pace", Charles lost control of his horse and gig. The gig hit a tramline pole, the wheels came off and he was thrown on the rod. Kerr, 53, was carried to hospital where he died of his injuries on May 22. Skull fractured, ribs broken, he suffered a brain laceration in the crash, an accident similar to that which claimed the life of his father in 1877.
Charles' sporting friends subscribed to a memorial fund to install a headstone with the figure of an angel. The loving inscription was testament to the measure of the man. The friends of Linwood Cemetery Trust hopes to raise the Kerr angel back onto its plinth. The angel, a casualty of the Canterbury earthquakes will also be pinned in place to current standards.
(Thanks to Richard Greenaway for research).
Credit: Anna Price writing in Ch-Ch Mail 3 Mar 2016
FELIX NEWFIELD - Horseman
You wouldn't call the recent death of Felix Newfield the end of an era. His era ended, well, eras ago. But it triggered the recall of a less sanitised harness racing time when enterprise and skill mixed with some sharp lateral thinking could take you a long way.
Felix was reportedly something g of a recluse in his final years in Queensland. That outcome seemed most unlikely given the lively approach to life and racing evident in his heyday, roughly from the late 1950s through the 1980s. There was always something happening or sometimes not happening when Felix Newfield was around.
It started when he first drove in races as a 16 year old in 1941. The problem was he was supposed to be 18 and the authorities took the licence back until he was. He lived in Domain Terrace as a youngster and worked at the major stable there firstly for Jack Pringle and later Howie Smith.
His first winner was Grattan Bells at Greymouth in October 1945, the mare's third win at the two day meeting. His good friend Jack Carmichael drove Margaret Hall to win earlier and Felix won his second drive when the trotter Sir Walter paid $288. Those were the days.
He would win five Greymouth Cups before he was through, Felix specialised in winning provincial cup staying races but the clipping he wanted to show you was one of his defeats. The headline referred to the "Biggest demonstration ever known on the West Coast" which, considering some of the others, must have been something. "When I pulled up I could hear the crowd starting to go off. I loosened one of the hopple straps and went back pointing to it. They seemed to be very upset," he quipped years later. It was probably no coincidence that his last training win(1994) was Come On Joe at Greymouth driven by Mike De Filippi.
Felix used to recall hoe tough the life of a stablehand was in the War years and after. After a full morning's work you'd jog a horse in the afternoon to the rail station and head for Greymouth, sleeping overnight in the horse boxes after card games by lamplight. You would jog from the station to the track, race, probably twice, then head back to the station for another long night on the train. During the war years horses might be walked up to 40km between horse floats with police roaming the back country roads looking for lawbreakers.
He pointed out that guys like Jack Carmichael, Derek Jones and himself were "boys among men" and you learned to make your presence felt early or make your way home. No quarter given and none asked. Perhaps that is why he gave Fraser Kirk every chance as a junior driver, the first and only of that grade to win a Pan Am Mile.
Felix made his impression as a private trainer with Methven's Sandy Green including winning three in a day at Waimate with different horses. Rare for anyone then. Not too long after that he married Joan Harris and they moved to an 18ha chicken farm at Templeton. Her father Jack raced a lot of horses with them. Hard work from both partners which included milking 30 cows, made it into a top facility for horses and a wide variety of other animals. Sadly Joan suffered from multiple sclerosis in later years and was hospitalised for a long period. Felix's younger son Craig, a good horseman and Murray Hessey were long time assistants and Bob Cole was another familiar figure at the stables.
One of Felix's first winners was Sedate leased from Colin McLaughlin and she was later a breeding source of great success for both. Names like Suzendy, Captain Free, Great Credit, Johnny Guitar, Queen Ngaio, Sirrah, Nimble Yankee(the Miracle Mile winner for Fraser) a genuine top liner in Waratah; the absolutely brilliant but erratic Great Credit later a big success from mobiles in America and Auditor whom he always regarded as the best he trained. He blamed himself for putting Auditor into work too soon after a strangles attack to get to the Cup and "He was never quite as good again. If I knew then what I know now he could easily have won a Cup."
One of his feats was lining up five horses in a New Brighton feature finishing first, second, fourth and fifth. But winning the New Zealand Cup, his greatest ambition, eluded him. No less impressive was his list of owners of long standing. Frank Kirkpatrick was the first and stayed loyal. Names like Jack Brosnan(Great Credit, Pancho Boy etc), Eugene McDermott(Guiness, Black Label, American Chief), Len Law and McLaughlin among others.
He had a big result in the 1973 NZ Derby when New Law which he trained and co-owned with Len beat Royal Ascot, which he also part owned, by a whisker, the latter being originally called the winner. "I reckon they should have called it a dead heat, that would have been something." He also won a Dominion Handicap behind Tronso for Colin Berkett.
Felix always had racing people talking. He often handled trotter Power Cut for close friend Bruce Woods and one day he was side-lined for a few weeks by the stipes for whistling loudly and calling out at the home bend causing a rival driven by George Shand(one of the great whistlers himself as Felix well knew) to gallop. Power Cut won.
Felix was and is known to all as "The Cat" but I quickly found out nobody actually called him that to his face. He didn't like it. After writing a story of bad puns based around cats("The stipes consulted the SPCA and told the Cat to 'paws' his career and curl up in the sun in the stands for a few weeks"), I was put in the deep freeze for a few months.
Another part of his gamesmanship was suddenly putting his feet on the ground and wanting some minor attention to his horse from the starting attendants just as the others were all ready to go. As the last to stand and so likely to be the first to go, this ploy often worked. All unintentional of course.
Once he and Bruce bought a horse Jimmy Wood from Doug McCormick in a Greymouth hotel late one night,(actually early the next morning) after Doug announced he was finished with the plain and lean looking little gelding. Bruce and Felix thought he just needed building up. A lease was written and signed on a piece of paper in the hotel's toilet. The partners were optimistic, they could turn him around for the second night with some tender loving care but the amiable Doug warned them they should never have taken the bell boots off. They had been on for three months! He was right. Jimmy ran last and the more condition the partners put on the little fellow the slower he got.
Felix was given a share in Royal Ascot to get him to race trim as a colt but it wasn't until he was finally gelded that Colin McLaughlin and Allan Harrison got him right. He went up a level when Felix took over the driving but even he thought he was lucky to hold the 1973 Auckland Cup after some old fashioned "argy bargy" to get off the fence in the middle stages had checked some favoured runners. "I took the whip and the Cup and just tried to keep out of the way," he recalled. He only got a two race-day suspension. Local media was furious.
Felix carried on the tradition of his younger days rather than make major changes. Cecil Devine, F J Smith, Ces Donald and Jack Pringle, all great conditioners, were his training role models. His horses were always washed down with hot water("How would you like a cold shower on a col morning?" he would ask) and did plenty of work. They won a lot of races(rising to third on the premiership with an average sized team) but they also won a lot of place money. All part of the tradition. He once told me after ensuring it was for publication that his great mate Jack Carmichael was one of the best he drove against "but that was when he was much younger of course."
F E Newfield did not have a lot of education but he was an opportunist who ha a quick mind and asked the sort of questions which could put jurnos on to good stories but also on their mettle. He told even better ones and often against himself. Plus you never quite knew what he was thinking. Nor even, at times, his owners.
There won't be another quite like Felix Newfield because the system which produced him is also history. It is now almost too demanding and clinical. Much bigger teams are raced constantly because of the need to cover costs. The plotting and scheming around a few races a week was given way to a tougher and harder routine. Felix always maintained in defence of his tactics that judging drivers from the stands was a dodgy premise. Now they see it all on camera.
A top horseman; sometimes a rascal but always a likeable one; jovial company and astute thinker, proud of his children, Felix Newfield was an old fashioned harness racing character. His passing is a sad reminder how few who can genuinely claim a similar standing, are still with us.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Aug 2016
The doyen of harness racing journalism in New Zealand, Ron Bisman, passed away last month. The prolific author who was renowned for many publications during his many years as a writer passed away late in June, aged 82 in Queensland.
Mike Grainger, who enjoyed a sustained working relationship over many years with Bisman described his former colleague in a simple fashion. "He was an absolute gentleman," Grainger said. "I spent a lot of time with Ron when I would travel to Auckland for meetings and would stay at his house. He was a prolific compiler of harness racing history and his library of information at home was extensive and he had things there that most people would have thrown away instantly. He loved all that kind of stuff."
Grainger said it was Bisman's kind demeanour and willingness to listen to everyone's story that made him such a successful journalist and added that it was easy to find him on any given race night at Alexandra Park. "He was always in the same stand, standing in the same spot and the same bar. Harness racing was his life alongside Eunice and you would never find anyone who had a bad word to say about him or anyone who he had a bad word to say about. He was just an all-round decent person."
Born in Lyttleton in 1932 and educated at Christchurch Boy's High School, Bisman joined The Christchurch Press as a cadet reporter at the age of 16. He toiled away as a general reporter for two years and then spent five in the racing department before accepting the role as editor of the New Zealand Trotting Calendar.
After a year there he visited the United States in 1956, accompanying globetrotting breeder-owner Noel Simpson and New Zealand owner-trainer Jack Shaw; with the trotter Vodka, they blazed the trail for the Down Under horses that were soon to race so successfully in North America.
On his return Bisman edited the weekly racing publication Friday Flash in Wellington for the first four years of its existence, then accepted a position as associate editor on the Kentucky published Horseman and Fair World. After two years in Lexington, Bisman returned to become racing editor of the New Zealand Truth, and four years later, in 1966, joined the Auckland Star as trotting editor.
He visited America again in 1967 in company with Peter Wolfenden, and through his travels became closely associated with some of the principal figures in the life of Cardigan Bay. Ron was also a long-time contributor to trotting publications throughout the world (America, Australia and Italy). He also had two years as secretary and judge of the Macau Trotting Club. He was Auckland correspondent for the NZ Harness Racing Weekly for many years. He was also a member of the NZ Trotting Hall of Fame.
Cardigan Bay was his first book. Ron also wrote the DB Trotting Annual for several years, worked for Harness Racing NZ as their "man in the North" and later worked as the Public Relations manager for the Auckland Trotting Club. He edited the first nine editions of the Trotting Annuals from 1972. He compiled The Interdominions with Taylor Strong, first published in 1975 and two subsequent editions.
New Zealand Trotting Greats, Globetrotting Simpson and Harness Heroes are other books he wrote. In 1982 Ron's deluxe limited edition book, A Salute to Trotting, covered an extensive history of 418 pages of harness racing in NZ from its earliest beginning until July 1982.
After retiring, Ron and his wife Eunice moved to Queensland's Sunshine Coast. His daughter Christine Eggers said her father had battled cancer for almost a year. "Dad's first operation was at the end of January (2015) and he was even playing golf and having chemo three weeks ago. He went downhill very quickly and, sad as it is, he was ready to go," his Sydney based daughter said.
Bisman is survived by his wife Eunice, daughter, Christine and son Perry.
Credit: Duane Ranger - Harnessed July 2015