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YEAR: 2016

JOHN REEDY

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

 

YEAR: 2016

CHARLES KERR

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

 

YEAR: 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

 

YEAR: 2016

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

 

YEAR: 2016

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

 

YEAR: 2016

GREG BRODIE

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

 

YEAR: 2015

RON BISMAN

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

 

YEAR: 2015

REG CALDOW

Harness racing in the Wellington region was decimated by the track closure of Hutt Park in the 1990s. However the heart of the sport is still beating strongly with recently retired Upper Hutt bisinessman Reg Caldow.

Caldow has been involved in Harness Racing since 1984, first owning horses in partnership with Gary Allen now Chairman of HRNZ, and Keith Gibson of Roydon Lodge Stud. From those beginnings, interest in breeding and racing took a strong hold and to date Reg and wife Barb have won over 200 races in New Zealand, Australia and USA.

He recalls his Hutt Park days with a sparkle in his eye. "As always in these ventures family become committed, while I was President and with Barb running the bar and daughter Sandi secretary of the OTB, it wasn't long before one of the Christchurch boys, Jimmy Curtin, stole Sandi off us. We fought hard to get a decent facility for visiting trainers and owners but then the powers that be decided we were a 'C' grade club and should race for $4,000. The writing was on the wall and it was all over by 2001."

His love of the straight out trotter has been sweetened with the success of the likes of Mountain Gold, an open class trotter raced in a short venture by some of the best known thoroughbred breeders in NZ. Golden Blend, who was bought as a weanling with Gary Allen winning 8 from 18 starts and also a brother to Sheeza Doozie. Also, Lord Burghley who won 6 including the Open Class trot on Cup Day in 2007. Both of these went on to win over 20 races each for Chris Ryder in the USA.

Reg and Barb now breed from a core of six pacing and six trotting mares, including Starlitnight who is a sister to Stars and Stripes and Light and Sound. Her first three foals all broke NZ records. Since then she has left recent winner Sirius Star. This mare is in foal to Auckland Reactor for a double up of Sokys Atom amongst others. Star Of Venus, whose first foal is Star Of Dionysis, a winner of 5 to date also recent debutant Vegus Star. She is in foal to Bettors Delight.

Star Of Isis, was picked out of a paddock of weanlings at Dave Phillips property early in 2009. She had 7 wins and 2 seconds in 9 starts in 2013, now has a Somebeachsomewhere filly foal, who is well stamped, and will go back again this year to pick up on two strains of Matts Scooter.

Russian Bride whose third dam is Olga Korbut. "This dam family is set to come up with another great one when crossed with Art Major. We have a yearling filly by Art Major and a filly foal by Stunin Cullen," said Caldow.

Summer Solstice has to date produced $100k winner Chalde. She has a Well Said yearling filly and a Courage Under Fire weanling colt. Red Electric Moon's second dam is a full sister to Soky's Atom, so the mating to Auckland Reactor was waiting to happen.

The Caldows have bred a number of trotting mares from the family of top producer Galleons Dream, a Chiola Hanover mare, who has left Inter Dominion winner Galleons Sunset. U Dream is a maiden mare by Love You from Galleons Dream who won two races in quick succession and had to retire to stud. She is in foal to Majestic Son. Empress Maria is a SJ's Photo daughter of Galleons Dream, unraced due to injury, who foaled to Muscle Hill. Olesya, a Paramount Spur daughter of Galleons Dream, also foaled to Muscle Hill who has a Muscle Hill filly. Petite's Legacy is a granddaughter of Pride of Petite who has a weanling filly by Majestic Son and is in foal to Muscle Hill. Anreca Hest is the dam of The Fiery Ginga. There are lots of multiple crosses to Somolli and Speedy Crown, Rodney and Victory Song. Zhenya is a Muscle Mass daughter of Starcus who won five and is now in Australia to race with Jodi Quinlan, before returning in foal to NZ. Danielle Daunoi, unraced, an outstanding breeding potential, this mare by Yankee Paco was bought as a yearling in Australia purely for breeding. Caldow has a rising three-year-old filly by Love You out of the mare in training at the moment. Samarais an Earl mare from a daughter of Charlotte Galleon who has a weanling by Lucky Chucky.

In recent times, apart from what is mentioned above Caldow has raced some out of Steven Reid's barn including Selkie, Red Skywalker and William Wilberforce. Others include Star Of Dionysis(5 wins) for Jim Curtin, as well as Alpine Gold (4 wins), Barb has had Suu Kyi (5 wins) with Sandi and sister Julia as well as Boys Will Be Boys (7 wins including Auckland Winter Cup) and Major Dave (3 wins), Star Commando (2 wins) out of the Bruce Hutton barn, as well as Isaac (3 wins) and The Black Forest (1 win) and, of course, Lord Burghley. Also Star Monarch won 2 out of Revell Douglas barn in Pukekohe and half-sister Zhenya who won 5 for Phil Williamson, now in Australia.

While there are a number of trainers involved, over timw Caldow has moved most of his mares to Auckland with the help of Alabar Stud. Those who are instrumental in the success in the north include Dave Phillips, Brent and Susan Donnelly and Gary Hackett.

"As far as my interest in harness racing is concerned I have no doubt Ifall into the category of a lot of people where the interest in breeding winners, my family involvement and mares that I still have keep me motivated. Stake monies are woeful most of the time, although I have taken advantage of the Harness plus scheme, and have won six this year alone. I cannot understand why owners and breeders did not continue to support the concept. I also do not understand why we can lift the prize money for Group 1 races while the maidens are running round Addington for $7,000. I also do not understand why it has taken so long to reach agreement amongst the Racing Board and Government to pass legislation to stop all betting privately offshore. I am quite clear that the reduction in breeding mares has in many ways been good for us. Years ago when there were 8000 mares or more to breed from, there was a lot of breeding that should not have been undertaken.

"We enjoy the travel, for example last Christmas we went to Westport and Reefton to watch Sar Of Dionysis and Star Commando race, then off down the Haast over to Queenstown and up to Omakau to see Matty Williamson win by ten lengths on Zhenya, and then up to Nelson on the way back to Wellington to watch Star Commando win. Believe me we know just how fortunate we are to be able to do this and never take it for granted," Caldow finished.

Credit: Duane Ranger writing in Harnessed Sep 15

 

YEAR: 2015

MIKE DE FILIPPI - HORSEMAN

Almost as quietly as he had arrived on the scene driving Eden Pal to win on what became his 'home track' of Motukarara back in 1970, Mike DeFilippi has retired completely from a distinguished career of race driving, two serious health issues in the past 12 years have proven impossible to overcome.

But it was a highly successful career while it was going, including being only the 6th driver to handle 1000 winners a special achievement given the obligations to his own stable in that period.

The leading South Island driver in 1987 and prominent on the list for many other years he won a series of Group Ones, had virtually all his NZ Cup drives in position to win at the home turn and set records at Nelson winter meetings which are unlikely ever to be equalled.

"It was really hard not being out there especially when I realised things weren't going to change. There was the financial aspect of course but I loved driving and having to watch from the stand was tough" said Mike, a rather different person in private from the sterner public persona.

The DeFilippi name was new to most when he joined the stable of master trainer, Colin Berkett, in the late 1960s where Alex Purdon had once played a key role. By the mid 1970s he could set up on his own at Broadfield but his racing philosophy remained tied to his early associations. Even the stable colours were a variation of the Berkett design. Those principles made him a critic at times of some modern aspects of the game and he was never a person afraid to speak his mind.

His father Rod, a former Springs Junction former, had farmed and dabbled in training after he came to Canterbury and was associated for a while with Ordeal. When the family was based in Riccarton for a time Mike rode work there for trainer Ivor McClure, who was keen to apprentice him but weight gains headed that off.

Colin Berkett gave me my big break when I was given the drive on Mighty Lee which won a NZ Trotting Chamionship. He was a problem horse. Bob Cameron had gone clean through the iron fence at Addington with him one day and resigned from the job. Alex Purdon was a really top horseman too and he gave me another big break when I got the drive on Master Dean, a bad beginner but a brilliant horse who would have loved modern mobile racing. He won the NZ Free for All leading all the way and the Matson FFA. Game Way was a top trotter(Dominion placed) I drove for Alex.

Mike, like Berkett, let his horses mature, placed them for maximum return and, remarkably, has only ever raced one teo-year-old. He never had a team larger than 20 and his strike rate of starters to placings would best most professionals. Colin had a small group of owners and he used to say never train a horse you wouldn't pay fees for yourself. I followed that. There was a much wider group of average blokes racing horses then, not in larger syndicates, and I enjoyed that personal contact. Big syndicates suit some trainers and I trained for a few but it was never the same for me.

In my time at Berketts we had a number of top trotters and I have always had a weakness for them. They are a challenge and give great satisfaction when you get it right." Colin said.

Though he only won it once (Brian Gliddon- trained Alias Armbro in a particularly daring drive fighting off Scotch Tar from the 800m) Mike had a distinguished record in the Dominion Handicap, his next most prized race after the New Zealand Cup. Often he was in the first five. Sundowner Bay ran second twice for his stable. "You wouldn't believe it. We got beat by Lyell Creek the first time. Then he was gone and along came Take A Moment and we ran second again."

Sundowner Bay was sometimes handled by Karen O'Connor who was then with the stable. Murray Edmonds was a long time assistant and his career has followed many aspects of that of Mike's. The staff who realised the boss's bark was worse than his bite and appreciated the sly sense of humour, proved loyal recruits.

A funny thing had happened with the first starter in his colours, the trotter Viewy's Pride. "Felix Newfield told me to make sure my first starter looked good, and was ready to win. I thought I did both but we ran second at Hororata. The winner? Scotch Tar who was just starting off then," recalled Mike. Master Regal, his first training success, was the horse which brought the stable colours to prominence though Ladyship Khan and Lopez Boy were good that first season. "Master Regal I got later on but unraced and he qualified in no time. He was a big horse but turned out a fine stayer. When he lost form I tried everything before I realised that it was just that he was just on his mark. He went to America and was a bit of a star there in a way."

For some years until Lord Module's arrival Master Regal was New Zealand's fastest ever pacer (1:55) and was a celebrated 'King of the Claimers' in the US, racing until he was 15, changing hands up to 20 times a year doing good service for all. However, Take Care, bred and owned by Eric Mee, rates the best he trained, winner of 7 from 22 here before being sold for big money to the US. She was the second highest earning four-year-old of her year behind Melton Monarch.

Mike drove in a golden era of horsemen and has particular memories of the best of them, Maurice Holmes. "He'd always give you a go if he couldn't win. But you had to be on your toes. I was getting a good run outside him one time and he suddenly said,'look out boy here they come.' In the second it took me to turn around he had shoved me three wide! But on another day when I parked him he was happy to give me a running commentary on what was happening in the race. A great horseman."

He believes the changes to the push out rule, which made driving so competitive in that era was a backward step.

Derek Jones was a racing character of the sort Mike still misses. "He gave me a drive when I was going for the 1000. Derek's instructions were, 'Drive it as if you own it' and then, as he turned away, he added, 'and you were flat broke'."

He and his younger brother Colin's domination of many Nelson winter meetings was a feature of that era. A typical example was in 1978. Colin won the first day with Zaruella, Ungava and Flaxton(in succession). Mike won the Winter Cup with Master Regal and two of the last three races with Jerry's Best and Lopez Boy. Colin won the remaining race with Katea Lad for Mike Austin. On the second day Mike won with Regal Fare, Flaxton, Jerry's Best and Aldmet and Colin with Rimuaser Boy(Mike Austin) - 12 races in all. "I think our light weights did make a difference on the old grass track. Most of the top drivers of my time were lighter than people think, even Maurice Holmes. Bob Young was a driver I admired from my early days, he was very fair in a race and a genius with a trotter."

The New Zealand Cup was a frustration for Mike even though posting several placings. "I think every drive I had with a real stayer the horse was in a winning position at the home turn but they weren't good enough. Our own horse, Quiet Win, one of the best I trained but a poor beginner, ran third but up against Bonnie's Chance and Armalight," said Mike.

Rocky Tryax, Clancy and Freightman(unusually Mike and Freightman shared a world record 2500m record at Addington!), Annies Boy, Mack Dougall and Hoppy's Jet were among the number. Bionic Chance ("Probably the best horse I drove, she broke a leg a few days out from the Cup") was a star in the age and sex features and Westburn Vue was one of the best of many good ones for Reg Curtin. "Montini Bromac was a terrific juvenile for Reg. He beat Lord Module fair and square first up and as we pulled up Ces Devine said to me, 'I didn't think there was a two-year-old in the country who could have beaten this horse tonight'. We didn't see the best of him later."

Colin's career came to overshadow his older brother's in the long term but he is the first to acknowledge the help he got along the way. "I had never worked in a professional stable and when I had a problem I would go around to Mike's and he would usually have an answer. That was a great help to me," Colin once said.

Mike's 1000th winner was behind Top Day for Ian Cameron and recalls his friend Mike Austin was not happy. "I drove a lot for Mike(Ranger Globe, Idle Rules etc) and I had turned down one of his horses earlier in the day which won and would have been the 1000."

However at Rangiora some time later his career took its first turn for the worse. I broke 13 ribs in a crash in a trial. Jim Curtin's horse went right over me. I was out for a long time. Then Jim (a close friend) drove Sundowner Bay for me in the Rowe Cup and got tipped out at the start," Mike recalled.

The 21st century has had mixed blessings. A serious illness, never fully diagnosed, made things tough, and a virus that severely limited his sight in one eye spelt the eventual end of his driving career. "I went to the stables one morning and said how it was unusually dull that day. The staff couldn't understand what I was talking about as it was sunny," mused Mike. Heart problems requiring stents and a marriage breakup with Paulette that led to the sale of the Broadfield stables all added to the stress but his partner Stephanie has proven a tower of strength. While a young family of three has its moments Mike seems to have won the battle over his professional and personal frustrations as his driving career has wound down over recent years.

No account of the DeFilippi career can avoid two sensational occurrences, the chaotic Derby win by Naval Officer and the 'early start' Harrison Stakes 'win' at Methven with Twilight Time recalled by stipe Neil Escott on his retirement as his 'worst day on the job.' "Naval Officer wasn't as good as some in that Derby(most of the field fell on the first round) but I felt he was short changed . He was Derby quality and that was what I tried to show when I took him far out in front later in the meeting( Naval Officer won by 15 lengths and ran the third fastest 2600m by a three year old then recorded).

The Methven debacle, another racing headline of the time was caused by a 15 minute race delay over tote problems about which nobody told the starter. Twilight Time the first son of Montini Bromac to race was a dashing winner of a race that was on the DeFilippi bucket list only for it to be declared null and void. There was no question of him starting in the rerun and the queues of punters standing in the dusk to redeem their tickets. The horse always came first in the DeFilippi stable.

Mike DeFilippi departs the driving scene and with only a handful of horses in work training but still secure as a 'horseman's horseman' a man widely admired by his colleagues for his professionalism. What the future holds for the 63-year-old? "Well," he said, "There's an Art Major I've got which might go all right." Like most good trainers you never retire with a promising youngster to keep you going.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Sept 15

 

YEAR: 2015

ALAN GIBSON

A certificate of achievement was awarded to long serving Addington timekeeper Alan (Al) Gibson.

In this day and age, not many individuals manage to achieve more than 40 years’ service undertaking one specific function. That is the achievement of Addington raceway employee Alan Gibson, timekeeper at Addington Raceway since 1974 who continues to undertake these duties even though he is now in his seventies.

Prior to officially taking over, Alan used to sit with the timekeepers learning all that was involved. Following a retirement in 1974, without interview, he was approached to take over the time keeper role, giving stirling service ever since.

In earlier days, timekeepers were required to be at the start of all races and then travel in the track car speedily back to the finish line being in place to record times as horses passed the winning post. In those days the two timekeepers would compare watches and synchronize the times recorded. He was partnered earlier in his career by Stewie Nicholls and then Roger Luscombe.

One prime example of hand held timing was the 1:54.9 time trial of Lord Module at Addington on 23 January 1980. For such time trials, three watches were required to record the time run.

One of the developments Alan witnessed over the past 40 years was the succession of the hand held timing method by electronic timing in 1983. In recent times, when advice to the public of sectional times (quarters) during a race commentary is required, Alan Gibson provides Addington commentator Mark McNamara with the relevant information.

Alan Gibson worked as a car salesman for a number of organisations, never marrying living with his sister Margaret in Hornby. His other main interest is as a tour guide for Stewarts Classic Cars Collection, where he oversees 300+ cars.

In earlier days, Alan raced horses with his great mate Wes (WR) Butt. Nandina Maestro (Poplar Dell/Menai gelding) was the winner of four races in New Zealand for trainer/driver Wes Butt and owner Alan Gibson. Nandina Maestro had a record of 60 : 4 – 3 – 7, $9,170 prior to being sold to North America in 1980. His four wins came at Motukarara, Forbury Park, Addington and Hutt Park with a best NZ mile rate of 2:06.5 and 2:01.2US.

A man proud of his work in particular its accuracy, a genuinely nice guy deserving of being presented with his long service certificate of achievement.


Credit: Janis Hartley

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Phone (03) 338 9094