Canterbury's close-knit harness racing industry farewelled one of its favourite sons on Saturday. Murray Butt's public funeral was held at the Templeton Community Centre, near Christchurch, at 12noon. Butt, aged 59, died suddenly and unexpectedly at his Templeton property, Oriole Lodge, on Tuesday 6 December.
The Canterbury harness racing community was rocked by the sad and unscheduled circumstances of his passing. Many are struggling to come to grips with his untimely death. Acclaimed as a modest and unassuming personality, he invariably created the impression he wanted to get along well with as many people as possible. He was very good at it.
A warm humoured and agreeable individual, he shunned conflict and criticism and invariably demonstrated acceptable gentlemanly ways that endeared him to all he knew. He was once described by a respected contemporary as "unflappable and always the same.''
His marriage to Jennifer Jones, a daughter of industry legend Derek Jones MNZM, in April 1965 was to forge an alliance of two of Canterbury's famous sporting and harness racing families that has exerted profound influences on the growth and recognition of the industry in New Zealand.
All three of their sons, Tim, Anthony and Roddy have enjoyed huge success and their only daughter Chrissie is married to prominent trainer Cran Dalgety. It would be superfluous to list the prolific feats with horses of their three sons who are industry household names.
But a special spot, of course, will always be reserved for the likes of champion trotters Lyell Creek and Take A Moment and pacers Mister D G, Happy Asset and Blossom Lady (trained by Derek Jones) and Justaboyden and Judicial who were major Perth winners for Roddy. Anthony was regular driver of Blossom Lady (two A G Hunter Cups and a NZ Cup).Anthony and Roddy were the first drivers to win dual Australasian Junior Driving Championships.
Murray Butt was a son of the late Wes Butt, New Zealand's leading trainer on seven occasions between 1945 and 1962. Wes also topped the national drivers' premiership in 1945-46 and 1952-53. Murray's father-in-law Derek Jones twice won the trainers' premiership in 1965 and 1969 in partnership with Jack Grant (late) and is one of only three New Zealand trainers to top 1000 wins (1011), the others being Cecil Donald (late) and Roy Purdon. Murray's brother Robin of Preston Farm, West Melton, was also a household name in harness racing as the trainer and/or driver of Locarno (Miracle Mile), Camelot (NZ Cup) and classic winner City Rogue. Murray's nephew David Butt (son of Robin) topped the 2003-2004 trainers' premiership in partnership with his wife Catherine.
Murray first met his wife Jennifer at Templeton Primary School before Murray spent the 1960-62 period as a boarder at St Andrews College in Christchurch. "And, when I came out of St Andrews, there was Jenny waiting for me," Murray recently quipped to the writer. The young couple got away to a flying start in life with the winnings of champion filly Golden Oriole who was raced by Murray and trained by his father. After she won her first race, Murray exercised a right of purchase (450 pounds) on the filly he leased from Jim Dalgety. Golden Oriole won about £9000 at a time when a pound was a pound and was later sold to clients of USA horseman Eddie Cobb for the equivalent of about $40,000 as a 5-Year-Old. Golden Oriole won 10 races in New Zealand and was champion 2-Year-Old of her year when she won the NZ Sapling Stakes, one of four straight wins in that campaign.The daughter of Local Light won the Great Northern Derby at three. Murray's father Wes was not only the trainer but also the "Responsible Person'' in terms of ownership legalities as Murray was technically too young to assume any ownership role. Golden Oriole was no slug in open ranks before her sale overseas. She beat the mighty Lordship in a feature Addington sprint.
Funds from Golden Oriole's sale to USA assisted Murray and his wife to set up the Oriole Stud that they operated during the years 1968-1983. Sires they stood at the property included Good Time Eden, Tartan Hanover, Gentry, Scrappy Wave, Crockett, Pacific Hanover, Leading Light and Valerian. Dual gaited Crockett, sire of standouts Bronze Trail and Sprockett, was probably the pick of the sires they stood.
Murray gained his first success as a trainer with Countaway on January 10, 1973. He actually prepared a small team of six horses while mixing stud duties with that pursuit. Game Nian (eight wins) was a capable trotter for him. As a driver, he posted two notable wins with talented pacer Golden Moose in the Kaikoura Cup and the 1985 NZ Firestone FFA, the second leg of the TAB double on Cup Day. His brother in law Peter Jones won the first leg, the NZ Cup, with outsider Borana.
Murray was a former president of the NZ Harness Racing Trainers and Drivers' Association that he represented for three years at HRNZ Executive level before standing down three years ago. He was also the president of the Canterbury branch for five years (1990-1995). Murray Butt enjoyed helping his son Tim at his showplace training establishment where he also took a close interest in horses part owned by his wife Jennifer in trotters Genius and Lotsa Speed this season and another grand trotter in Noam in 2001 and 2002. Noam later raced with distinction when sold overseas. Viewfinder, Keep Up, Night Hawk, Peeping Tom, Success, Marmoose and Roimata Lad were only some winners Murray trained earlier in his career. The Sniper, Red Tip Governor, Cracker Nova, All Talk, Bizness, Bolaz and Bestoranum were a handful of useful outside drives he was associated with. Murray Butt and his wife enjoyed several overseas trips to follow the success of their sons.
The couple eventually subdivided half of their original 100 acre block of land and they bought the late Wes Butt's 16-acre Mankind Lodge complex at Templeton where the couple built a 20-bay all weather golf driving range in 1995. They operated the venture themselves for a year before leasing it out.
Murray and Jenny Butt were seemingly inseparable companions at Canterbury harness racing fixtures and also at Auckland and overseas raceways. They derived much genuine pride in the success of their children in harness racing and invariably accepted it modestly and graciously. The couple's numerous grandchildren were also a source of much warmth and enjoyment. Murray and Jenny Butt's combined act will be difficult to follow.
Credit: Don Wright