Wildwood Junior, having his first and only race of the season, gave the other contenders a pacing lesson in the 1909 New Zealand Cup. By the time the post was reached, Bill Kerr's brilliant but unsound pacer was 40 yards ahead, winning in 4:39. The margin remains the most decisive in the history of the race.
In 1895 Kerr bought the three-year-old colt Wildwood for £500 on one of his trips to the United States. Two years later he bought the mare Thelma from her breeder, J Todd, of Lincoln, for £50. She turned out to be a great New Zealand-bred foundation mare. Wildwood Junior was the second foal of their mating. A five-year-old black stallion, Wildwood Junior was the eigth favourite of the 10 starters, mainly because he had not raced that season.
On the same day, Willowood, Wildwood Junior's full-brother and the result of the first mating of Wildwood and Thelma, won the Au Revoir Handicap after losing several lengths at the start. Unlike the Cup winner, whose victory was unexpected, Willowood went out favourite. He was retired unbeaten in three starts, recording a win in each of the 1907-08, 1908-09 and 1909-10 seasons.
The 1909 Cup was raced at a time when the country was divided on the gambling issue. The 1908 Gambling Act, passed by Sir Joseph Ward's Government still had bitter opponents. A day or so before the Cup, more than 100 people waited on the Prime Minister in Wellington, protesting at the increase "almost beyond belief" of the gambling evil. Sir Joseph Ward, from all accounts, gave them a sympathetic hearing, but it did not prevent him attending the Show Day racing. Certainly, as the momentum of Cup week gathered in Chrischurch , the country had its agitators seeking a change in the legislation to reduce racing permits.
That enormous strides had been made in harness racing in Canterbury was evidenced by the opening day of the meeting. The Metropolitan Club offered stakes of 5502 sovereigns. The Cup stake, increased to 700 sovereigns, was the richest offered for a harness race in New Zealand or Australia. The Cup card was regarded as the best offered by a harness club with the qualifying time of the race tightened to 4:45. For the first time the race carried a restricted handicap, which was set at 10 seconds and designed to give the backmarkers a better chance of victory. The Cup was raced on the first day, Tuesday, setting a pattern that existed for many years.
An exciting newcomer, King Cole, a son of Ribbonwood from the Rothschild mare Kola Nut, was the favourite, but, along with Durbar, he boke at the start and was out of the race. Albertorious, bracketed with Revenue (driven by Manny Edwards), was the next-best supported, but for the third time he let down his backers, finishing well back.
For a lap John M, Verax, Imperial Polly and Master Poole formed the leading group. Further on, Wildwood Junior got within striking distance of the leaders and, with a mile behind him, burst into the lead. From that point the outcome was never in doubt. The further they went the greater the lead became for Wildwood's speedy five-year-old son. There was a great contest for second, with Terra Nova finishing half-a-length ahead of Lord Elmo, a duplication of their 1908 placings. Then followed Revenue, Imperial Polly and Master Poole. Imperial Polly, unsuccessful in the Cup on three occasions - 1909,1910 and 1911 - was by Prince Imperial. Later, at stud, when mated with Logan Pointer, she produced Imperial Pointer, who to Rey de Oro produced Imperial Gold, dam of tha amazing Gold Bar. Lord Module, the star of the 1979-80 season, traces back to Imperial Polly.
Bill Kerr's association with harness racing stretched back into the previous century. In 1887 he bought a block of 50 acres on Wainoni Road, halfway to New Brighton, and established his stud, later appropriately named Wildwood, and private training establishment. He and his brother Charles trained numerous horses there. Later, the brothers dissolved their partnership, Charles setting up as a public trainer and Bill concentrating on breeding and training his own horses.
Wildwood Junior first raced as a three-year-old in the 1907-08 season and soon worked his way into the best circles. As a green colt he won the Progressive Handicap at Addington in 4:50.8 and later, as a four-year-old, the Courtenay Handicap in 4:41. He eclipsed those times in his first Cup victory, clocking 4:39.
Wildwood Junior, standing an impressive 16.1 hands, was described as a commanding and perfectly-shaped stallion. However, his racing days were restricted because he had unsound legs. His only races in the 1909-10 and 1910-11 seasons were the New Zealand Cups, an both times he was successful. In the latter season he was the top money-winner, solely from his 700-sovereign share of the 1000-sovereign Cup prize. As a two-year-old, Wildwood Junior served two mares, and the matings produced two good performers in Calm and Goldie, both of whom won their first three races. Calm was favourite for the 1913 Cup, but finished third.
With earnings of £1656, Wildwood Junior was retired to Kerr's stud as a seven-year-old, but not before he had become the first double-winner or the New Zealand Cup.
Prince Albert won the main race on the Thursday, the Christchurch Handicap, from King Cole and Lord Elmo. On the Friday, Al Franz, a speedy four-year-old, won the Courtenay Handicap from Albertorious and Aberfeldy.
A total of 27 bookmakers operated each day, yet despite that opposition the totalisator took a record £45,018. The £3072 invested on the New Zealand Cup was only £86 short of the 1907 record.
Credit: Bernie Wood writing in The Cup
Lady Clare, the second mare to win the New Zealand Cup, was a six-year-old by Prince Imperial from Clare, who was by Lincoln Yet, the sire of Monte Carlo.
Her trainer, James Tasker, who had been successful with Marian in 1907, took the drive behind her more favoured bracketmate Aberfeldy, and entrusted the drive behind Lady Clare to Jack Brankin. The Cup field was not a strong one, with Wildwood Junior out of the way. Also missing from nominations was King Cole, the star of the August meeting. King Cole, winner of the King George Handicap from Bribery and Dick Fly, and the National Cup from Havoc and Bright, had been temporarily retired to stud. The club received 14 nominations, but the early favourite, St Swithin, was injured and withdrawn. Sal Tasker, who had not raced for four years, and Manderene were two other defections. The front starter, Imperial Polly, received five seconds from the back marker, Bright. Al Franz, because of some outstanding trials, was race favourite, with the bracketed pair of Dick Fly and Redchild, from the stable of Manny Edwards, also well supported. Redchild was the only trotter entered.
The field did not get away at the first attempt because Free Holmes, the driver of Bribery, jumped the start. Medallion stood on the mark and took no place in the race, while Bribery went only one lap and then pulled up lame. Lady Clare led from the start and at the halfway stage was still in front, followed by Al Franz, Dick Fly, Imperial Polly, Aberfeldy, Havoc and Redchild. The mare held on to the lead to win by a length, in 4:38, from Dick Fly, with necks to Al Franz and Redchild. Then came Aberfeldy, Bright and Havoc.
The Cup victory was the last of Lady Clare's seven career wins, but she showed her durability by racing over eight seasons. Indirectly, she featured again in the Cup in 1988, when Luxury Liner turned the clock back 77 years. Lady Clare was the firth dam of Luxury Liner. Lady Clare's £700 from the Cup stake of 1000 sovereigns was the only money she won during the season. Emmeline, an outstanding mare by Rothschild from Imperialism, a Prince Imperial mare, won £949 and was the season's top earner. Rothschild and Prince Imperial were both still standing at stud in the Canterbury area. Rothschild was at Durbar Lodge, in Ashburton, available at a fee of 10 guineas. Prince Imperial and his son, Advance, stood at James McDonnell's Seafield Road farm, also in Ashburton. Prince Imperial's fee was also set at 10 guineas, but Advance was available at half that rate. Franz, the sire of Al Franz (third in the Cup), stood at Claude Piper's stud at Upper Riccarton, at 10 guineas. Franz was a full-brother to Fritz, by Vancleve from Fraulein.
A new surname at that time, but a very familiar on now, Dan Nyhan, introduced another great harness racing family to Addington. Nyhan trained at Hutt Park and ha won the 1909 Auckland Cup with Havoc. He was the father of Don Nyhan, later to train the winners of three New Zealand Cups with his legendary pair of Johnny Globe and Lordship, and grandfather of Denis Nyhan, who drove Lordship (twice) and trained and drove Robalan to win the Cup.
Of all the stallions in Canterbury, Wildwood Junior commanded the biggest fee, 12 guineas, but he held that honour only until 1914, when Robert McMillan, an expatriate American horseman, stood his American imports Nelson Bingen and Brent Locanda at fees of 15 guineas at his Santa Rosa stud at Halswell. He also had Harold Dillon and Petereta on his property. Harold Dillon, sire of the champion Author Dillon, was the top sire for six seasons, from 1916-17 until 1921-22, while Petereta gained some fame by siring the double New Zealand Cup winner Reta Reter.
The outstanding feature of the 1911 Cup meeting was the introduction of races restricted to trotters, particularly the Dominion Handicap. The move, prompted by the Metropolitan Club, came at an appropriate time to save horses of this gait from extinction in New Zealand racing. In the 1880s and 1890s there were two trotters for every pacer in New Zealand, but by 1911 the reverse ratio applied. With the advent of the sulky and harness from the United States, trainer in the 1890s found pacers easier to gait and easier to train, and learned that they came to speed in less time, so many trotters were converted to the pacing gait. Generally, the trotter could not match the pacer on the track.
Coiner won the Middleton Handicap on the first day, in saddle, and raced over two miles in 4:52. Quincey, who had been successful against the pacers on several occasions, got up in the last stride to dead-heat with Clive in the Dominion Handicap, with Muricata, a promising five-year-old, third. Muricata became the dam of double New Zealand Cup winner Ahuriri. The Dominion Handicap carried a stake of 235 sovereigns and was raced in harness for 5:05 class performers. Quincey's time was 4:37.4 slightly faster than Lady Clare recorded in the Cup on the Tuesday. Another of the 13 trotters in this race was the Australian-bred Verax, who started in the New Zealand Cup six times.
The meeting ended with some high-class racing on Show Day. In the Enfield Handicap, in saddle, Aberfeldy, from scratch, beat 14 rivals in 2:12.6, a New Zealand race-winning record for one mile. St Swithin, who had to miss the Cup, won the Christchurch Handicap from Emmeline and Little Tib. The Andy Pringle-trained pacer confirmed how unfortunate it was for his connections that injury denied him a Cup start.
Further improvements had been made at Addington, with a large new 10-shilling totalisator housebeing used for the first time. With bookmakers outlawed, the totalisator turned over a record £27,418 on Cup Day, and betting on the Cup of £6096 10s was a single-race record. The total for the three days of the carnival of £68,329 was an increase of £17,440 over the previous year.
Credit: Bernie Wood writing in The Cup
World class for a Dominion 2-year-old was entered when Brahman paced a mile against time at Addington on Saturday 13 June in 2.02 1/5. Incredulity was plainly written on the faces of seasoned racegoers all over the course when they stopped their watches at this sensational figure. Before the trial Brahman's connections were quietly confident the colt would go between 2.04 and 2.05 and even the owner, Mr B Grice, and the driver, F G Holmes, must have been astonished and elated at the big slice Brahman carved off Convivial's previous Australasian record of 2.08 4/5, put up at Harold Park, Sydney, in 1951.
Brahman's performance was epoch-making not only because he completely annihilated all previous NZ and Australian 2-year-old records, but also because his figures compare favourably with anything done in the acknowledged leading light-harness country in the world, the United States.
Brahman made his record on a six-furlong track - certainly one of the fastest and best conditioned in the world - but cognisance must be taken of the fact that the American authorities compute that the mile track is the perfect sized track and by far the fastest for record-breaking purposes. They say emphatically - and their overwhelming number of world's records fully substantiates their conclusions - that their leading mile tracks are between four and five seconds to the mile faster than their best half-mile tracks. For example: Greyhound trotted his world's record mile of 1.55¼ on a mile track and the best he could do on a half-mile track was 1.59¾; Billy Direct's 1.55 was done on a mile track, and the best pacing performance on a half-mile track is Sampson Hanover's 1.59 3/5.
It does not strictly follow that the difference in speed between a six-furlong track like Addington and a mile track of similar composition would be, say, two seconds by the American way of reckoning, but it would not be far off the mark, and that brings Brahman's potential speed on a mile track - with its wider and more gradual bends - down to the two-minute mark. It may sound fantastic, it may be dismissed by many people as a rather dubiuos method of working things out; but that is the extent the Americans have found, by long years of experience, speed is reduced or increased according to the sizes of tracks, and they ought to know.
Brahman is also entitled to this: although the track was in perfect order and only a slight breeze was blowing, the atmosphere was a bit damp and certainly cold when he made his attempt, and winter can scarcely be the most favourable time of year for record-making. On the contra account, of course, Brahman had gained valuable months in age and seasoned condition by delaying his trial until June instead of taking it on in the height of summer - or the autumn.
Notwithstanding all this supposition, it was a world run by any standards and puts Brahman in the same champion mould as Titan Hanover, 2.00, a trotter, and Knight Dream, 2.00 2/5, a pacer. Titan Hanover is the only harness horse, trotter or pacer, to enter the 2.00 list at two years, and Knight Dream, a pacer, is the fastest 2-year-old of that gait.
Brahman, driven by F G Holmes in the familar colours - cardinal, cream sash, cardinal cap - of his breeder-owner-trainer, Mr B Grice, and with Morano, driven by A Holmes in his well known jacket - purple, red band and cap - as galloping companion (pacemaker has become a misnomer because the rules long since required the accompanying horse never to head the one making the attempt at any part of the trial), Brahman was not long about warming up and at the first time of asking he hit the mile starting peg at top speed. Pacing like a machine - he is smooth and effortless in style - he reached the quarter in a tick better than 31secs and the half-mile in 60 2/5secs.
Experienced trotting trainers and others in the stands this looked at each other in consternation. "He can't keep this up," said one. "He'll stop to a walk in the straight," declared another. A third registered blank astonishment by shaking his watch in his ear to make sure it hadn't seized up! And Brahman sizzled on towards the three-quarter mark. There was still no sign of a slackening of speed - six furlongs in 1.31 1/5! "He must feel the strain soon," muttered a bewildered newspaper reporter, who was still dazed by the performance a couple of hours after Brahman had felt no such thing. At the furlong Brahman certainly had nothing in reserve, but when F G shook the whip at him he showed he had grit as well as all this phenomenal speed by finishing without a flicker and tramping the final quarter in 31secs flat, only a fifth slower than his opening quarter and making his full time 2.02 1/5.
"It should stand for some time." This was the triumph of understatment drawn out of Ben Grice when this notoriously 'mike-shy' sportsman was coaxed to say something about his champion during one of those extremely friendly gatherings in the birdcage which have become a pleasant aftermath of special events at Metropolitan meetings. The president, Mr C E Hoy, drew applause when he disclosed that Mr Grice had needed no inducement to send Brahman against the record. He assured the crowd, however, that the club would present Mr Grice with a momento to commemorate the occasion. Brahman had brought lustre to Dominion trotting by his superb performance. It was hard to credit what he had done, and he was confident it was only the forerunner of many more records on the part of Brahman. In his reply Mr Grice said he thought before the attempt that Brahman would go 2.04 or 2.05. He was naturally thrilled with the outcome. "He had a good driver and a good track," he said.
F G Holmes, who has always been on the top deck among NZ reinsmen, had Brahman under perfect control throughout the trial. He had worked him many times and got to know Brahman right down to the nails in his shoes! A few days before the official trial he had driven the colt a "pretty stiff mile." In a telephone conversation with the editor of the Calendar, A Holmes, who was naturally a keenly interested party in the trial, said: "He went the last half in a tick better than a minute. We think he'll go at least 2.06 on Saturday."
F G Holmes gave Mr Grice and A Holmes all the help and encouragement he possibly could. He made Morano available as galloping aid to Brahman and told his brother to "make his own arrangements" about the details of the attack on the record. These side issues may seem of small moment to some of our readers, but they are mentioned to stress the fine sportmanship that inspired the whole show, one of the most exhilarating things that has happened to our sport in all it's existence. In fact, the writer must confess that no previous light-harness performance in the last 30 years has stirred him to the same depths as did Brahman's prodigious run on Saturday morning.
Special significance attaches to Brahman's figures because they are only 1 4/5secs slower than the world's 2-year-old pacing record of Knight Dream, and 2 1/5 behind the world's 2-year-old record of the trotter Titan Hanover (the only 2-year-old of either gait in the two-minute list). Compare this with the difference between the times of our older champions: Highland Fling's 1.57 4/5 is 2 4/5secs slower than Billy Direct's world's pacing record of 1.55 and about 2 3/5secs slower than Greyhound's trotting record of 1.55¼. This is not meant as any disparagement of the peerless 'Fling'; it is mentioned merely to emphasise that Brahman would probably prove at least the equal of the best 2-year-olds in America today.
A Holmes drove the galloping companion, Morano, with discernment - the mission had obviously been thoroughly planned and rehearsed, and Morano was kept a 'daylight' margin behind Brahman (the fact that Brahman could hear his hoof-beats was sufficient) until the final quarter, when Morano was moved up to finish with his head on the record-breakers quarters, as our picture shows.
There was another member of the Holmes family at Addington on Saturday who must hav derived great pleasure and satisfaction from the performances of all the participants. That was 82-year-old Freeman Holmes, father of F (Freeman) G and Allan Holmes. Freeman Holmes, an importer of numerous sires and mares, brought from Canada the pacing stallion Grattan Loyal, a big stud success and sire of Gold Bar, the sire of Brahman. Freeman Holmes also imported, from America, Rey de Oro, sire of Gold Bar's dam, Imperial Gold, and Logan Pointer, sire of Gold Bar's grandam, Imperial Pointer. Rey de Oro and Logan Pointer were both outstanding stud successes, and Logan Pointer also figures as the sire of Logan Princess, the grandam of Haughty, who produced Brahman. It is a chain of breeding events, culminating in a phenomenon like Brahman, any breeder would be mighty proud to own.
Gold Bar was bred by A Holmes and developed into a champion by him. He held a number of records on his retirement in 1946, and one of these, his mile and a quarter in 2.35, still stands. Of interest, too, is that Haughty's 3.35 2/5 for the same distance has also stood as the mare's record for a similar period to Gold Bar's and that both sire and dam of Brahman have identical mile records, 1.59 3/5.
Mr B Grice's son, Mr D P Grice, who owns Wayfarer, a full-brother to Haughty and sire of Buccaneer, told the writer recently that Nelson Derby, sire of Haughty and many other good ones, had never done a big stud season. A dozen mares was about the limit of the patronage he received each season, yet he sired a remarkable percentage of winners and must rank as one of the most successful Colonial-bred sires of all time - he got over 100 individual winners and lived to the ripe old age of 31.
Regal Voyage, dam of Haughty, was bought at auction by Mr B Grice for stud purposes. She was a beautiful looking mare, in contrast to most of her progeny, who were on the plain side - neither Haughty or her son Brahman would get a prize for looks but they were certainly fashioned to go fast. That Prince Imperial strain again: Gold Bar has it through his third dam, Imperial Polly, and Haughty gets it through her third dam, an unnamed Prince Imperial mare, so Brahman has a double dose of this prepotent strain, a strain that courses through the veins of some of the greatest horses of both gaits over nearly half a century.
Credit: 'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 17Jun53