For Tim Butt, winning the major trotting races isn't as simple as just turning up. It might look that way from the outside, because if you have just started to tune in to harness racing over the last couple of weeks you would have heard Butt's name mentioned a lot. Take A Moment is sweeping all before him at the Inter-Doms, proving beyond doubt that he has filled the massive hole left by Lyell Creek. And last week Butt stamped his name on another trophy when Thedonsson scored an emphatic victory in the $50,000 Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Derby at Addington.
Taken to the front in the 2600 metre mobile event, Thedonsson pinged along in near record pace and was being eased down a long way from the winning post when Belle Galleon closed the margin to under three lengths. The win itself was easy, but getting Thedonsson to produce his best on racenight was quite the opposite. "That is the hardest Group race I will ever win," Butt said afterwards, summing up what has been a trying time for him and his staff at Premier Stables. "Everything was progressing along nicely when he won the Hambletonian at Ashburton last month, but then for no particular reason he started trotting roughly. He lost his gait, and his confidence. It was frustrating, because at his peak we know he is one of the best 3-year-olds around," Butt said.
The West Melton trainer put his trotter's problems down to muscle soreness and growing pains, which hit home when Thedonsson broke during the running at each of his next two starts. So Butt set about trying to rectify the situation, placing the gelding on the 'extra care and attention' list. Thedonsson had a couple of visits to renowned chiropractor Fred Fletcher, and his back was also massaged by stable employee Sam Smolenski twice a day - firstly after being worked and then again at night when brought in for a brush. "It was a case of getting the soreness out of each part of his body," Butt said. "Then he got a couple of corns in front, and had to be bathed twice a day for that as well. This win has been a great team effort."
Thedonsson has now won three from eight and $50,951, and will head to Auckland on Sunday week to prepare for the NRM Sires' Stakes Trotters Championship (April 24) and PGG Great Northern Trotting Derby (May 2). "He is not going to Australia at this stage," Butt said. "With a horse like him, the costs and stakemoney don't really add up. It is a $15,000 round trip, so he would have to win either the Derby or the Holmfield to break even. To do a trip like that you have to have a horse that is complete, and at this stage he is not. He is slightly immature, and travelling generally causes those little niggly problems to resurface.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 02Apr03
Nathan (19 years) was first licenced in the 2004/05 season and is employed by his father Phil Williamson. He had his first totalisator drive in March 2005 at Oamaru and since that time has established himself as not only a very competent Junior Driver but is also excelling as a free lance driver as well.
His biggest success last season was driving Jasmynís Gift to win the Group 1 NZ Trotting Free-For-All on Show Day.
The Maurice Holmes Memorial Junior Driver Trophy applies to all Junior Driver races conducted at Addington during the season and Nathan through some consistent efforts has pipped his good friend and rival Gavin Smith in the race for the title. It is ironical that Gavin pipped Nathan in the past seasons NZ Junior Drivers Championship which encompasses all Junior Driver races throughout NZ.
Final Points Standings were as follows :-
Nathan Williamson 20 points
Gavin Smith 19 points
Sam Smolenski 13 points
In addition to the Trophy, Nathan received, courtesy of New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club, a return trip to Australia with spending money plus $500 worth of clothing.
Credit: Tony Lye
Q. You seemed to come into race training and driving a bit later than some. Where did it all start?
In racing not until I was 28 when I got a job at the old Roydon Lodge in Yaldhurst. We came over from the Coast when I was 12 and I was brought up with horses. Later on, I worked a team in the bush for a while. I played league right through the grades and was still playing when I went to Roydon Lodge after I answered an ad in the paper. I broke my jaw playing football soon after and that was the end of the sport. Captain Adios had just passed on when I started and Thurber Frost was the star stallion then. I worked under Ralph Bonnington who was the stallion manager.
Q. You didn't train there though? How did you find it later on taking on training a good team without the background some have had?
The granddam, Aspiring Lass, was a good mare in America and Charlie Hunter trained her down here. She had a twisted bowel at one stage. I got her back for a last season and she won the Canterbury Park Cup for us. The dam (Aspiring Gal) broke a pelvis. But she had showed plenty as a two year old. I was going to try her again but it didn't come to anything. But it was no surprise she would leave fast horses.
I spent a lot of time watching George Noble. There weren't many people who were better to learn from. A lot of it was just what you know and common sense.I started training after we set up the new Roydon Lodge at Templeton. That was a big job and it took time to get it organised. Scottish Hanover was our anchor stallion then and he did a great job. When that was up and running I was breaking horses in and thought I might as well be training them.
Q. Talking of Scottish Hanover, Roydon Scott was your first star?
He was a brilliant horse, a great horse really. I don't think people realised how good he was. I firmly believed he would be the first to run two miles in four minutes here and I think he would have done it. He had a big long stride and everything seemed effortless to him. He battled navicular disease for a long time and when Dr Irvine changed the medication rules on what we were treating him with it finished his career really.
Q. He still ran as favourite in the New Zealand Cup?
It was the owner's decision to run and you can understand wanting to win a Cup. I have to say I would probably not run had it been up to me.
Q. He was a different sort from Roydon Glen who ended up with the better record?
Roydon Glen had a lot of ability but he was always "seeing things" which made him a hard horse to drive. Peter Wolfenden drove him up north for us and didn't actually seem to think a lot of him and I had to take over when he won the Derby by lengths up there. But I could understand why Peter thought like he did. You had to be careful what you did with him in the race and where you put him. Sometimes driving him what punters might think was the right way was the wrong way.
Q. His third in the Cup must have been your biggest disappointment?
There wern't any other races to match it. He drew in, actually began too well, got into the trail and when they eased in front we were four and five back on the fence. Then when I was going to work off the fence I got held in. He flew home of course and should have won it but there wasn't a lot else I could have done.
Q. He didn't really succeed as a sire apart from the trotter Lyell Creek, and Roydon Albatross was a bit disappointing too?
Yes, you wouldn't believe Roydon Glen wouldn't have been a great success with his pedigree. Roydon Albatross was by Albatross but his maternal line was not as strong. He had the bad luck to be foaled down here late in one season instead of early in the next. That meant when he won the Nelson Cup in record time he was really a three year old and it showed what a good stayer he was.
Q. Phillipa Frost was a mighty wee mare too?
A super little mare, tough as they come. Bluey Steel, who worked at Roydon Lodge then had bred her. There was nothing of her but she wore a long hopple for the size she was (59 inch). I liked horses in long hopples. Roydon Scott wore a 64 inch hopple and Roydon Glen a 61 inch. Philippa Frost's length was really massive for her size. She had to battle Delightful Lady in the mare's races and she ran third to Hands Down and Lord Module in the NZ Free-For-All. We got a bit mixed up at the start. Slim Dykman was next to us and told me he was going to do one thing but he did it differently when the gate went. When you look back at her record and what she raced against she was a terrific mare.
Q. We always have to talk about Sundon at Roydon Lodge but Game Pride smoothed the path for him.
He was really the first of the modern trotting sires here, the ones who could leave horses with speed. He did a terrific job year after year once he got established. One thing which surprised me about him is the ability he had. His race record didn't show it but he was a dumpy little guy and we used to have to work him in the cart a bit to get the condition off him. The speed he showed when you chirped him up amazed me. There was a stallion close up in his pegigree called Bill Gallon which the Americans rated highly even though he was not as fashionable as some. He turned up in Sundon's pedigree as well so there was something in it.
Q. Sundons had a mixed reception with many trainers and probably still do. What do you put that down to?
Basically I think they have so much speed that if you let then show too much of it you can have problems. I had Jo Anne early on and she just had phenomenal speed. But Sundon was a lovely relaxed horse. He would spend a lot of time sleeping. One odd thing about him was that he would pee just before the start of every race he had. His sire Arndon was a bit different. I saw him run his world record at the Red Mile. He was sore then and drifted out into the middle of the track but still ran the fastest mile ever. Phenomenal speed. But he wasn't the relaxed horse Sundon was.
Q. There was a bit of a tizz over a positive swab with Sundon at an Inter-Dominions?
A veterinary error. I think vets should be made more responsible for their actions in these sort of cases like they are in some other countries. The owner and trainer have to carry the can.
Q. And you didn't get to drive him when he won the Dominion?
That is a bad memory. I was given three months for not giving him every chance in the Trotting Free-For-All on Cup Day. You wouldn't not try in a $35,000 race then especially a free-for-all. We were the victim of circumstances but the stewards didn't want to know. Peter Jones took the Dominion drive. He had been driving some of my team in the spring and we had talked about Sundon earlier. Then after the Dominion the siren went and they inquired into whether Sundon had checked something early in the race! My charge was quashed on appeal. It left a sour taste.
Q. Morgan James was another good horse I remember?
Just one of those great everyday horses. My friend from Perth, Mick Lombardo, talked me into selling him in a weak moment. He ended up winning $600,000 over there. Just went on and on year after year until he was about 13.
Q. First Jinja Girl and now Royal Aspirations both give you and (grandson) Sam Smolenski Harness Jewels triumphs. How confident were you this year?
Very confident. I told Sam it was his race to lose and drive accordingly and he did. Sam has a great temperament for driving. He does his homework, listens to instructions and is patient. He doesn't worry about things and thatis an asset in big races - to stay cool.
Q. On paper the immediate breed looked sort of just okay. Did you come from another angle?
The granddam, Aspiring Lass, was a good mare in America and Charlie Hunter trained her down here. She had a twisted bowel at one stage. I got her back for a last season and she won the Canterbury Park Cup for us. The dam (Aspiring Lass) broke a pelvis. But she had shown plenty as a two-year-old. I was going to try her again but it didn't come to anything. But it was no surprise she would leave fast horses.
Q. Royal Aspirations is a horse which can go on?
He's smart as well as fast. He got mixed up at the start of a race at Addington but he still tried to head for the birdcage. He knew where the winners went and wanted to be there. He has a good spell now but he can get better yet.
Q. You are a man of many talents, especially with the manipulation of horses. How did that start?
I suppose it went back to my sporting days in a way, getting over injuries and that. I started to read up on acupuncture and similar treatments and taught myself how to do them watching others and practicing. I started doing it with the race horses to stretch them before a race like an athlete does with hamstrings and other muscles and then started post race treatments. The horses are running around in circles after all and they can develop specialised ailments. A lot of problems happen in the paddock because the circles they are running in are that much smaller. So I don't like to see them turned out after a treatment as some recommend.
Q. You are also a "heartbeat" man with yearlings?
I probably did 100 horses this year at the sales. No special science, I just listen to the heartbeat. You can tell quite a lot from it. Some of them sound like a Mack truck. I think it is a fairly credible thing and more people seem to be asking me to do it. Anything you can find out about a horse someone else might not know is an advantage.
Credit: HRWeekly 25July2012