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FEATURE RACE COMMENT

 

YEAR: 2003

2003 CHRISTCHURCH CASINO NZ TROTTING DERBY

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

 

YEAR: 2007

2007 MAURICE HOLMES MEMORIAL AWARD WON BY NATHAN WILLIAMSON


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

 

YEAR: 2009

JACK SMOLENSKI

In July last year, harness racing's "horseman's horseman", Jack Smolenski, 73, was struck down by a brain haemorrhage at Addington Raceway, just before he was to drive in a race, and, at one stage, he was given up for dead. He talks to David McCarthy.

Our Princess Royal's win at Methven (this month) would have been a tonic for you?
Yes, she had disappointed me at Motukarara. I had a good talk to young Sam (grandson Sam Smolenski)and he did everything right on the day.

He doesn't have a bad teacher.
He doesnt tell fibs. He is straight-up and so am I. After one of her races when I thought she might have done a bit too much, he said maybe she just wasn't good enough and I said "b....., you can't sprint twice in a race - at least with what I feed them - and you have to remember that. You can go to the front, but you can't sprint again to fight them off and still come home fast." He is doing well, he can be very patient. You have to be careful with fillies. They can go off quickly if they have to do a bit too much in a race when you expect they might improve.

How hard is it not being able to go out and do it yourself?
Bloody terrible. I miss it badly. I am still hoping to get back into the cart, even if it is not raceday.

Did you have any warning of your illness?
Funnily enough, I had had a headache the day before. It was unusual, because I hardly ever got headaches. I took the horse (Xativa) to Addington, but started to feel crook not long before the race. Barry and Sue Morris were with me and they got some asprin. I was still off-colour, but determined to drive. Sue said in the end "you are not driving". I collapsed not long after that. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here now.

Dying on the track would have been awful.
I think in my time three drivers died out there. I was driving in a race at Ashburton one day when I saw one of them collapse and die, and I thought what a terrible way to go. It could easily have happened to me.

You went very close to death anyway. Did you know much about it?
I was in and out and then there was the operation and there was a family meeting. I was sort of aware what had happened, but not really with it.

You seem fairly mobile in your scooter?
I have had my moments. I had a few falls out of the first one, which had bigger wheels. One was going too fast and then I would reach over to pick something up and over I would go. It was always on my left side and hip, which was the worst. This one has smaller wheels and is more stable.

What therapy do you still have?
(Daughter) Joanne takes me swimming twice a week. She is a tough taskmaster too. Gives me plenty of orders and makes sure I am doing it properly. It is about half an hour each time. It helps. The water is nice and warm, too.

What sort of swimmer were you?
I could dog-paddle a width of the old tepid baths, and I think I won a race dog-paddling a width when I was a kid at school. I couldn't swim at all.

You go back a long way in trotting Jack, and you had a great career. It all started with Tom Gunning at Temuka?
I went there in school holidays and I started working there on Christmas Day, 1949. My auntie, Nellie, was married to Tom Gunning. She used to take me to the races when I was a kid and she raced some top horses herself. One of them was Gay Heritage. I wasn't too popular with Tom over him.

How come?
I had been there a while and had only jogged or walked horses. I hadn't done anything with them at speed. I walked them so much it's a wonder my legs weren't worn down to my knees. That and lugging big water buckets for 30 horses at a time. Anyway, this morning Tom was getting Gay Heritage ready for the Sapling Stakes (June) and he got me to drive the galloping pacemaker.

There was drama?
In those days they put sawdust on the track so it could be used in the winter. Anyway I set off in front of Gay Heritage. The pacemaker picked up the sawdust on his hoof, it compacted, and then it flew off into my face. It went down my throat and Tom was yelling at me to keep the pace even. When we pulled up he was abusing me - Tom could go off at times - while I was just coughing and spluttering trying to get sawdust out of my system. Gay Heritage turned out a very good horse.

Leicester Tatterson was there then and told a few stories about you. Any comment?
I had a beer with him one day and told him when my turn came I would tell a few of my own. One of those I remember was one hot day when an owner who had a pub in Timaru came and had two bottles of beer in a paper bag for the staff. Somebody reckoned I was giving them cheek - I didn't think I was - and rubbed my face in the dirt.

You weren't standing for that?
I got a stone and threw it at the beer. I hit bottle plumb and because it was so warm, froth spurted everywhere. I just started running. They caught me eventually. We used to give the horses this awful smelling stuff as a kidney treatment after a race or work and I got some of that in the mouth. I am sure it was Tatt actually. It smelt horrible and tasted worse. I can still see that froth from the beer and the looks on their faces.

You got your revenge?
One day we had to take some feed up to a horse on the top of the hill. We put it in a sulky, Leicester hopped on and made me pull it up the hill. When we were coming down he was urging me to go faster and faster. In the end I hit a knee or something, but anyway I went down, dropped the shafts and they jammed into the ground. I looked up and saw Leicester sailing through the air. He didn't see the joke. He got me back.

How?
We had a good trotter called Will Cary and four of us went out one night to catch it. We only had a lead and the others said I should hop on his back and ride him back. I didn't want to do that because my tailbone used to give me hell from too much riding. I had just got on when Tatt slapped the horse over the arse and off he went. I was heading straight for a hedge at top speed when I bailed out.

Much later came your New Zealand Cup winner Arapaho. Peaking a horse for a big race like that on the day, is it luck, skill, or something you can learn?
It's mostly experience. On Cup Day with Arapaho I didn't just set the horse to be at his peak, but myself, too. I really worked to make sure everything was right for both of us. I think that's important.

You added the Auckland Cup?
We went to the front, which didn't really suit him, but Young Quinn was in front and I knew he wouldn't want to be there and would let me go. Arapaho was a great stayer. Down the back I threw in a half in about 57 to take some of the sprint out of him, and it worked out. He couldn't catch me.

-o0o-
Part 2 The Press 1 Jan 2010

Jack, you started training from Reg Cutin's place, got into the limelight driving Rocky Star for Ivan Schwamm and then struck the training jackpot from your own place in Templeton. What was the key to that sensational team which gave you the record premierships in the 1970s?
I worked them on a heat system. it was not too different from what we did at Devine's, but I had my own way of it. It was not like the interval training, which came later, with horses going flat out and resting in between. I would work them over a mile and a quarter (2000m) at a 2:30 rate. There were no big sprints home. They seemed to love it. We had a great run. But after a few big seasons it didn't work as well.

Why was that?
I came round to thinking that those earlier horses had been in other stables and had done the groundwork before I got them. They thrived on the heat system and I stuck to it. But I had to go back to standard training hoppled work with horses which hadn't had a lot of experience, and buildup. I worked the two-year-olds over mile heats but sort of on the same system. One of my best fillies, Seaswift Franco, was an example of what I mean.

How so?
I got her up for the filly races that season (1991) but in the really big ones she didn't finish off like I would have liked. I thought enough of her to set her for the Great Northern Derby. Not many fillies I have trained would take the colts on (Mel's Boy and Nardin's Byrd had both won the Derby previously for the stable) but I thought she was good enough. Anyway the day before I put her on the plane tp Auckland I worked her the heats and then sprinted from the 800m. She ran that in 58 and I told the boys there wasn't a horse around which would beat her that week. As it happened she got wiped out in the Derby and never had a chance. But that was how I stepped it up sometimes with the good ones later on to give them an edge.

You won the Messenger with OK Royal a few years later?
There was a story in that one. Passing lanes were just coming in and I had been against them down here and pretty strong about it. Anyway they had one at Alexandra Park. When I was doing my preliminary I had a look at the pasing lane and thought, gee that's wide enough for two horses. In the race I got to be three back on the rail which was not the best place to be but I was confident I could get a run, that lane was so wide. Sure enough the horse trailing in front of us took the lane and I was able to squeeze up inside and win it. I heard some bloke say 'he won't be able to show his face at Addington now he's won the Messenger in a passing lane'. I never became a great fan of them but you just have to adapt.

Mel's Boy was a horse which maybe never lived up to all his early promise?
He was a good horse but he had some odd habits. The worst one was that he would some days just pull up on the track and refuse to work. You couldn't budge him. You don't often strike one that determined.

You were quite a long time with Cecil Devine. Was that in the 1950s when Thunder, False Step and all those top horses were there?
Yes. I did two stints with Cecil covering a lot of those years. You mentioned Raft before. I remember Cecil setting up a punt on him in a maiden and he asked me if I wanted to come in with him

I bet you didn't say 'no'?
I drove him when he qualified at Rangiora. Cecil wanted him to qualify but did not want him to win but I think he did anyway. He told me when I came back that when the right day came he was going to have a good go on Raft and did I want to be in? Of course I said 'yes'. I drove him at Motukarara and he finished down the track. Cecil was a bit critical that I let him do it all a bit too easy. Anyway he was going to Orari one day not long after and he told me today was the day and how much did I want on? I said £10 each way. To tell you how much that was I was getting £10 a week as stable foreman.

A happy ending?
A bit of drama. First the float was late getting away - I think Jim Bell was driving it - which always put Cecil on edge. Marie and I had not long been married and risking two weeks' wages on a horse was not Marie's idea of fun. She was glued to the radio because you could only just hear the race. Raft missed away but he won. Then the dividend came over as £2/5/-. It had seemed a lot of risk for that. I pointed out to Cecil the next day he had been paying £17 at Motukarara but he didn't say anything. There was less racing then and you had to make the most of your chances.

Was your training, particularly of young horses, modelled on his?
Not with youngsters. The trainer I tried to follow there was George Noble. He was a great trainer but especially with young horses. He used to work them over a mile and in heats. His young horses were always well educated. They'd stand up, they'd step and they could take a position. With older horses I suppose Devine's methods were where I started but even he changed. I always thought that if he had trained Lord Module like he trained False Step, Lord Module's career would have been a lot different.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 19Dec2009

 

YEAR: 2012

FRED FLETCHER INTERVIEW

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



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