YEAR: 2001


"From the gutter to the throne."

The racetrack Joan of Arc in Sparks A Flyin, now the heroine of nine wins from 12 starts including the $100,000 Nevele R Fillies Final, and once the despair of trainer Cran Dalgety whose words these are. Once again, the filly of peasant stock showed that pedigree is little more than a paper passport with a command performance against the best fillies of her age.

Although beaten the week before in the Oaks by Shania Patron, there was more confidence in the camp with just a week between the races that she would turn the tables. "She was a bit sharper for this one," said driver Mark Jones. "There is not many that come from behind her and beat her. In a fight, she is too good," he said. Jones went out with the intention Sparks A Flyin would put these qualities on the line. She was never headed after a gentle first 600m before taking over at the 1400m and then running the race he planned. Kamwood Gal held second after a nice trail behind the winner, while A Little More Magic made strong headway to close on the pair quite noticeably.

Looking back, Dalgety can honestly say Sparks A Flyin was a trainer's nightmare. Anyone less professional would have said goodbye and good something to her long ago. Under duress, and with many a mild curse, Dalgety endured her irascibility and put aside personal embarrassment and indignity. He recalls taking her to a trial at Rangiora when she not only decided not to race but refused to leave the track. The only way she left was after Dalgety removed the cart and harness. Next time away from home, she didn't want to join the others on the mobile gate, so Dalgety ran 50 metres, holding her head, just to help her out. She ran and qualified, but Dalgety said he didn't get excited because he had some recovery of his own to do.

What made him so loyal to such a rascal?

"When Jim and Susan (Wakefield) bought her, it was mainly because we liked her. She was something of an underdog, and she only cost $11,000. But she was a handful to break-in, and in the end she just had to leave the property. She would try to run out of the gate, and if there was something to do wrong, she would do it. At this stage, we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and Steve Hale took her away for a couple of months. He gave her one on one, and worked her round the roads in a big gig. This was a big turning point for her. It was an experiment rather than a yes or a no. Although she was anti everyone, she came back ninety-five percent better. What I liked about her was that even if you disiplined her hard, she would never sulk. She'd come back to you. Defeat wasn't part of her," he said.

The next learning curve in the life of hard knocks came when he sent Sparks A Flyin to a North Canterbury farm for a spell as a late 2-year-old. "She was with cows, and being treated like one. She got a lot of benefit from that, too," he said. There has been no stopping the progress Sparks A Flyin has made this season, moreso over the past six months.

"It was not until she had won her third race that I thought she was something better than average. That's when I stood to attention. I could see she was a horse that kept coming back for more. But there is nothing extra for her. Everything has to be simple. We now know what she wants," he said. In terms of training achievements go, Dalgety rates this at the top. "The odds were against us. From where we were, to where we are, is definitely remarkable," he said.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 16May01


YEAR: 2002


It appears Jim and Susan Wakefield have another good 'London' horse. 'Legend' is the lastest, a worthy addition by the look of it to their earlier forebearers, London Pride and London Express, who under the guidance of Cran Dalgety won eight and seven races respectively.

Although London Legend has only won the one race, he has claims to be in their company, for his opening account came in the Group 2 International Cargo Express Rising Stars Championship.

On the face of it, London Legend was on a cheeky assignment. But Dalgety didn't see it quite that way. "If you had looked at the horse's stats, he had a case. He ran a half in 55.8 at Forbury when he finished second, then ran a two minute rate at his next start there which was quicker than what Russian Road went on the same night. As far as speed goes, he would be in the top bracket with some of the others I have had," he said.

It wasn't always like that, and it was fortunate that he found a mate in Dalgety. "He had no idea how to pace," he said. "But he had such a kind attitude, and he always wanted to help. For a start, he would just pace in spurts, fifty to a hundred metres, but he could pace it very quick. London Pride was very similar. It was also a period where you didn't want to encourage the owners out because his legs were chaffed and blown up. "We tried him over three campaigns, and the day he qualified at Ashburton he ran a quarter in 26.5. What we knew then was that he had speed, but we had no idea on what he was like for stamina," he said.

London Legend was one of the Studholme Park draft at the Yearling Sales, and was bought by the Wakefields for $22,000. Dalgety pushed hard to get him. "I had to twist Jim's arm on this one. He had the same grandam as Classy Filly" - a big winner for Dalgety - "and I have always liked his maternal family," he said.

In their pre-race plans, Dalgety and driver Mark Jones thought they would get a passing lane shot if Franco Eruption led as they thought he would from gate one. That didn't happen, and they were forced to come from the back brought into the finish on the back of Russian Road, who finished second.

"We will make the late payment now for the Sires' Stakes Series and run in the heat at Addington this week," he said.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 09Oct02


YEAR: 2008


John Penney was one of harness racing's most respected and able administrators. His death on Saturday after a brief illness was a sad start to Jewels Day at Cambridge.

He was dignified and industrious, taking on demanding responsibilities at the highest level. He died as Chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, Chairman of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and Chairman of the International Trotting Association. "This was a huge burden for anyone," said former HRNZ Chairman, Jim Wakefield. He said many delegates believed the International Trotting Conference held in Christchurch, and chaired by Penney last November, was the best since its inception.

Penney attended St Andrews College, and Canterbury University, and it was his intention when graduating with a BA in 1956 to become a school teacher. Instead, he joined Lane Walker Rudkin as a management trainee, where he remained until his retirement in 1989. During more than 40 years with the company, Penney became Manager of the dyehouse and knitting divisions and later became General Manager of Argyle Fabrics, a position he held for over 15 years. He had the ability to create fabrics to fill gaps in the marketplace identified by his sales people. He was instrumental in providing his division with the most modern equipment available.

Horses came before his turn at administration, with the importation with Sam Ballantyne of the successful sire Plat du Jour and Nardins Byrd, and he won five races with the smart Jersey Hanover mare, Hanover Reine, which Ballantyne trained. He won two races at the 1987 Inter-Dominions at Addington, and four in total, with Maitre, which he raced in partnership with Australian racing journalist Richard Trembath from Derek Jones's stable. More recent winners were Caliph, who won four races, Nepthys, who won two, and Chivalrous, the winner of four races in 2006. All were from Kheba, a Plat du Jour mare he bred from Hanover Reine.

He became a steward of Canterbury Park in the mid-1980s, and when he first heard of the role, he used his dry humour to say that he thought it was a job taking the drinks around. He joined the committee in 1990, became Treasurer, and was one of two club representatives on the Board of Addington Raceway. He pushed hard for the amalgamation of the three Addington clubs, and when that occurred he was one of the inaugural directors and joint-Chairman with Barry Cotton. From 2004/05 to the time of his death he was Chaiman of the Metropolitan club. "He was a joy to work with," said club CEO, Mike Godber. "He had high standards, but you always knew where you were with him."

Penney joined the Executive of HRNZ as the Metropolitan club's representative in 1999, and was completing his fifth year as Chairman. "He was a good strategic thinker," said Wakefield. "He was a quiet achiever who had great leadership skills. He was unfailingly courteous and diplomatic. In the ten years I worked with him, he never once lost his temper. Harness racing is worse off without him."

Penney is survived by his wife Audrey and family.


Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 13Aug2008

The Oustanding Contribution to Harness Racing Award (sponsored by Jardine Bloodstock) - an award that is given only when appropriate - was made posthumously to John Penney at the Annual Awards Dinner in Auckland last Saturday.

It was received by his widow Audrey after a presentation by Executive member, Jim Wakefield. He said John had an outstanding record as an administrator, with strong principles and high standards. He was known for his modesty, understanding and loyalty to his staff and company. He had great days at Lane Walker Rudkin and became a respected leader in the textile industry in New Zealand. His interest in harness racing started when Haughty won the New Zealand Cup in 1943, and developed strongly after his company sponsored the Hip Hi stakes for lady drivers in 1970.

After his retirement in 1990, he became more involved, his days as a starters assistant being followed by steward and committee roles at Canterbury Park and as Co-Chairman of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club after the three-club merger from 2004 to 2008. As well, he was in the unique position of being Chairman of HRNZ between 2003 and 2008 and Chairman of the International Trotting Association in 2006-2008

As Chaiman of the Met he saw huge improvements to the track and racing operation, increased stakes, the development of the new stabling area, the introduction of the Harness Jewels and it was his private hope for a New Zealand Cup worth $1m.

He valued integrity above all else, and Wakefield said the problems associated in particular with 'Blue Magic' took its toll. "He was unfailingly courteous, polite, a stategic thinker and had immense leadership qualities. He was a successful breeder, often with his good friend Sam Ballantyne, and would visit his mares on a daily basis. John was an example to all harness racing administrators - a true icon of the harness racing code."

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 5Jun08


YEAR: 2012


Respected harness racing administrator Jim Wakefield has been recognised for his servises to the industry in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Wakefield has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).

Pat O'Brien, the chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, said the award was thoroughly deserved. "It recognises Jim's outstanding contribution to the industry in a number of areas over an extended period. As HRNZ's chairman, Jim was a strong and passionate leader with great integrity. Not only has he provided a significant contribution as an administrator, he has been, and continues to be, heavily involved as a breeder and owner. Harness Racing is certainly richer for his involvement and it is great for him to be officially recognised through this award."

Wakefield represented the NZ Trotting Owners Association on HRNZ's Executive from 2000 to 2010, and was Chairman from 2000 to 2003. During this time he played a key role in promoting a number of changes, in particular the development of the Racing Act 2003 on which the current industry is structured.

From 2003-06, he was HRNZ's inaugural appointment to the New Zealand Racing Board, and in partnership with his wife, Dr Susan Wakefield, he has bred and raced a number of top performers, including Sparks A Flyin, London Legend, Bettor's Strike and Texican.

On the international stage, Wakefield was chairman on the organising committee of the 2007 World Trotting Conference in Christchurch, an event considered a great success.

Credit: HR Weekly 7June2012


YEAR: 2011


Cup Day was like a day of redemptions in some respects. Last year, Terry McDonald had the favourite for the Cup in Stunin Cullen, but the former Sires' Stakes 3yo Final winner disappointed and is now on the sidelines with a fractured knee. This year, McDonald won with Terror To Love. Last year, Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield had the favourite for the Sires' Stakes in Empyrean. That Christian Cullen colt had won seven straight and was getting a good trip home from the back of Gold Ace when he galloped at the 400m. This year, the Wakefields won with Texican.

For trainer Cran Dalgety, who won a Sires' Stakes 2yo Final a few years ago with Smiling Shard, this was also his first win in the 3yo Final. "Jim really deserved this after spending a lot of money at the yearling sales over the years," said Dalgety. "We bought this fellow at a time when we were just looking for Bettor's Delight colts from In The Pocket mares. He was a bit over budget, but we got him and I figured we would deal with the consequences later," he added. Dalgety had a budget of $40,000, but he paid $70,000 for the first foal from the good mare Bury My Heart at Karaka.

Dalgety wasn't getting too excited about Texican until he gave him a shot at the last Sires' Stakes 2yo heat at Alexandra Park on Inter-Dominion Final night in April. Fifth on debut a week earlier at Rangiora, Texican downed Chancellor Cullen that night and Dalgety began to think "he might be okay". Second in last season's Sales race soon after to Western Cullen, Texican was out of luck in the Sires' Stakes 2yo Final, but his form ha been exemplary this time in.

He was a big second to Smiling Star in the Sires Stakes heat at Forbury Park when resuming, and won the penultimate heat at Addington. One of five heat winners to draw the last five barrier positions for the final, while Chancellor Cullen drew worse on the outside of the front row, Texican was soon in the three wide train and went to the death passing the 1000m, before Dexter Dunn handed up to Mark Dennis. A quarter down the back in 27.7 had left the pacemaker Chancellor Cullen vulnerable in the run home after an early burn, and Dunn angled Texican into the clear late to have the last say over the hard charging Ideal Scott, with Smling Star a game third in a battling finish. Besotted, like Ideal Scott a son of American Ideal, finished strongly for fourth as Mark Dennis and Lets Elope also beat home the fading Chancellor Cullen. The last quarter in 30.1 had been about the slowest in a 1:56 mile rate as Dunn also won his first Sires' Stakes Final on Cup Day.

If the day was supposed to be some sort of celebration after all the hardship experienced by Christchurch folk over the last year or so, few would have deserved to party more than the 78-year-old Jim Wakefield. "I had five properties in Christchurch and four of them have been written off," said Wakefield. "Luckily we had one left to live in at Rangiora. We had London Pride and London Express as Sires' Stakes horsesback in the late 90s, but nothing until Empyrean," he added.

Empyrean, who has been through a "colty stage", has been showing signs of getting back to his best this season, although he was disappointing two races after Texican's success, as was Bettor's Strike in the Cup for the Wakefields. But nothing mattered much after the Sires' Stakes. This was the Wakefields first Group One success since Dalgety produced Sparks A Flyin to win the Fillies Final at Addington 10 years ago.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 10Nov11

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