Harness racing in this country is built on the foundation of farm boys like Ted Sunckell. They grew up with horses because their parents needed them to work the fields.
Going back to the days when Ted was a lad, horses were also the method of transportation, communication, getting to school, and racing along the country roads. When he was 15, he took his father's horse Miss Locander from Waiau to the Blenhiem races. This was a two-day trip, and by the time Miss Locander reached Blenhiem she was muscle sore and didn't race well. On the third day of the meeting, obviously recovered, she bolted in and paid £80 to win. On the way home, Ted and visiting trainers from Wellington would stop at the Clarence Reserve cookhouse for a feed and sleep under the stars.
His interest in racing took him into the stables and a job with Addington trainer Drum Withers when he was 17. His first horse came later, when he paid £200 for Tatsydale at a Tattersalls auction in Christchurch. She was bred in Southland by Cliff Irvine, and driven by Vic Alborn won six races, and finished fourth in the Dominion Handicap behind Dictation, Ripcord and Single Task. This was the day when Maida Dillon paid £257/12/6 to win, Johnny Globe beat Vivanti in the Derby and the free-for-all was won by Parawa Derby from Cargo Song and Gay Knight.
From Tatsydale and U Scott, Ted bred Welburn, a tidy little trotter before being sold to Australia. He lost form in the confines of a smaller establishment but found it again after being given away and relocated into the paddock-training environment he enjoyed with Ted. Parados was a smart pacer from Tatsydale trained by Stan Edwards, and other horses from the family were Tatsy Brigade, Song Key, High Note, Gay Tune, El Red and Tatsy Star. Gay Tune ran third in the Trotting Stakes, and at stud left Gay Marlene, who made her name as the dam of Thriller Dee, 1:57.8, and the winner of 24 races. In more recent years, he had his horses trained by Jack Carmichael, Felix Newfield, and his association with Don Nyhan and Globe Derby was more than 30 years.
When it was time to give up the farm, Ted did not give up the horses. He won a race at the Akaroa meeting in 1989 with Star Act, and scored with High Note at Reefton in 1993. Even when frail, he kept working a horse and a cold winter night still brought him into Addington where he could watch a few races. He once said to his son Jim: "When my time comes, I'd like to let go the reins and just fall out the back of the cart."
He says: "He had a Clever Innocence mare in work, and he'd arrive down about 9am to work it. It was hairy watching this. I don't know how he had the strength to do it. Once she took off and did five laps with him. He had one hand on the reins and on hand on the shaft, hanging on."
This season, Ted did not renew his licence. When he died last month at the age of 93, he had run a longer race than most.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 6Oct99