YEAR: 2008


Ian Starkey has been racing horses for over 50 years, but he enjoyed probably his best week in all that time earlier this month. It began when Wee Jill romped away with her maiden at the Methven meeting at 33-to-1, and ended when her half brother Awesome Imace got up to record his 11th win the Listed Ordeal Trotting Cup at Addington five days later.

Starkey has sold the latter to clients of co-trainer and driver Phillippa Wakelin, but he was always going to retain the Sundon mare Wee Jill for breeding, to continue a line which began with the purchase of her third dam Not Surprise at the National Yearling Sales in 1973. Starkey, now farming cattle at Cust after a lifetime as a builder, can recall his first horse back in 1956. "I was having a beer with Gavin Hampton, and he said he knew of a horse that was for sale and that I should go and buy it," recalls Starkey. "So I did and she had four starts for two wins and two thirds in Wellington, although we weren't trying very hard on the first day. I thought the game was easy after that," he added. That horse was called Wakeful, a daughter of the Springfield Globe horse Super Globe. Starkey would breed a few filly foals from Wakeful in the 60s but none amounted to anything.

Another useful performer for Starkey during that time was Ewtor - a name because "Everything Would Turn Out Right." He would provide Bryce Buchanan with his first winning drive at the time when he was working for Jack Carmichael. Starkey got "matey" with Buchanan through Ewtor and when Buchanan went south to train just out of Invercargill, Starkey sent him Not Surprise "to help him along." "I had no intention of buying anything that day (at the National Sales), and I was just standing there chatting to a fellow when this ugly looking thing (Not Surprise) came into the ring. I'd always liked long, skinny horses for some reason, rather than short, fat ones."

Not Surprise was a filly by the double-gaited performer Hodgen's Surprise, a pacer by the trotter Hodgen, who sired the great trotter No Response but mostly handy pacers such as Trevor Hodgen, Bluegum Surprise and Lady Hodgen. The breeder and vendors of Not Surprise had been Cliff and Joan Cummings of Lawrence, who within a few years would be very much to the fore at the Sales with the progeny of Sakuntala. "Mrs Cummings was always later giving me an earful about not having any condition on Not Surprise, but it never mattered what you did, she was always just a lean, long skinny bitch. As I said that's the way I like my horses for some reason, but these days I still seem to get a lot of short, fat ones, probably from breeding to Game Pride (though Not Surprise's daughter Daphs Pride)."

Not Surprise certainly had a pedigree of more than passing interest. She was the second foal from Daphleen, by Fallacy from Overdrive, by Whipster (by Quite Sure) from Lucky Sweet, by Lucky Jack from Correct, by Wrack from Precision, by St Swithin. Correct was a half-sister to the outstanding Logan Pointer broodmare Ayr, who produced top pacers and/or sires in Springfield Globe, Our Globe, Van Ayr and Cloudy Range. Correct produced Jack's Son (NZ Champion 3YO Stakes), while Overdrive was the NZ Oaks-winning dam of the great Australian pacer Lucky Creed. Lady Val was a sister to Overdrive who was the grandam of Dominion Handicap winner Armbro Lady, who was sold to America never to be heard of again, while Flakey Jake (12 NZ wins) and Tamra Nightingale (17 Aus wins) also belong to this branch of the family as does a smart young pacer in Captain Padero. Good mares Fern Glen and Hawera along with Maheer Lord also trace to Lucky Sweet, while also emanating from Daphleen is Johnny Be Cool (8 NZ wins, US1:49.8).

Not Surprise would win half a dozen races as a trotter over three or for seasons for Starkey and Buchanan, on each occasion on grass tracks and during the day. "She could be quite brilliant on the grass, and later I realised she was not so good at night, where she couldn't beat the same horses she had hammered during the day. That was probably because she simply liked the grass tracks, because they had a bit of give and somthing she could get her toes into."

The first foal from Not Surprise was Daphs Pride, who had five wins and numerous placings over three of four seasons from the stable of Frank Bennett, although Buchanan drove her in her last win at Ascot Park. Not Surprise left a winning brother a year later in Game Trail, but things went downhill from that point. An Alias Armbro filly had "an attitude problem" and Starkey doesn't tolerate them, while then he tried breeding a pacer by Smooth Fella, but the resulting filly in Rough only "belted a knee" and he has even less time for them. One more foal in a colt by Corsica Almahurst followed, but he had "no bottom", and Not Surprise died a few years ago at the age of 32 having left her fifth and last foal at the age of 18.

Starkey was breeding from Daphs Pride instead during the 90s and her first three foals raced, although the first in A Boy did not win in 17 attempts as a 7-year-old after finishing third at Westport on debut for Hampton. He "turned out to be a cheat" and did not change much when tried the same season by Pat O'Brien and Bernie Hackett. Awesome Lass, a daughter of the Speedy Crown horse Stakhanovite, was the second foal fron Daphs Pride and "she probably had a bit too much faith in her own ability". She qualified at her first attempt and then went "straight to the races" for trainer Jamie Keast, finishing a close fifth on debut at Addington. A few weeks later she won her second race at Addington by four lengths, but a week after that she was involved in a smash on the same course and was hurt. "She was always sore after that. We even gave her a year off, but she could never be worked much and was never the same. I decided to breed from her though because I liked her attitude - she hated other horses but she was great with humans."

The year after foaling Awesome Lass, Daphs Pride produced Chiola Sam to Chiola Hanover and Starkey is sure he has been the best horse from the family even allowing for Awesome Imace. He won four races in good time for Hampton, but "hurt his back getting carted sideways by a breaking horse and was never really the same afterwards." Chiola Sam managed another win at Rangiora before eventually being sold to America, where he trotted to a record of 1:57.

Daphs Pride had five more foals, all fillies, but only Hanger Pride (by Straphanger) amounted to anything, winning twice from Ian Cameron's stable before also being sold to America where she has taken a record of 1:59.8. "She had her good and bad days, but the rest of the foals had only bad days." Those other filly foals were by Pernod Eden, Chiola Hanover, Chiola Cola and Bryin Boyz.

Awesome Lass's first foal was a Chiola Cola filly in 2000 called Awesome Cola, and this is where Starkey struck up a racing association with Wakelin and her partner Stephen Noble. Starkey, 78, had known Wakelin for many years, even before she spent time in Australia, and had built her stables at Oxford. "I've been farming now for twenty years, but I had been a builder by trade up until about five years ago. I got too old to be swinging around roofs." Wakelin had taken a fancy to Awesome Cola in the paddock and leased her for stable clients. She qualified as an early 4-year-old, but then "didn't improve a yard. We thought she had a crook back, but it turned out she had cracked her pelvis at some stage and it had healed by itself, so how she qualified was amazing enough."

When that lease didn't work out, Starkey offered the same connections the lease of Awesome Lass's third foal and first colt - Awesome Imace. That consistent son of Brylin Boyz has now raced 44 times for his 11 wins and $129,000, after first winning the NZ Sires' Stakes as a 2-year-old at Addington over Galleons Assassin, Day Of Reckoning and Mountbatten. The following season he split Houdini Star and Mountbatten in the Sires' Stakes in Auckland before finishing third to him in the Great Northern Trotting Derby. He has won three races each season since, from 30 races in all, but as a now 6-year-old who is a grandson of Balanced Image, his best seasons are probably ahead of him.

In between those foals, Awesome Lass had a filly by Sundon in Sun Lass who had two races before being sold to Australia, where she won four of her first nine starts. Awesome Lass's fourth foal is the Sundon colt Sun Lad, a very smart 3-year-old a couple of seasons ago who won the Sires' Stakes in Auckland over Holiday Lover and King Charlie and who was only beaten a nose by Sprinbank Richard in the Harness Jewels at Ashburton. He has had a good spell since a light campaign as a 4-year-old last season where he won at the Amberley meeting in January. "He would have been back in work by now, except Philippa's track has been under water. Awesome Imace had done a bit before that happened, so he has been working around the roads in the meantime."

Wee Jill followed from Awesome Lass, and she is going to be the daughter that Starkey breeds from one day to carry on the line. "She might race at Addington (this Week), but I'm not sure how she'll go yet settling in a field if she has to - she has the Sundon streak. I was quite happy to see her in the open and then leading at Methven as I figured that would help her get around without making a mistake, but I wasn't sure whether she was forward enough to see it out."

Awesome Lass has since left two sisters to Awesome Imace. The first in 3-year-old Awesome I Am was bought by Wakelin's parents Ken and Barbara as a yearling, while they have also leased the 2-year-old Awesome That's Me but without a right of purchase as Starkey might like to breed from her as well. "I had a lot of people asking to buy Awesome I Am after Awesome Imace won the Sires' Stakes, so in the end I decided to put her in the Yearling Sales and let them fight over her. But a week before the nominations were due, Ken came to me with an offer and I accepted because I did want Philippa to train her." Awesome I Am raced seven times as a juvenile without making much impression, and Starkey would like to see more patience taken with Awesome That's Me.

Awesome Lass is now 16 and is only being bred every second season - she had a year off but is now back in foal to Sundon. That is pretty much it these days for Starkey, outside of a mare he was given a few years ago by Doug McCormick in Perfect Whiz because "he had too many." A racewinning mare by Gee Whiz II, whose first foal is Perfect Hold (8 NZ wins), Perfect Whiz has left a 2-year-old filly by Brylin Boyz called Needs Luck and is in foal to Muscleman because "I liked his grandam (Enthuse)." In the meantime though it will be the "short, fat one" in Wee Jill and her open class half-brother in Awesome Imace who will be keeping Starkey amused and reflecting on that day he took a fancy to the "long, skinny one."

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 17Sep08


YEAR: 1904


There have been few more colourful tales of our harness world than that of Norice, arguably the greatest broodmare in its history, and her owner Mabel Duncan.

In the World War One years Norice was the breeding queen of New Zealand and Duncan kept her in suitably palatial surroundings at the country's plushest trotting stud, Coldstream Lodge in Fendalton. The present homestead at the end of Chilcombe St - the property originally fronted Memorial Avenue when it was 59 Burnside Rd - remains the only memorial to what also was the first stud of any code in New Zealand and the place many harness fans angled to get an invite to visit during carnival week in Christchurch.

Coldstream had been established and named by Ernest Jerningham Wakefield on whose motion the Canterbury Jockey Club was formed in 1855. He stood The Peer there (Peer St is still close by) but Ronald and Mabel Duncan would enlarge and transform it at great expense into a showplace hosting four of the most famous standardbreds of their time.

Horse-mad Mabel Duncan, an accomplished show rider in her youth, was the youngest daughter of A J White whose furniture store was Christchurch's largest. Her Husband, an accountant, successful real estate agent and land speculator, was the sixth son of the former Mayor of Christchurch, Andrew Duncan (there were seven in all) and a dashing "man about town" in the land agency business. They had been married in Sydney in 1905, chiefly to avoid embarrassment to family. The Whites were the high profile Catholic family in the city and the Duncans leaders of the Presbyterian church - not a popular quinella at any religious ceremony in those far off times. The doomsayers would have the last laugh.

Ronald Duncan acted as judge, timekeeper and stipendiary steward at several Canterbury racing clubs and later on the executive of the NZ Trotting Association and King Cole (for a time) was the only horse he raced. He added 10 ha to Coldstream and built a luxurious stable complex and trainer's quarters which included, a reporter marvelled, a hot shower. Mabel was loosening the purse strings as well.

She bought Norice, the most famous racemare in the country, for a hefty sum from the popular Bower Hotel (New Brighton) owner, James Pettie, who had imported Norice from California (accompanied on the trip by Dave Price who brought back the first spreaders used here) but was now moving to the outskirts of Gisborne. Mabel also bought the promising King Cole from Nelson Price as well as his dam. Mabel's trainer, Dave Price, had already given her his half share in King Cole as a foal.

King Cole was one of only 17 foals left here by Price's champion, Ribbonwood. 15 raced and 12 won. Another notable and expensive purchase, before her marriage, had been the champion Sal Tasker, the fastest mare in Australasia, with a sensational official time at Addington in 2:20. She was named after Sarah Tasker the wife of her prominent breeder James Tasker - though Nelson Price first raced the mare and landed a betting plunge first up at Sockburn with her before selling.

At the outbreak of World War One Coldstream boasted both the fastest mare and stallion in Australasia (King Cole having broken his sire Ribbonwood's mile record in a special morning trial at Addington) as well as Norice, the most commercial broodmare. Mabel often used Sal Tasker when driving to town (Ronald played a big role in the tramway being extended to Clyde Road later) safe in the knowledge no challenger could possibly beat her down Fendalton Road.

Mabel also sent mares to be bred in Australia to Abbey Bells and horses to race there including Sal Tasker and her son Coldstream Bells, which was cruelly robbed of the biggest prize in Australasia, the Melbourne Thousand, when another driver deliberately crashed into him and Price at the start. Coldstream Bells still ran second and was later a sire of some note. Mabel Duncan seemed jinxed at times with her horses yet Norice was always there to give Coldstream its status. She also had a champion pony stallion which went years without defeat in Christchurch show rings.

Norice had six generations of recorded pedigree when most local mares, Sal Tasker included, rarely had more than two. She was by Charles Derby (ancester of Johnny Globe, Lordship etc) and after she was bought a half-brother became one of the fastest juveniles in America. Black, fast, sometimes erratic, Norice was the leading stake earner of 1904 winning six of her first seven starts here. She would have won the first NZ Cup that year too but she had problems which prevented Price from training her sufficiently for the race. Even so she led clearly most of the way and as she was eased when passed by Monte Carlo in the straight the big margin was misleading. The veteran never beat her in shorter races.

Norice made history again when disqualified from first in a Flying Handicap at Addington for galloping near the finish. In a landmark decision the race was restored to her because the committee had not taken evidence from her driver, Price, which would have established that a hopple had broken. From then on committees could not make decisions without hearing evidence from the drivers. Later in the day she won the Champion Free-For-All. Norice had also caused Pettie some grief because he had to lodge another cheque "under strong protest" with the NZTA before Norice could race here. Her previous owner was apparently in forfeit to the American Trotting Association and that body had just agreed to share it's rulings with this country.

At stud Norice left a series of smart colts who were in strong demand in Australia as sire but her most famous son was Nelson Derby, a striking colt from birth bought from Mabel by George Craw of Palmerston North for a record 750. He won the Great Northern Derby and the Auckland Cup though not sound, according to trainer Bill Tomkinson, and sired Haughty the first mare outside America to break two minutes. Therein lay quite a story.

The racing dream which seemed to belong to Ronald and Mabel Duncan started to fall apart around 1916 when Duncan took the extraordinary step then of suing his wife for 325 through the courts, presumably for Coldstream costs. Coldstream was sold with Mabel retaining the home block. Ronald Duncan bought and moved to the famous homestead block in North Canterbury. He later moved to Australia where he died in 1942 having remarried after Mabel's death.

Mabel had to cut numbers and sell virtually all her young stock. Watching Nelson Derby, the horse she had been aiming to breed for so long walk out the gate must have been heartbreaking. Selling Norice and Sal Tasker (whose descendants are still competitive today) was never an option. She still clung to part of Coldstream when she died in 1936 the once wealthy heiress having been adjudged bankrupt the previous year. Her parents had a strong social conscience and spent much of their wealth on community projects including building and supporting the large St Joseph's orphanage in Halswell. Norice had her last foal in 1931.

Among the horses sold was Queen Cole (King Cole-Norice) to John Grice of Tinwald whose son Ben inherited her first foal Colene Pointer (Methven and Timaru Cups) a fine stayer and dam of Queen's Treasure and Kingcraft. Ben had another foundation mare, Logan Princess, dam of the high class Regal Voyage. When that mare retired, down the road at Walter Gudsell's Pluto Lodge Stud in Tinwald was a poorly patronised Nelson Derby and so history in the form of Haughty was made. Crossing the two families and doubling up on Norice blood through Nelson Derby by Ben Grice to reinforce the family speed factor has ensured the survival of the Norice character through every generation since. Native King was another Norice colt successful at stud. Kingcraft, by the obscure Quincey who also happened to stand locally (Colene Pointer had broken down so badly she could not travel far) was almost a great horse, competing in the NZ Cup after just eight starts, but like his granddam was erratic at times.

Norice's essential qualities of high speed and waywardness combined with soundness problems have suvived to a remarkable extent through almost a century of breeding. At crucial times her tribe produces fast fillies like herself, like Single Star, Riviera and Petro Star for Grice. Perhaps the best example of the potency of the mare was the amazing Mount Eden. He was the essence of her pacing power and like her highly strung yet his performances were so stunning no less a commentator than Ron Bisman claimed he was to him the fastest horse the world had seen.

The Norice line has actually thrived on the superior breeding performance of relatively few mares, and largely just three breeders - Mabel Duncan, Grice and the Cummings family of Tuapeka whose mare Sakuntala has been the springboard of much of the family's recent success. The New Zealand Cup winners Iraklis and Monkey King, both from this source, were noted for extreme acceleration. Their ancestress Hindu Star, dam of Sakuntala, carried a close up (3x3) Norice masterminded by Grice. Holmes D G came from a more obscure branch of the Norice tribe but still had the essential double cross of Nelson Derby.

In earlier eras stars like Nicotine Prince, Chief Command and Indecision; the speedy Maurice Holmes 2yos like Strauss, Violetta and company; Hardy Oak, Single Star, Ardstraw, Canis Minor, Tuapeka Star, Ruling Lobell etc, etc kept the Norice name to the fore. O Baby is her current Horse of the Year poll winner.

The Norice legacy can be character building for those seeking to extend it. Lightning does not strike as consistently as with some families - but when its stars align it sends an electric charge through the pacing world that no other family can match.

Mabel Duncan and Ben Grice knew what they had to work with. Their work was not in vain.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 10Apr13

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