YEAR: 1980

Cecil Devine adjusts Lord Module's headgear

"You know, I should have made it 1917, not 1915," says a somewhat rueful Cecil Devine. No doubt he is thinking of the date of birth on his licence application, the date which decreed that as from August 1 he was no longer able to drive a standardbred racehorse in either NZ or Australia. And no doubt, too, he is thinking that those two extra years might mean he would be able to continue driving his pride and joy, champion Lord Module, until he went to stud at the end of his racing career.

But rules are rules. In the trotting world as well as anywhere else. Cecil Charles Devine, born March 23, 1915, is openly critical of Rule of Trotting 90: "A professional horseman's licence shall not be granted to any person who, though not disqualified under Rule 84 hereof (a) is under the age of 16 years; or (b) is 65 years of age or over; or..." and so on. That's the bit that got at Cecil. "I have always been against the retiring rule. I firmly believe a driver should have to give up on a strictly medical basis; It wouldn't be so bad if a man could continue driving his own horses after reaching the age of 65 as long as he was fit."

Yes, it is an argument that has cropped up previously. Just about every time that one of the more prominent drivers has turned 65. Cecil presses home the point. "Morrie Holmes, Doug Watts, 'Gladdy' McKendry, Bob Young, Maurice McTigue, they all could have kept on driving long after they had to go. They were pushed out miles before their time. They were all fit men and trotting was the loser in more ways than one when they retired. "Their expertise was lost for a start; and name drivers encourage betting. Certainly, there is no lack of drivers today and there are some top young drivers, the likes of Peter Jones and the De Filippis. But there are others who could benefit through watching a top man. When I first got into trotting, I had to get out and drive against the top men."

And when did Cecil Devine first get into trotting? Back in the days of the depression. If it weren't for the depression who knows where he might have been now? He might even have been still practising at the bar. Legal men don't have to retire at 65. "I had the idea I might like to be a lawyer when I was at school. But after two and a half years at high school the depression hit and I had to give that idea away." It was just as tough in Cecil's native Tasmania (his father was a farmer at Collinsville, "up in the hills near Hobart") as it was anywhere else. Finding work was just about impossible. Cecil couldn't get a job. A lot of others managed to exist by "chipping the grass in the domain". And it was about this time Cecil first developed an interest in horses. He got a job with his older brother Eric, a prominent trotting trainer in Hobart at the time. He's still successful with horses, but has more recently had some top gallopers through his hands.

It was only because Eric could not afford to take the time off to bring a small team over for a month at NZ Cup time that Cecil ever came to NZ. "The horses belonged to a fellow named Rudd who bred a successful family of pacers, 13 of them in fact, from a mare called Milky Way. Among them were Evicus (he topped the points list at the 1936 Inter-Dominions at Perth), open class performer Cevius and Icevus (also placed at Inter-Dominion level and later stood here at stud). They were all good horses," Cecil recalls.

"I suppose I was about 20 at the time; I took on the job and was supposed to go back when the horses returned. But Wellington looked so good - they had a beautiful six furlong grass track at Hutt Park in those days - I decided to stay on to see if the rest of the country lived up to that early promise." Live up to it's promise NZ must have done; Cecil Devine is still here even though he does return regularly to his former homeland and is known as "Tas" by closer associates.

It wasn't long before he was offered a job with Vic Leeming who was training just out of Christchurch. Colonel Grattan was his top horse about that time; E C McDermott his number one driver. Cecil had driven a winner or two in Tasmania (he'd driven close to 400 when he had to retire) but can't recall with any certainty his first winner here. "Tonioro I think it was, probably at Omoto," is his initial recollection. But a check through the records of the time show that on December 31, 1938 Tonioro, driven by C C Devine , was beaten into second by a neck.

Still Cecil is more certain about the horse that got him started on the path that led him to his current situation. "It would have to be Teddy Gregg, a Quite Sure horse I leased and named after an Australian naval officer." Cecil had also leased a 20 acre property at Prebbleton some time earlier (the stables are still there, the track is gone) and spent most of his time breaking in horses for others, as well as doing a little training. Teddy Gregg was plagued with unsoundness and when tried as a pacer he couldn't stay. "I converted him to trotting and from then on he never looked back. He was in the money about 19 times from 21 starts. And he won four or five. I'd have to say he got me started. He must have won close on 2000. And about the time of the war, that was a fortune. Cecil never went to the war - "I was unfit they said" - but gradually gathered a small but useful team about him. "I got the odd good one or two and just went on and on from there."

Cecil has never had a large team to train. "I think the most I've ever had is twelve." But right from those early days there has been a good horse in the Devine team. Cecil screws up his face in the afternoon sun and starts to remember them. Great Wonder "she was a pretty good sort" who beat Johnny Globe (on a protest); Shadow Maid who was third in Gold Bar's 1945 NZ Cup; Bronze Eagle who had won the 1944 NZ Cup before coming to Cecil's where he died of tetanus; General Sandy "a top horse who beat Caduceus" and then one day dropped dead of a heart attack in training...the names roll forth. He didn't train them all when they came to their peak. Often they came to him after a run of outs and he got them going again.

One he had from the start was the champion filly Vivanti, incidentally by Bronze Eagle. She was a top juvenile winning the 1950 Sapling Stakes, the Juvenile Handicap at Addington from 24 behind - "a phenomenal run", the Welcome Stakes, the Oamaru Juvenile and so on. She beat Johnny Globe in a lot of those races but he came out on top when they met later in the year in the NZ Derby. However, she did win the Oaks.

The next year there was Van Dieman, the horse who was to give Cecil the first of his six NZ Cups and thus the wherewithall to allow him to consider buying his own property. He had every intention of buying a place on the Main South Road, not far from his present place; and Cecil minces no words when he recalls how he lost out in the bidding to another. "I was determined to have that place but eventually had to pull out when I realised I was in too far. The other chap would have kept going all day. He knew what my limit was." That same day, however, while doing some shoeing back at Prebbleton, a friend mentioned to him that the owner of the land he now occupies might be interested in selling. Cecil made the approach. True enough. The land was for sale. One hundred and sixteen acres of bare land were Cecil's. "The best thing I ever did. I've never had to consider expanding. It's probably the time to shrink."

By this time Cecil was married with a child, Bonnie, the red-haired girl who was later to marry Kevin Williams, the man who will be behind Lord Module this season. Cecil had met his wife 'Vonnie' while at Prebbleton where she was organist at the local church for ten years previously. Marriage "was too time-consuming" to continue that. Together they designed their present home, built another on the place as well as the track, stables and men's quarters.

A lot of young men have worked for Cecil and have then gone on to make their own names in the trotting world. Men like Jack Smolenski, Leicester Tatterson, Peter Yeatman, Jim Dalgety, Faser Kirk, Paul Gallagher. He's got a reputation of being a tough boss. "If paying attention to detail is tough, then I am tough," he admits. "When you don't take outside drives or have a big team, you have the time to be particular. And if your not, there is not excuse." He laughs when you suggest he has probably been responsible for putting a lot of people on the right track in his time. And then he confesses, he has learned something from most of those who have worked for him. "You develop your own ideas over the years, but you have got to be prepared to learn off others. Anyone who is not prepared to listen to others is doing himself a disservice. I'm still learning. I learned something the other day from someone who's been in the game only three months. And then when Lord Module had those cracked hooves, I had no idea how to get them right, even though I thought I was a fair student of shoeing. The mushroom shoe we used to fix them was Delvin Miller's idea. You have got to try every avenue to solve problems."

Cecil Devine expects as much from his horses as he does from his men. His philosophy towards training a top horse: feed well, work hard and not always fast, pay particular attention to that detail again. You must respect a top horse who gives everything; any owner, trainer or driver has to." Cecil stops and laughs and, looking straight at Mrs Devine: "but I don't think you get to love them as much as some people think." Mrs Devine races Lord Brigade in partnership with Cecil and it's obvious she thinks he's a good horse, even though he was just pipped at the post in Cecil's last raceday drive. Strangely enough, Mrs Devine has never driven a racehorse - "and I don't ever want to," she laughs.

Those top horses who give everything. Cecil has raced more than his fair share of them. Van Dieman won the NZ Cup in 1951, Thunder in 1956, the mighty False Step in 1958-59-60, Lord Module just last year. "That's far too long a gap," he laughs. Then there were the likes of Terryman, Raft, Van Rush, Drum Major, Bass Strait, Star Beam, Good Review...the list goes on. He has had some great wins in trotting. He's won a fair proportion of the big ones over the years. He reels them off: "Four Dunedin Cups, two Easter Cups, three Rangiora Cups, a Nelson Cup, three New Brighton Cups, Invercargill Centennial Cup, two Timaru Nursery Stakes, two Sapling Stakes, three Flying Stakes, two NZ Derbies, a Champion Stakes, Juvenile Stakes several times at Oamaru, Canterbury Park, Geraldine, Waikouaiti, Rangiora and Timaru Challenge Stakes, a Timaru Cup, Hannon Memorial, a Royal Cup and the big International Paces at Yonkers and Roosevelt..." the list goes on.

He finds it hard to pinpoint any particular highlight over the years. False Step's win in the $50,000 National Championship Pace at Yonkers in 1961 would be one, winning the 1954 Royal Cup when Van Dieman came with a withering run to beat Thelma Globe and Zulu and then meeting the Queen is another. "That would have to be a highlight; most people would have cut off their arm to win that race. Of course in those days you didn't meet or see royalty very often. Now, with the ease of travel, royalty is almost commonplace." Cecil also remembers February 15, 1964 with particular enthusiasm. that day at Addington horses by Van Dieman filled the first three placings: Van Rush driven by Morrie Holmes, Raft (C C himself) and Young Dieman (Paul Gallagher). "They were the only three horses by him in the race; it would have to be a unique feat."

Two years ago he was loathe to compare any of those top horses against the other. But now, he doesn't hesitate to say that Lord Module is the best of all his champions. "It's hard to compare horses of different eras, but Lord Module has done so many good things. False Step didn't have as much speed as Lord Module, but he was a top racehorse, Van Dieman was probably faster but needed to be covered up; Lord Module can do it from anywhere over all distances.

Cecil has been asked time and again when and if he is taking Lord Module to America. Usually it's been accepted that he will before settling back to a life as a stud stallion. But Cecil has never sid yes or no definitely. But now he says Lord Module will go...provided he races up to last year's form. And provided "Mum lets me go". "You can go," Mrs Devine is quick to reply. There are, however, no definite plans. You get the impression Cecil would like to win another NZ Cup before heading away. The stud career is definite. Nothing is more certain. There have been offers already to stand the horse "with full books guaranteed". But there's time for that. "He's the living image of Globe Derby," Cecil says fossicking around for a photograph of "the greatest sire ever" to prove his point. "It's uncanny, even down to the one bit of white on one foot."

The Cup won't be beyond Lord Module again. If anything, says Cecil, the son of Lordship has come back bigger and better than last year. "He's matured, he's very strong. Personally I think he will be a lot better than last year. He feels good in the sulky." Which is where Cecil won't be on raceday, and that makes him just a little sad in another way too. He thinks that only by driving a horse in a race can you really tell what he needs. Still, son-in-law Kevin Williams has been handling the horse in work and at the trials without any bother so it's now up to them on raceday. No-one else has ever driven the horse before. Cecil's been told that when he takes the horse to America he "shouldn't drive the horse" himself. He should get "a good driver". "Well, what's he going to do with a good driver on him?" Cecil asks. "It would be interesting." It's hard to tell whether or not he's annoyed at having that advice given him. Still, as long as he is fit, he intends to drive himself in America. There's no rule to stop him there. And he is fit. He is up and about by 7 of 7.15 every morning, and works hard enough to keep himself fit. "You must stay pretty healthy working out in the fresh air all the time...even if it is a bit too fresh sometimes these mornings," he says.

If he weren't 65, Cecil Devine would do the same thing all over again. "It's given me a pretty good life; I started with nothing and don't need anything now. I've had a lot of luck and I've had a lot of good horses (he's figured in the finish of 11 NZ Cups with Shadow Maid and Blue Prince as well as those others) over the years. Yes, I'd do it all again."

Of his last season, he was disappointed he couldn't get anything to go right in Sydney ("Lord Module wasn't half the horse he was here") and that he was only second in the Auckland Cup. Still he has a lot of admiration for the horse that beat him on that day, Delightful Lady. "She's a good mare, of that there is no doubt. That day, she was well turned out and very well driven. No doubt about that either.

Cecil means it when he says that. He has got a reputation for straight-talking, even though he can be a bit cagey about revealing future plans. His forthrightness has often got him into trouble with officialdom on racedays but as he says: "I always call a spade a spade. And I don't believe in being run over. If your right, it pays to stick to your guns. I've always done that."

He prefers not to talk about the time he was suspended after a battle with Jack Litten down the straight at Addington, except to mention that he did lose a few good horses through his suspension. Enough said. He remembers just as well his last drive down the straightwith Lord Brigade. "It was close you know," he say a little wistfully. "I would like to have won. Still you can't win all the time. I think I've won my share."


Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 11Jul90

C C (Cecil) Devine, who died in Christchurch last week aged 75, was a battler who clawed his way from being a nonentity to fame an fortune in the hard school that is NZ harness racing.

Content to train a small team, even when big success did come his way, Devine neverthless compiled a record in the nation's most prestigious harness race - the NZ Trotting Cup - that is second to none. He won the great event six times, and, while this equalled the training feat earlier in the century of the great James Bryce, Cecil drove all his winners, whereas Bryce shared the driving honours with sons Andrew and James jnr.

Devine's record is likely to stand the test od time.

In his hey-day, with some of his owners not averse to having a punt (and embued with great confidence in the judgement of their trainer), some of NZ's best-known book-makers refused to accept wagers of any sizeable amount on horses from Devine's stable. Devine trained with a purpose. He was a man with very set ideas and, as (sometimes)officialdom and (always) those who crossed him came to learn, he stood up unflinchingly for what he thought was right. When the chips were down, he was a hard man to beat - not only on the track but anywhere. To those he liked, Devine was a generous and loyal friend; to those who got on the wrong side of him, there was almost invariably no reprieve.

Born in Tasmania in 1916, Devine was drawn into trotting through his elder brother Eric, who worked with and drove horses. Hopes to become a lawyer were dashed by lack of wherewithal and opportunity in depression times that saw Cecil, after three years at high school, leave to work in a horse stable. In 1936, when brother Eric was unable to assist trainer Fred Rudd with the good Tasmanian performers Evicus, Icevus an Emlilus on a visit to New Zealand, Cecil got the trip. He was to be here for a month, but stayed for good.

Impressed by the sport here, Devine was readily persuaded to join up with the late Vic Leeming, training at Prebbleton. But, as second-string driver in the stable to Eugene McDermott, opportunities were few and far between. In 1938, Devine went it alone on a little property at Prebbleton, from where his first success as a trainer came with Prince de Oro, whom he rode to win a saddle event at Westport on Boxing Day, 1939. It was two years before Devine won again - on the Coast with trotter Teddy Gregg; and a few weeks after that he won with the same horse a non-tote race at Addington.

It was 1945 before Devine made his first NZ Cup tilt, and this was with Shadow Maid, a good race mare who had been handed to him after losing all semblance of form. Under his guidance, she finished third to Gold Bar and Integrity in a memorable Cup race. Better horses began coming into Devine's stable, and around 1950 he was making his mark with good pacer Good Review and crack filly Vivanti. The latter, bred by Devine and sold to the late Bill Parkinson, won the Sapling Stakes and NZ Oaks and was second in the NZ Derby before Parkinson sold her to Australia.

A milestone in Devine's career came when he leased, with right of purchase for $1000, Van Dieman (U Scott-Reno) as a two-year-old colt from Brian Forest, of Kaiapoi. In an outstanding career for Devine, who eventually bought him outright, Van Dieman won the 1951 NZ Cup and Royal Cup at Addington in 1954. Devine became a national hero as he received the congratulations of the Queen and Prince Philip.

In 1953, Devine left the small Prebbleton stable for a 46-hectare property at Templeton that he transformed from a bare patch of land into a model training establishment. Apart from Van Dieman, one of the first stars from his new property was Thunder, who made a meteoric rise through the classes, culminating with success in the 1956 NZ Cup. A big, rangy son of Light Brigade and Jack Potts mare Busted Flush, Thunder's maiden winat Methven was memorable. He collided with a rival at the start, dislodging Devine, who ran behind, caught hold of the sulky and climbed back in. Making up 100 yards to catch the body of the field, Thunder continued on to win the race to rave reports praising both horse and driver.

Other good horses in Devine's stable at this stage included Starbeam, Great Wonder, Nancy Lee and General Sandy (who was on his way to the top when he dropped dead soon after downing Caduceus in the NZ Pacing Championship). Next came Invicta, who, after winning his way to a tight mark, was despatched to the stable of Steve Edge by Devine. Along with the late Jack Litten, Devine had been suspended from driving for six months for their memorable whip-fight at Addington in 1957. If he couldn't drive Invicta, Devine didn't want to train him. But for this, he would almost certainly have added another NZ Cup to his bag. Under Edge, Invicta, as an 11-year-old, sprang a boilover winning the 1961 NZ Cup.

By now Devine had taken over False Step, inheriting him from the Litten stable following an argument between Litten and owner Jim Smyth. Winner of 14 races including the NZ Derby under Litten, False Step carried on under Devine to win 19 more races in NZ, and in doing so joined Indianapolis as the only three-time winners of the NZ Cup. False Step's Cup wins were in 1958, '59 and '60. Devine then campaigned him in New York. After tragically being stood down from the first leg of the 1961 Yonkers International Series when a blacksmith drove a nail into the quick of a hoof, False Step finished unluckily second to Australian star Apmat in the second leg. And while Devine won the third and finasl leg with False Step, with Apmat fourth, the Australian was awarded the title on points. Shortly after, False Step (now sold for $115,000 to American polaroid tycoon Jack Dreyfus) was driven by Devine to win the Frontiers Pace at Yonkers, with America's champion pacer Adios Butler only fifth.

More vivid in the memory of current-day harness racing fans will be Devine's great exploits with Lord Module. Buying this son of Lordship and the Bachelor Hanover mare Module through the National Sale for a mere $3000, Devine developed Lord Module into one of the most capable pacers pacers produced to this time in New Zealand. Despite a recalcitrant streak which cost him dearly at the start of many of his races, Lord Module won 28 of 93 races ans was also 40 times placed.

Highlights of his career were his 1979 NZ Cup win and his 1:54.9 time trial in 1980 in weather conditions all against a fast time at Addington. In his final race in the 1981 Allan Matson Free-For-All at Addingtn, Lord Module came from last to first to win brilliantly in the hands of Jack Smolenski, one of several one-time employees of Devine who went on to make names for thenselvesin the game.

Devine was forced to retire from race driving at the end of the 1979/80 season. After Lord Module's retirement from racing and standing him at stud, Cecil pottered with a horse or two, but his heart never really appeared to be totally in it from that point. Though he didn't show it, Devine took great personal satisfaction from the success of his son-in-law Kevin Williams with his NZ and Auckland Cups winner Master Mood. Devine's final race win was with Cheeky Module, a son of Lord Module, driven by Smolenski to win a maiden race at Motukarara in January, 1988.

The great trainer is survived by his wife Avonnie and his daughters Bonnie (Williams) and Debbie (Carolan).



He was, unquestionably, one of the old school of trotting, long before it became fashionable to call the sport harness racing. And he was proud to be a trotting man, proud sometimes to the brink of vanity and egotism.

But then Cecil Devine had a lot to be proud of and while he never, in my experience, actively sought public recognition for his numerous achievements he was not one to take the self-effacing approach when the media became interested in him or his horses. Why? I never asked him and, if the truth be known, I was probably too intimidated to risk such an impertinent question. My educated guess is that Cecil worked so hard, battling his way from anonymity to world-wide fame, that he wasn't about to give anyone else the credit. And who would deny him that?

Cecil Devine won the NZ Cup six times, training and driving False Step (three), Thunder, Van Dieman and Lord Module to win the country's greatest race. James Bryce also won six Cups but Cecil, rightfully, claimed the record outright as Bryce only drove four. Its possible, but highly unlikely, someone will eventually take that record from Cecil and if "Tassie" is looking down on Addington the day it happens I'll bet dark clouds will magically appear on a bright and sunny November day, and grumble ominously in discontent.

Cecil, who died in July, 1990, aged 75, didn't live long enough to see one of his proudest achievments wiped from the record books - Lord Module's 1:54.9 time trial mile - and while I mourned his premature passing as much as most people, in a way I'm glad Cecil was spared that. Not that I would detract an ounce from Starship's 1:54.5 effort on a hot sunny day at Richmond in 1992 but who of us present could forget the drama and excitement of that cold, wintry night at Addington in 1980 when Lord Module set his mark more than 13 years ago. Not Kevin Williams, who drove the galloping prompter with frozen fingers, not Cecil Devine, who wiped the dew from the sulky as Lord Module prepared for his epic dash, and not me or the thousands of others who stayed on after the races were over to cheer on their champion to such an astonishing time.

And 18 months later they were cheering again when Lord Module denied all odds for the last time to win the Matson Free-for-all, downing Gammalite and Armalight in a race that threatened to bring the Addington Grandstands down. Cecil, forced into unwanted retirement, had to watch like all the rest of us from the stands and before the race began he walked quietly into the press room and slipped some tickets into my pocket. Knowing I rarely risked a dollar on the tote, Cecil had backed up my wavering - and his unflinching - faith in the much-troubled Lord Module with his own cash.

But later, when I chose to spend the proceeds on a mounted action picture of Lord Module, which still (hopefully) adorns a wall in the Addington press room, Cecil was openly furious with me, pointing out the dividend could have - and should have - been spent on my wife or young children. "You always look after your own first...always," he chided me and as epitaphs go, I think it's one of several Cecil Devine would have found appropriate.

Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 9Sep80


YEAR: 1960


The well-known Prebbleton trainer, V Leeming, died suddenly at his home last week.

Mr Leeming first came into prominence just before the beginning of World War II when he trained horses for Mr J Richardson, of Dunedin. Three of the best he trained for Mr Richardson were Colonel Grattan, Toorak and Belmont Hall, the latter now being a successful sire in South Australia. Colonel Grattan reached NZ Cup class and among other races, Toorak won the NZ Champion Stakes in 1936.

Integrity, who Mr Leeming raced, was his most successful winner. Integrity won over all distances and after finishing second to Bronze Eagle in the 1944 NZ Cup, and to Gold Bar the next year, he beat Josedale Grattan and Haughty in the 7500 race in 1946.

Unite, whom he bred himself, graduated to NZ Cup class with an Auckland Cup among his many successes. Esteem and Admit were two other useful winners for Mr Leeming. Among the other horses he trained were Lady Nairne, Aden and Notify.

Mr Leeming, who had a model training establishment at Prebbleton, also farmed extensively on the property. His horses were always turned out in first class order as was the gear they wore and the sulkies they raced in. He was most meticulous in this direction.

Mr Leeming was a prominent official of the Canterbury Trotting Owners and Breeders' Association for a number of years.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 5Oct60


YEAR: 1939

Lucky Jack & Roy Berry

The ever-ready excuse book was well in evidence after the New Zealand Cup last week and it would seem that at least four horses should have ended up in Lucky Jack's position as the 1939 winner. Nevertheless, that horse achieved the distinction of winning his second Cup, and he had to overcome difficulties and prove himself a real horse to take that honour on the day.

Lucky Jack gave a really fine performance, running up handy to the leaders with half a mile to go and fighting on gamely in the run home. This was easily his best effort to date, and one which stamped him as being close to the champion that owner Bill Lowe claims he is.

To "Truth" Lucky Jack has always appeared to fall just short of championship class. Not that he is lacking in speed or stamina - he has those in abundance - but because his off days have been sufficiently numerous to suggest that he has to be caught in the humour to display his talents in full.

This trait was illustrated when he came out to contest the Free-For-All on Friday, his only other start at the meeting. On this occasion he failed to go off, and he only beat two horses home. He does not give the consistently solid and generous displays of "Truth's" idea of a true champion, but when he does set himself out to do his work in his best style, he impresses as having few superiors.

There is, by the way, an interesting sidelight to Lucky Jack's victory. Shortly after he won his first Cup there was a great outcry against the handicapping system because he was placed on a tight mark. It was claimed that as a racing proposition he was ruined, although only a five-year-old and his stake winnings stood close to the 2000 mark. Since then he has gone on to increase that total to almost 3000 and there is every reason to suppose that he will add considerably to that amount. The figures are an effective reply to those who attacked the handicapping system from that angle.

There is no more popular sportsman than owner Lowe, and his horse's victory was well received. He did everything asked of him and could not have won if he had not fought on gamely for the honour. Cantata and Blair Athol filled the second and third placings respectively, and both were unlucky. The former did not get the best of the running in the final quarter, and Blair Athol was giving most of his field a start with half a mile to go. There were only necks between the first three horses at the post and luck in the running made all the difference.

How Colonel Grattan would have fared but for losing his driver a little over four furlongs from home is a matter of conjecture. Whether or not he would have won can provide material for an unsatisfactory argument, but the manner in which he ran on after his accident suggested that he would at least have been in the money.

Plutus was a fair fourth, after being in the fight throughout, but Parisienne, Gallant Knight and Fine Art, the next to finish, were well out of sight of the judge. There was then a big gap to Lawn Derby, which broke soon after the start, Marsceres, Rocks Ahead and King's Play.

In "Truth's" opinion the really unlucky horse was Fine Art. He was never off the bit at any stage of the running, and he was handy turning for home, but the tiring Gallant King so far forgot his manners as to carry McTigue's gelding back through the field in the final quarter. Boxed in on the fence behind Gallant Knight, Fine Art was simply carried out the back door, and at no stage of the run home did he get an opportunity to show his worth, being a helpless victim of the backwash.

On Thursday he gave a taste of his ability by winning the Ollivier Handicap without any trouble, and it is the "Truth's" opinion that he would have treated the New Zealand Cup field in a similar manner with circumstances more in his favour.



One of the sport's keenest supporters, and one of thne most prominent and popular men connected with light-harness racing, Eugene McDermott died, with tragic suddenness, during the running of the New Zealand Cup, in which he drove Colonel Grattan.

With a little over half a mile to go, and while leading the field, Mac was seen to collapse and fall from the sulky, and he expired before the ambulance could get him back to the birdcage.

Eugene made his entry into the sport over 25 years ago, quickly coming to the fore as an amateur rider and driver, and he later took out a professional licence as a trainer and driver.

During his connection with the game he handled many good horses, and made a name for himself as a clever reinsman and a sportsman of the highest calibre. His good qualities earned for him the respect and admiration of all, and the sport is considerably poorer for his passing.

He will be missed, but remembered for many years to come.

Credit: NZ TRUTH 13 Nov 1939


YEAR: 1937

Viscount Galway presents the Cup to Bill Lowe

With Indianapolis back on 72 yards in a 16-horse field and given no chance the next year, particularly when his preparation was badly affected by a stone bruise, the Cup was a relatively tame affair as Lucky Jack won easily from fellow frontmarkers Gamble and Tempest.

Owned by his breeder Bill Lowe and driven by trainer Roy Berry, Lucky Jack was however a fine stayer in his own right and repeated two years later in a close and exciting finish over the stablemates Cantata and Blair Athol. He was unlucky not to match Indianapolis' feat, finishing a fine second in 1938 from 48 yards.

Roy Berry had ridden Sinapis to win the New Zealand Galloping Cup at Riccarton in 1913, equalling Free Holmes feat in that respect, and would win another Trotting Cup with Bronze Eagle in 1944, while the Lowe family had further success with Cairnbrae and Humphrey in the 60s.

Lucky Jack's second triumph was overshadowed though by the death of Eugene McDermott after leading with Colonel Grattan just two furlongs from home in the Cup. The popular horseman had shot clear in the backstraight, but fell from the sulky soon after and died on his way to hospital from the heart attack.

Credit: New Zealand HRWeekly 8Oct03


YEAR: 2001

Croker winning the Southern Graduate

Had a certain buyer put his finger up for one more $500 bid on Croker at the Sales last year, he would now be holding his hand out for a $13,750 cheque. That is how much the Falcon Seelster-Take My Arm colt won after taking out the PGG Yearling Sales Southern Graduate.

Croker ended up being a buy-back for his vendors John and Maurice McDermott when he reached $15,500 in the ring - $500 short of what the brothers were prepared to let him go for. The pair even turned down a subsequent offer on the day, but they are looking the winners now because Croker is going to target the Welcome Stakes this Saturday night before a heat and hopefully the Final of the Sires' Stakes Series.

Trained by Colin and Julie De Filippi, and now part-owned by Colin in partnership with the McDermotts, Croker ended a long drought for both brothers, especially John, by winning on Friday. Maurice last tasted success with Kedell at Rangiora in February 1999, and before that with Kedell's dam Scintilla at Addington in 1993, but John hadn't known that winning feeling since Olympic Medal scored at Addington back in October 1984.

A former employee of the Bank of New Zealand who specialised in rural finance for two decades, John also spent 18 years on the committee of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and was the Club's representative on the Sires' Stakes Board for six years. Taking a break from both roles when the three Addington clubs amalgamated, John also had a change of tack following the passing of his father Eugene in October 1998 and joined his brother to run the 200-hectare family farm in Halswell, where they milk a town supply herd of cattle. A Past-President of the NZMTC, Eugene McDermott was well-known for co-breeding the fine pacer Robalan, and he was also the son of Eugene Snr who suffered a heart attack while driving Colonel Grattan in the 1939 NZ Cup.

The mare that got John himself started was Olga Korbut, a Lordship half-sister to Noodlum that he was given a half share in in return for grazing horses on the farm. Taken to C6 by trainer Freeman Holmes, Olga Korbut ran second in the 1975 NZ Welcome Stakes to Fancy Fred before going on to capture her last five races that season. "It has been a battle trying to continue her breed," McDermott said. "She only had the five foals and all but one were colts; I spent a lot of money trying to breed her by embryo transfer."

Since taking over the farm, McDermott is breeding from four mares - Scintilla, Vault (Olga Korbut's filly), Croker's dam, Take My Arm and Shining Cloud. "Kevin Townley trained Take My Arm for us. She went amiss a week before she was due to go to the Qualifying trials, but he thought she would be worth breeding from though. "She has a late colt foal at foot by Caprock, and was served by Il Vicolo." Take My Arm's first three foals are Boston, Barney Bear and Croker.

"He is a bit of a character, ducking out like he has done a couple of times," McDermott said of his latest winner. "Colin has always rated him though, and when a horseman like him says that, you take notice."

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 11Apr01


YEAR: 1923


A fatal collision between the West Coast express and a car at Hornby was a front page story early in 1923. Added to the sensation was that Robert McMillan, the car passenger killed, owned the Santa Rosa Farm in Halswell, then the country's most successful Harness stud.

Champion stallion Harold Dillon, and horses like Great Audobon, Nelson Bingen, Brent Locanda and Petereta most of which produced at least one champion, made up the roster. They had made McMillan, who had personally selected many of them, a wealthy man. The driver of the car, severely injured, was his great friend Eugene McDermott, also of Halswell and regarded as the leading non professional horseman in the country.

Canadian-born of Scottish stock, McMillan had worked for a leading American trainer, John Blant for many years before coming to New Zealand and making his way as a trainer, ultimately at Santa Rosa on Nicholls Rd opposite the Halswell Hotel. McMillan had also struck gold when he bought Great Audobon, the first son of the legendary Peter The Great to win a trotting race in New Zealand. He also won as a pacer before siring the NZ Cup winner, Great Hope, with which McMillan won the Great Northern Derby at his first start (1921) before selling on.

McMillan struck up a close association with Etienne Le Lievre of Akaroa who stood his best stallion imports, usually selected by McMillan, at Santa Rosa. At the time of his death McMillan was described as "a real man and one ready to do a good turn to anyone who was a trier". The two Macs, McDermott being of strong Irish stock, had taken a late afternoon drive to Yaldhurst to inspect American imports based with Ben Jarden, one being the later famous stallion Jack Potts.

Soon after McMillan's burial at St Mary's church in Halswell, Santa Rosa was sold to trainer Albert Hendrikson from Templeton and it gradually lost its lustre as a commercial stud, later being used for training by Charles Cameron and others before housing took it over.

McMillan's death had exposed an embarrassing situation in his private life. In 1914, in his late 40's, he had married Madge Green, 24, who had borne him three children in four years. However the marriage broke down and McMillan was ordered by the court on his wife's petition in 1921 to restore her rights, after she was banished from the house. Great Hope's sale may have been part of the settlement because she did not appear in his will, his estate being valued at a considerable 13,000. The children had been cared for by Madge's sister, Miriam, and that apparently continued to be the case after his death. His only son, Peter, later returned to Canada and one of his two sisters died in Arizona.

Eugene Clement McDermott was the son of a professional trainer, John McDermott, originally from Doyleston but based for some years in Domain Terrace. He shifted to Junction Road in Halswell after World War 1 where the family farmed for over 80 years. Eugene, who operated as a stock dealer from an early age, and as a farmer based in Tankerville Road, was a leading trackwork rider at Addington when that was popular and a champion saddle trot race rider on horses like Vilo, Capriccio, Schnapps and Cora Dillon, all trained by his father, besides a host of outside rides. However he resisted pressure to become a professional until late in life for special reasons and never trained a big team.

After the Hornby tragedy McDermott said he would give up owning racehorses and while in later years he relented it was usually only in special cases such as the trotter Garner which he bought for 16 and won many races includig a clean sweep of the features at an Auckland Cup meeting. Ironically it was the death of another close friend, the country's leading trainer, Bill Tomkinson which propelled MsDermott back into the headlines.

Tomkinson suffered minor injuries falling from a drum securing a float door as the team left for Auckland in 1934. Sent home from hospital apparently fit and well he became seriously ill and died within days triggering the biggest Christchurch funeral of the year. The cortege procession was a mile long. McDermott, a pallbearer, had also raced gallopers with Tomkinson and his young son, Jim.

He took over driving the Tomkinson star Indianapolis that year. They won the 1934 NZ Cup but "Mac's" most memorable triumph was with the champion in an odds-on win at Addington the same year. After less than 200m before a very large Addington crowd the hot favourite broke a hopple. Normally he would have been pulled up but Indianapolis seemed to be only keener with the flapping hopple so McDermott decided to let him run for the public's money. The result was a famous hour in Addington history. Indianapolis never missed a beat. He won easily and paced the last 2400m in 3:08.8 - then two seconds inside the national record for that distance and a theoretical world record. McDermott was cheered "to the echo" by grateful punters.

In the 1937 Cup his own luck ran out when he fell from the sulky of Colonel Grattan with about 800m to run, suffering a fatal heart attack. He had told friends before the race if he was leading at that stage Colonel Grattan would win. His son, also Eugene, was taken out of school to help run the family farm.

Later a prominent owner and highly regarded administrator, he had played rugby for Canterbury in the war years. One of his sons, John, also an Addington administrator (his brother Maurice is a stalwart of Banks Peninsula) is now a licensed trainer - like both his great grandfather, 100 years ago and his grandfather. The McMillan racing tradition died that fateful day at Hornby but the McDermott legacy lives on.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 1May13

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