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The first trainer in either code to train 1000 winners (in 1972) Cecil Donald has a special hniche in harness racing history. But a simple stat hadly does him justice. In an erawhen the Purdon have rewritten most training records, the innovation and scope of the vintage Donald years stand out as exceptional.
Donald was the "young man in a hurry" of the trotting world from the time he started out training at Addington in 1922. Having five horses was considered a large professional stable then, and only people like James Bryce had 20. Donald soon had 30 in work. Within seven years he had won his first training and driving premierships, his 45 training wins being 11 more than the previous best. He also held the driving record.
After a hat-trick at Forbury he was described in the media as a "healthy vigourous young man whose secret is his personal supervision every day of a huge team of 30 horses." When Cecil won his final Premiership in 1961 he had equalled James Bryce's enduring record of seven. He had won an Auckland Cup (Carmel) and quinellaed the Dominion Handicap (Kempton, Writer) within 12 months of his first. He also posted the lowest winning total of any premiership with 17 wins in 1941-42 when there were only 559 races and huge travel restrictions. Through that era his operation and enterprise constantly attracted headlines.
Some of the major ones:
* In 1931 he became the first to drive and win a race at Addington (the first) the morning after driving in the seventh race at Alexandra Park. Donald had arranged for Captain McGregor to fly his primitive aircraft from Christchurch to Feilding, left the Northern Express near there for his first plane ride and was able to inspect his stable before the first race.
* Early trainers stood stallions to make ends meet but Donald went a lot further with Jack Potts which arrived from America as a 3-year-old in 1922 imported by Alec Anderson. Jack Potts, a lovely pacer, and the only American pacing-bred sire available then, became the breeding phenomenon of his era winning nine successive sires premierships.
* In 1938-39 Jack Potts was the first to leave 100 winners in a season. Donald also stood sons of Jack Potts such as Gamble (2nd in a NZ Cup) which at times caused some problems with officialdom. In 1937he had over 150 horses at Belfast, unheard of in that era. He also raced and trained gallopers and stood thoroughbreds at stud.
* Calumet Axworth, a disappointment, and Lusty Volo, a £1500 purchase, were stallions Donald imported from America. Lusty Volo died from heart failure whe his oldest crop were only two. He left top liners Great Venture and Sir Michael as well as the dam of Our Roger.
* At the 1937 New Zealand Cup meeting Donald was the leading trainer, the leading driver and his stallion Jack Potts the leading sire - another unique record. At the 1940 New Zealand Cup meeting, Donald trained the winner of the NZ Cup (Marlene), the Dominion Handicap (Tan John, a $16 buy and then aged 14) and the NZ FFA (Plutus) - a feat not repeated in the 72 years since.
* Cecil quoted his feat of training the home-bred but chronically unsound Marlene, then seven, to win the Cup as his finest achievment. As usual his skilful brother, Ron, drove, Cecil believing lightweight was an advantage in the cart. He had also been severely injured in a fall driving Accountant that year. But Cecil drove Cairnbrae (an 8-year-old) with supreme judgement (led last mile) to win his second Cup for owner Ted Lowe in 1964 at a time when the various brackets including King Hal, Gildirect, Urrall, Falsehood and Dandy Briar were popular combinations with the public. Donald had minor placings in other Cups with Lindbergh, Jack Potts, Bayard, Lary Shona and Falsehood.
* More than once he produced three horse brackets in the race. Dandy Briar won an Auckland Cup. In later years Chief Command, Indecision and Rauka Lad were his top pacers.
* In 1941 Donald based his entire racing team at Oamaru in the weeks leading up to the August Addington meeting because of the drier tracks. "The Belfast track was always a problem in winter but those were the sort of ideas he would come up with," Donald's former chief assistant Bob Nyhan recalls.
* A Donald innovation relieved a disastrous fire at Belfast which killed his high class pacer Accountant, a brother to Marlene. He had a special irrigation system for his track. "It was something new," Nyhan said. "Nobody bothered to water their training tracks like that. He also groomed the track during training sessions." When a rear barn burst into flames during the night in June, 1944, only the resources of the track watering system saved the main barn. Five horses died in the fire, most by suffocation.
* In 1950 Donald who had held some large sales of his own of young stock here in the 1930's, landed in Sydney with 25 horses to sell or, if not sold, to race. Among them was the stallion Gamble which fetched 1300 quineas. Most of the rest found a new home.
* The Donald training regime accentuated the basics. He had extraordinary patience in "setting a horse up" - claimed as 12 months or more by some. "He was a great feeder," Nyhan remembers. Glocose was a staple part of the horse's diet and his biggest successes were with stayers.
* Don Nyhan used to recall how Donald would put colts together on trucks without stalls as part of their education.
* Beside all that Ces Donald was a leading cattle dealer and eventually bought farms to cater for his stock. To manage one of the biggest racing teams in the country, a stud, and maintain his dealing interests makes him one of the rare achievers in the Kiwi harness world.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 2May12
YEAR: 1964LIGHT BRIGADE
Light Brigade, who would have been officially 27 years of age on August 1 next, died at Roydon Lodge last week from a colic condition or a twisted bowel. He had been in good health and condition right up till the last and had practically completed another full stud season. Among the mares on his final list were Local Gold(dam of Arania), Malabella(dam of Bellajily), Merval(one of the best pacing mares of her day), Lady Belmer(another top class pacer), Vanity Scott, Virginia Scott(dam of Trade Fair), Sure Phoebe(dam of Harbour Light), Royal Triumph(dam of Junior Royal), Inglewood(dam of Glenurquart), Autumn Sky(dam of Lochgair), Highland Silk(full sister to Highland Fling), Circlette(U Scott-Within) and an as yet unregistered royally-bred mare by U Scott-Haughty.
With one or two seasons excepted, Light Brigade had been a sire of high fertility. Even with advancing years he had been reaching a percentage of more than 70 - the 1961-62 statistics show that he covered 48 mares that season for 29 live foals, a percentage of 71.73. His 1960-61 figures were 61 mares covered and 42 live foals, 77.59%. In 1959-60 he did the big season of 91 mares, which produced 67 live foals, 83.53%. The season prior to that the 57 mares he covered produced 30 live foals, 60.38%. A year earlier he had covered 60 mares for 46 live foals, 84.21%. His 1956-57 figures were: 58 mares, 42 live foals, 79.3%; 1955-56, 62 mares, 48 live foals, 83.61%; 1954-55, 64 mares, 32 live foals, 50%; 1953-54, 74 mares, 53 live foals, 82.85%, 1952-53, 78 mares, 50 live foals, 65.38%; 1951-52, 90 mares, 66 live foals, 77.11%; 1950-51, 84 mares, 57 live foals, 75.31% - that was the first season these statistics were compiled.
Light Brigade was foaled at Walnut Hall Farm in 1937 and was imported from America in 1940 by the late Sir John McKenzie. Light Brigade, who was a trotter when he was purchased, took some time to become adjusted to the hopples when first tried at Roydon Lodge by G B Noble, and he looked anything but an elegant pacer in one of his early trials at an Addington matinee. He apparently took some ironing out, because he was a 3-year-old on arrival, and he did not race here until the latter half of the 1942-43 season, when he was officially a 6-year-old.
Unplaced at his first two starts, he opened his winning account in the Trial Handicap, a maiden two miles at Ashburton in June. Driven by his trainer, G B Noble, Light Brigade won impressively by half a length in 4.39 in his 5.1 class. The following season, 1943-44, Noble produced Light Brigade in six races for the excellent tally of three wins, a second and a third placing. He won a sprint race at Wellington very easily, stayed much too well for a 4.48 class field over two miles at Auckland, and in his final appearance of the season he won again over two miles at the NZMTC Easter meeting - the going was heavy, and he created a big impression that day by making his final run down on the heaviest part of the track next to the rails to beat Claremorris and Scottish Lady (both very capable pacers) going away by two lengths. At his only appearance in the 1944-45 season Light Brigade scored another very easy win on a dead track over two miles in the Canterbury Handicap on NZ Cup day.
Light Brigade was now proving a difficult horse to keep sound and had to be sparingly raced in the 1945-46 season. He was a heavy-topped horse, and was afflicted by splints all his racing life. He ran a meritorious fourth from 48 yards in the two mile Craven Handicap at the Metropolitan meeting, and from 36 yards in the Cashmere Handicap, another two mile race at the same meeting, he ran fourth to Belhall, scr, Sir Michael, scr and Tam O'Shanter, scr. The first and second place-fillers were good horses, particularly Sir Michael, a free-for-all winner later on. One unplaced performance the following season saw the last of Light Brigade on the racetrack.
Minus his splints, Light Brigade could have been anything. In training he was more than a match for some of the top pacers of his day. On one particular occasion, when he was still racing in the improvers' class himself, he thoroughly trounced a champion pacer who had already been a free-for-all winner and subsequently ran third in a NZ Cup. The champion shall be nameless, also the champion's trainer - one of the most successful we have had in this country - who was so astounded by Light Brigade's performance that he declared then and there that the imported stallion was "the greatest pacer I have ever seen." And that trainer prepared three NZ Cup winners!
Already started on a stud career, he had been by no means rushed by breeders when first advertised at the microscopic fee (by modern standards) of "7gns a mare, with return privilege." That was soon altered when he sired a NZ Derby winner, Free Fight, from his first crop of foals, a mere handful though it was - he had served about half a dozen mares as a 5-year-old. Light Brigade's fee eventually climbed to 150gns, and he had a 'waiting list' even at that figure. Season after season he was fully booked, and had been right up to the time of his death.
It followed in the natural course of breeding events that a double-gaited stallion like Light Brigade (a son of Volomite, who left many champions of both gaits), should leave winners of both gaits; but no other sire, with the possible exception of an earlier progenitor in Wrack, and Light Brigade's companion Roydon Lodge sire, U Scott, has been credited with so many great performers of both gaits as has Light Brigade.
His pacers are headed by Vedette(Inter-Dominion Champion and free-for-all winner), Thunder(NZ Cup), Lookaway(NZ Cup), Soangetaha(two Auckland Cups), Patchwork(Easter Cup), Le Mignon(13 wins including NZ Saplind Stks), Tactics(11 wins including New Brighton Cup), Scottish Light(12 wins including Lightning Free-for-all), Attack(14 wins including Dunedin Cup), White Angel(12 wins including Oamaru Hannon Memorial) and Masterpiece (11 wins including free-for-all)
His top trotters make just as impressive a team. Ordeal, 1.59 3/5, the only NZ-bred two-minute trotter(17 wins in NZ, including the Dominion Handicap, Rowe Memorial Cup and free-for-alls), Battle Cry(Inter-Dominion Trotters' Championship Grand Final and Auckland Mark Memorial when competing against top-class trotters), Recruit(17 wins including Dominion Handicap, Rowe Cup twice, and free-for-alls), Fair Isle(12 wins including Dominion Handicap), Signal Light(Ashburton Cup and free-for-all), Light Oak(11 wins including Bridgens Free-for-all), Our Own(11 wins including Worthy Queen Handicap), and When 2.02 4/5, NZ and Australian mile trotting record-holder(18 wins including NZ Hambletonian Handicap and free-for-alls).
These are but the cream - there are dozens more of both gaits any trainer would be glad to have in his stable. In the classic field too, Light Brigade has built an indelible name as the sire of the following winners:
Timaru Nursery Stakes: Dresden Lady, Bon Ton.
Oamaru Juvenile Stakes: Vigilant, Golden Hero.
Great Northern Stakes: Scutari.
NZ Sapling Stakes: Forward, La Mignon, Golden Hero.
NZ Derby Stakes: Free Fight, Fallacy, Bon Ton.
NZ Champion Stakes: Fallacy, Bon Ton, Lochgair.
NZ Futurity Stakes: Fallacy, Lookaway.
GN Derby Stakes: Soangetaha, Scottish Brigade.
NZ Trotting Stakes: Signal Light, King's Brigade, General Lee, Battle Cry, Winterlight, Our Own, Asia Minor.
Canterbury Park Juvenile Stakes: Bon Ton.
NZ Welcome Stakes: Bon Ton.
NZ Oaks: Zany, Balcairn.
Light Brigade is taking time to come into his own as a brrodmare sire, but he is in good company in this respect, because U Scott was also late in making his mark as a sire of producing dams; but he eventually made it, and Light Brigade now looks certain to follow suit. Light Brigade made a sharp advance from seventh on the Broodmare Sires' List in the 1961-2 season to fifth last season, when his daughters were represented by such winners as Min Scott, Peerswick, Deft, Lakeda, Meadowmac, Adioson, Belle Vue, Black Treasure, Field Chief, Filet Mignon, Notify, Queen's Cord, Rapine and Uteena. In earlier seasons his mares produced the champion trotting mare Au Fait, as well as Gay Baron, Adioway, Raft, Zenith, Stormy Parade, Dawn Smoke, Ivy Scott, Estelle, Retreat, Spangled Princess, Adroit, Josie Gay, Satyr and others.
Light Brigade's sons have bred on, notably Fallacy(sire of False Step, Falsehood and Dignus), Masterpiece(sire of Master Alan), Local Light(sire of Blue), Court Martial(sire of Moon Boy and Reprimand), Forward(sire of Avante), Fourth Brigade(sire of Fourth Edition), Red Emperor(sire of Blue Emperor) and Attack(sire of Responsive, First Attack and Doctor Kyle).
Light Brigade's sire, Volomite, 2.03 1/4, will ever remain one of the cornerstones of the standard breed. Sire of 33 in the two-minute list, and who was the leading sire of America over a long period, he has now been the leading broodmare sire for many years. Light Brigade's dam, Spinster, 2.05, was the dam of five winners, and belonged to the famous Minnetonka family, which has produced a record number of Hambletonian winners, including Hoot Mon, 2.00, the first two-minute Hambletonian winner, and who is now an eminent sire (11 in the 2.00 list) - he has been fully booked for years past at a fee of $5000. Spinster was by Spencer, 1.59 3/4, who was the leading sire of the United States in 1937. The Minnetonka family abounds in trotters and pacers in the very top flight, one of the most notable pacers being Dancer Hanover, 1.56 1/5.
Light Brigade has already been the leading sire of the Dominion three times, and he has also been second six times and third four times, in the last 13 seasons he has not been further back than third. His grand total to date in NZ is approximately £740,000, which places him second to the record-breaking U Scott (approximate total to date in NZ £987,000), and in front of Dillon Hall (£731,000, approx.), who was second until this season. Light Brigade, in the 1956-7 season, established a record for one season that still stands - his progeny's winnings totalled £72,337 10s
Credit: 'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 29Jan64
1948 NEW ZEALAND DERBY STAKES
There will be general agreement with Mr C S Thomas, president of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club, in his declaration that the New Zealand Derby on Saturday was the greatest classic race ever staged at Addington. Four horses - Croughton, Bronze Gold, Perpetua and Chamfer came to the wire with less than a length between them, and the winner's time, 3:15 4-5, was a new record for the race, clipping two-fifths of a second off War Bouy's long-standing record established in 1933.
Although Croughton enjoyed better luck in the running than either Bronze Gold or Chamfer, he is every inch a Derby colt and fought on in the gamest possible manner in a finish demanding the highest degree of courage, staying power and true racing instincts. Bronze Gold was in an almost hopeless position turning for home; at the back of a bunch of six horses and boxed in on the rails. He had to be extricated and brought on the outside to make his run and was travelling faster than anything only a neck behind the winner at the finish.
Chamfer was in front at the end of a quarter but M Holmes allowed Perpetua to supplant him. This may have led to his ultimate undoing, because he could not find an opening until late, and when it did come he appeared to be hampered for room in his attempt to push through on the rails. Chamfer was only a head away fourth.
Spring Fashion, who at one stage of the betting was a firm favourite, began slowly and met a slight check when Zantileer broke near her with five furlongs covered. Spring Fashion made a run going to the far turn but came to the end of it long before the straight had been reached.
Croughton, a tall, racy-looking bay colt, is the first horse raced by his owner, Mr J S South. Mr South, who is a resident of Geraldine, has achieved in a year or two what most breeders fail to do in a lifetime - breed a Derby winner. Croughton is by Springfield Globe, a Colonial-bred stallion who is making a big name as a sire of classic and semi-classic winners. Croughton's dam is Lady Antrim, by John Dillon from a Wildwood mare, and that is as far as the pedigree goes.
Croughton gave his trainer, J Young, his first Derby success. R Young, who drove Croughton, also won the blue riband event with Sir Michael in 1945
Credit: 'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 10Nov48
1947 NZ SPRINT CHAMPIONSHIP (NZ FREE-FOR-ALL)
The highlight of Show Day was Sir Michael's all-the-way win in the New Zealand Premier Sprint Championship. His return to the winning list, despite some poor form earlier this season, did not come as a complete surprise, because he was reported to have worked a brilliant mile and a quarter a few days before this latest success. Sir Michael, a handsome five-year-old brown horse by Lusty Volo from Lady Bridget, has now won 12 races and £7985 in stakes.
First: C Tasker's SIR MICHAEL. Trained by the owner and driven by R Young.
Second: A V Prendeville & J X Ferguson's TURCO. Driven by G S Smith.
Third: N H Norton's GREAT BELWIN. Driven by F J Smith.
Fourth: O E Hooper's KNAVE OF DIAMONDS. Driven by the owner.
The winner won by half a length, with a further half a length back to third.
Also started: Battle Colours, Dundee Sandy, Emulous, Highland Fling, Nyallo Scott, Integrity, In The Mood, Loyal Nurse & Trusty Scott.
Credit: NZ Trotting Calandar 19Nov47
1945 NEW ZEALAND DERBY STAKES
An explanation of Sir Michael's complete reversal of form was sought by the stewards after his polished Derby success. He had faded out badly in the Metropolitan Challenge Stakes the week before. The explanation of the owner-trainer, C Tasker and driver, R Young, was accepted.
Sir Michael was rid of his most dangerous opponent when Globe Direct broke and lost ground early. Globe Direct was in constant difficulties afterwards. For all that, Sir Michael is a high-class colt, probably as fine a specimen of the standard breed as any to take the blue riband event. He gave a flawless performance, beginning well and holding a leading position throughout. He gathered in Sprayman at the distance and was holding on resolutely with half a length to spare over Sprayman at the finish.
1st: C Tasker's SIR MICHAEL. Trained by the owner-breeder at Spreydon and driven by R Young.
2nd: N C Price's SPRAYMAN. Driven by C King.
3rd: R B Berry's FIRST GLOBE. Driven by D C Watts.
4th: T B Smalley's CAPTAIN GAILLARD. Driven by G T Mitchell.
The winner won by half a length with a neck back to third.
Also started: Dandy Grattan, Globe Direct bracketed with First Globe, Good Review, Hazard Queen, Highland Fling, Local Gold, Loyal Guest, Right Royal, Rose Volo, Special Merit, Town Talk & True Comrade.
Credit: 'Ribbonwood'writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 14Nov45
A court case involving a New Zealand Trotting Cup winner, a leading trainer and a well-known Canterbury owner was guaranteed to be a headliner.
The 1911 New Zealand Cup winner, Lady Clare, raced by Darfield farmer, William F Clinton, and trained at Addington by Jim Tasker was the centre of a suit for £600 damages (about half the stake of a NZ Cup in those days) against Clinton, money Tasker considered he had been denied in stake earnings by the owner's drastic actions.
Clinton had paid a hefty 165 quineas to buy Lady Clare at an Ashburton sale only a year before her Cup win. She had ability but had only won a few races. Tasker agreed to train her for 10 shillings a week (for race expenses and shoeing) the stakes evenly divided. He had trained and driven Marian to become the first mare to win the NZ Cup in 1907 and make his wife, Sarah, the first female owner though that seems a well kept secret. Tasker also bred and sold Sal Tasker, named after his daughter, an Australasian champion mare.
He imported the stallion Galindo and others from America. Tasker drove the fancied stablemate Aberfeldy in the 1911 Cup and Ashburton's Jack Brankin handled Lady Clare. She led most of the way landing big bets for Clinton. In court Tasker took exception to Clinton's lawyer Oscar Alpers claiming that he had driven Aberfeldy "on a tight rein". Justice Dennison reminded Alpers that it was not a trial for fraud. Aberfeldy started in four Cups from the stable.
Set all year for a 1912 repeat Lady Clare suffered a minor knock on a leg in October. Tasker wrote to Clinton saying he would aim at supporting features and withdraw from the Cup. Clinton, who had backed the mare heavily for the Cup threw Tasker's letter in the fire, rang the club and scratched her from all her engagements in Cup week. Tasker was furious and sued. The mare had recovered well and the club's vet passed her fit to race. Another, Dr Charlton, praised Tasker's professional approach to the mare's injury at the hearing.
The colourful Clinton was the star of the courtroom drama but destroyed his own case along the way. Described as "a bewhiskered and somewhat rustic looking figure" he confided to the judge that "of course I had had a whiskey by then" when Tasker's lawyer questioned his refusal to discuss the mare's programme with Tasker after the latter made a special trip to Tattersalls hotel to meet him. "Are you sure it was not a double?" the normally humourless Justice Dennison asked.
Clinton, one of the most successful farmers in Canterbury whose stock sales attracted buyers from all over the province, claimed the right to scratch even though the agreement with Tasker was registered. He then whispered loudly to the judge that as there were no ladies in the court he could say the words Tasker had used telling Clinton what he could do with the mare if he did not accept the terms. "That would be rather a large undertaking" Dennison dryly commented on hearing them, telling the typist to replace them with a row of stars. Clinton then made the damaging admission to the judge that the cost of his actions to Tasker was "no more than he had cost me by scratching from the Cup" - referring to his Cup bets. "Such a statement made the reason for the action of Clinton very plain indeed" the Judge told the jury in the summing up.
Tasker's lawyer Mr Stringer, questioned Clinton about incidents caused by drinking on past visits to the city in his Cadillac and whether this was another example. Clinton had appeared unsteady making his way to the witness box.
Clinton: "That is a personal question and I refuse to answer"
Stringer: "Haven't you in fact had a glass too much this morning?"
Cliton: "That is a very personal question and I won't answer"
At the end of the show the jury absolved Tasker of any Blame ans awarded him £350 in damages. Another sensation passed into history.
Jim Tasker is still the only trainer to win NZ Cups with two different mares. In a bizarre coincidence the 1944 winner, Bronze Eagle from a family Tasker had had for 40 years, was bred, owned and trained by his son, Cliff, until a few months before the race. Tasker lost possession of the horse in a marriage settlement. His former wife gave it to her son, William Suttie, of Springston, the official owner. In another coincidence George Noble, like Brankin, only got the drive because trainer Roy Berry opted for inform stablemate, Pacing Power. Bronze Eagle had several Cup starts and sired the near champion filly, Vivanti, an early star for Cecil Devine.
Tasker retained Bronze Eagle's half-brother, Sir Michael, which won the NZ Free-For-All and NZ Derby for him some years later. The Tasker maternal line starting with Mavourneen were shy breeders and the Group 1 winners were Lady Bridget's only foals over many years.
William Clinton, whose family remains prominent in West Canterbury, died suddenly in 1915 triggering the biggest farming sale in Canterbury for years. He had also bought and raced the high class little roan trotter Muricata, good enough to be nominated for a NZ Cup against the pacers. Adding insult to injury she was run down late in the 1913 Dominion Handicap by the Tasker-owned Michael Galindo. Sold in 1917 Muricata left the dual NZ Cup winner, Ahuriri, and another top class pacer, the pony roan Taraire, later winner of the Pacing Championship in Perth which preceded the Inter-Dominion.
The NZ Cup association did not end there. Luxury Liner the record breaking 1987 winner had as his fifth dam none other than William Francis Clinton's fine staying mare, Lady Clare.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 26Jun1911