SNOW JANE - Classic Winner Producing Mare
If the 1979 New Zealand Cup had been a spectacular sight, the 1980 edition promised even more, and it didn't disappoint in going right to the wire - literally. On paper there had never been a better field of protagonists, or since for that matter, and in a full field of 15 for the first Cup to carry a stake of $100,000, a good case could have been made for at least 10 of them.
By the time the big day rolled around though, the class, form and champion status of Delightful Lady, Lord Module and Roydon Scott had been well established and it seemed the winner would come from that trio. But also in contention were such fine stayers as Greg Robinson, Sapling, Trevira, Trusty Scot and Wee Win, and then there were the Hannon winner Idolmite and Kaikoura Cup winner Sun Seeker, along with a 'young' upstart in the form of 5-year-old Hands Down.
Delightful Lady was a 7-year-old and in career best form. She had downed Lord Module in the previous Auckland Cup and been much too good for her northern rivals in five straight races in the spring, only going down in her last lead-up event when beaten two heads by frontmarkers Trio and Dictatorship fron 25m in the Rondel Handicap on October 29. Against her was the 15m backmark and the record book though - a mare had not won the Cup since Loyal Nurse in 1949, let alone from a handicap.
Lord Module looked and seemed in great shape for a second Cup win when resuming with a strong finishing second to Wee Win in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, but then things began to turn to custard when starting a hot favourite in two races at Forbury Park in mid-October. Kevin Williams, son-in-law of owner-trainer Ces Devine, had been employed to drive Lord Module at the start of the season, but on the first night in Dunedin the stallion had swung sideways at the start and taken no part in what was the first sign of things to come. Devine then engaged Jack Smolenski, but on the second night Lord Module refused to move at all, and when he repeated that performance in the Cup Trial he was made unruly.
Devine had been reluctant to race Lord Module after Forbury, as a repeat mulish display would have resulted in him being stood down from racing and starting in the Cup, and also compounding his problems was the fact that Lord Module was now also suffering from quarter cracks in his hind hooves as well as the front. Then the week of the Cup Trial, Smolenski had also been suspended for an indiscretion at Kaikoura and an appeal had failed at the 11th hour, forcing Devine to turn to the experience of John Noble. It was hardly an ideal build up, but the Cup still loomed as and promised to be an epic battle between 'The Lord' and 'The Lady.'
Roydon Scott would actually run the favourite though, on the strength of two brilliant wins at Addington in September and the Cup Trial, and the fact he was a normally smart beginner and off the front. He resumed by breaking his own NZ standing start 2000m record in the Laing Free-For-All and was no less impressive with a last to first performance in the Hutchison FFA a fortnight later. Not known at the time though was that the Cup would be the last race for the injury-troubled Scottish Hanover gelding, and that he would be humanely put down inside of a year when arthritis took its toll.
Sapling was a 7-year-old entire and coming to the end of his sterling career, but had shown with a runaway win at Forbury Park that he was still a big threat in any race. Greg Robinson was the same age and while overshadowed by Delightful Lady his staying credentials were never in question either. Another 7-year-old in Trevira, third in the Cup a year earlier, had streeted his rival in the Easter Cup that year in a track record 4:06.9, and downed Sapling at Ascot Park in the spring in NZ record time, while the 8-year-old Wee Win had shown at Ashburton that he was far from finished too. The 1978 Cup winner Trusty Scot, also now eight, had downed Trevira and Sapling at Gore in late September, also adding to the form puzzle.
Almost forgotten and neglected while all this was going on was Hands Down, who had qualified for the Cup with an outstanding double in the Louisson and National Handicaps in August. A one-time rogue who had improved to be just a very wayward customer in the early part of his racing career, Hands Down had finally turned the corner for trainer Derek Jones in breaking maiden ranks the previous December. The National was his sixth straight win and 11th in less than eight months, a sequence which had included the Canterbuy Park Winter Cup in 4:09.3 after a great tussle with Bonnie's Chance. But he had not shown up in two further races - at Forbury Park he had been tripped up by the shifty track and been stood down for a month and until trialling satisfactorily, and at Kaikoura he had been checked and galloped - nor was he placed in the Cup Trial.
But a then 25-year-old Peter Jones was still quietly confident in what would be his first Cup drive. "At that point he was still fragile and easily tripped up at the best of times (referring to his Dunedin and Kaikoura failures), but in the Cup Trial I just kept him 'in behind' and he had been travelling as easy as any of them," recalled Jones last week. "I think he fell from favour mostly because he had got there (to Cup class) so quickly, and had become overlooked particularly given the quality and experience of the others. When it might have seemed the bubble had burst, his career was actually still in the ascendency when most of the others were in the descent," he added.
The start of the 1980 NZ Cup was almost as sensational as the finish. Lord Module played up and eventually just stood there, figuring 200 metres was about his correct handicap, while Roydon Scott also missed away badly and lost all chance along with Canis Minor and Trio. Hands Down was also tardily away and settled down well behind Delightful Lady, who had started from more like a 20m handicap with on tape behind the 10m line, and had been slow starting because of it. Delightful Lady was normally a very smart starter, but a flying tape was her signal to get into gear.
Mack Dougall took up the early running from Trevira in the open, but it wasn't long before the fireworks began - Wee Win and Bob Cameron were soon off and around them when the pace eased and led a mile from home. They had been tracked forward by Hands Down, and Delightful Lady had attempted to follow him, but was shoved four-wide a lap out by Lordable and Denis Nyhan.
Jones pressed on to join Wee Win at the 1100m and Delightful Lady camped three-wide outside them, until the 700m mark when Mike Stromont tuned up the wick and Hands Down and Delightful Lady went clear and set sail for the judge, going at it hammer and tongs. The great mare seemed to have the measure of Hands Down on the home turn and Stormont glanced to his right to see no other threats were coming. Half a length up at the furlong, Delightful Lady looked certain to have the Cup in the bag, but Jones was just foxing and when he finally went for Hands Down, the rugged gelding responded and gradually pegged the mare back, in the end drawing away by a neck right on the line.
The race had been a true test of stamina - Hands Down's 4:07.2 off the front broke Johnny Globe's equivalent race record and was the fastest 3200m recorded at Addington since the introduction of metrics - and the stretch duel was a truly stirring, strength sapping and memorable one. Delightful Lady was gallant in defeat, not giving an inch until the final strides after such a tough run, while Sapling finished on gamely for third four lengths away after being held up at a crucial time by the tiring Wee Win. Greg Robinson was fourth another three lengths as the rest of the field filed in at intervals, with a last ironic and sarcastic cheer being saved for Lord Module as he actually finished the race, a very long last, only to suffer the ignominy of being barred from standing starts.
Delightful Lady, who was credited with a placed time of 4:06.1 in the Cup, underlined her greatness when she trekked back to Auckland and won the Franklin Cup three days later in 4:05.8 from 55 metres. This gave her the record 'no ifs or buts' over Young Quinn's 4:06.7 recorded at the Auckland Inter-Dominions five years earlier - Young Quinn having bowed out from the spotlight by parading at Addington on Cup Day. Delightful Lady would win 12 races that season, careering away with a second Auckland Cup in another all-comers' national record and claiming the Horse of the Year title, and was no worse than third in 18 races that year.
But Hands Down's triumph from seemingly certain defeat in the NZ Cup was certainly no less a performance that day. "I would have been quite happy to sit outside Wee Win, but when Mike (Stormont) made his move down the back, he forced me to go. Hands Down never got tired and even when Delightful Lady got half a length on us, I knew we weren't going away - it was just a matter of whether she would come back to us and in the end she did. Hands Down couldn't go the Auckland way, but on his day at Addington, he was pretty much unbeatable." He had the last say over Lord Module in an equally exciting NZ Free-For-All after trotting speedster Scotch Tar had taken them through the first mile in 1:57.4, and the Allan Matson proved a mere formality.
Hands Down would start in five more Cups without success, being third a year later behind Armalight and fourth in 1983, and only Roi l'Or, Tactician and Master Musician would start in more Cups with seven unsuccessful bids. When retired with 31 wins, 23 had come at Addington to break Lordship's record of 21, and also included three Easter Cups and four Louissons.
For Derek Jones, his son had provided him with his first Cup winner after 21 drives himself, which included the likes of Auckland Cup winners Soangetaha ( for his solitary third place behind Adorian almost 30 years earlier) and Leading Light. When informed that Hands Down was his 13th individual starter in the race during his famous quick wit - "bugger, if I had known that - I would have backed him."
For breeder/owner Bill McAughtrie, a humble and semi-retired farmer from Omarama, Hands Down's overnight success was a reminder just how fickle the game can be. As he accepted the gleaming trophy from the Duchess of Kent, McAughtrie reflected that year earlier "I knew I had a horse with a tonne of ability, but I never thought he would ever win a race."
Hands Down, by the successful Tar Heel horse Armbro Del, belonged to the maternal line of previous Cup winners Cardigan Bay and Globe Bay and a host of other top performers. McAughtrie had been involved with the family for 20 years, when he leased the first foal in Slick Chick from Snow Jane, an unraced U Scott half-sister to the dam of Cardigan Bay. Slick Chick won a race with Jack Fraser jnr as the trainer, but when he gave the game away, McAughtrie gave the Brahman gelding to Jones and he won another six. McAughtrie then bought from Christchurch breeder Harry Kay his sister Snowline for $1000. She won three as a 3-year-old, but was then so badly injured in a fence that it seemed she was finished, and McAughtrie bred he to Fallacy to get the dam of Hands Down - Snow Chick.
Put back into work, Snowline won another nine races, including a 2:00 mile in the New Year FFA at Addington. In March 1971, Snowline won her last race at Greymouth, the same night that Snow Chick won a maiden race for Jones and then training partner Jack Grant, and both were soon retired.
Snowline's dam, Snow Jane was also the dam of 1976 Inter-Dominion Trotting Grand Final winner Bay Johnny, Snow Globe (10 NZ wins trotting), good Australian pacer Toliver Bay and the dam of a brilliant one in Apre Ski (Vic Marathon, US1:56).
Snowline had 10 in all with nine of them being fillies that amounted to little on the track, but the first colt from the first of them, Snow Chick, was Hands Down.
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 12Jul06
1961 NZ FREE-FOR-ALL