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RACING PUBLICATIONS

 

YEAR: 2017

HARNESS SCRIBES AND SEVEN OF THEIR PAPER STEEDS

Everything changes so it is said (though sometimes "and nothing changes at all" is an added proviso) and few things have altered over more than a century of racing publications. They start, they thrive and than they die - onlt for replacements more suited to the times to spring to life.

Some regard this as a weakness when it is a strength. Adapting new ideas is an essential for any business. So we thought we would say goodbye to Harnessed by recalling the valiant and successful attempts to market harness racing in previous eras. And especially the talented scribes who rode the publishing waves.

As you will see many survive long after their flagships eventually sank.

THE NEW ZEALAND REFEREE

The first publication to dedicate space to trotting it was a weekly founded in 1884 which later became the Office Calendar for both racing codes. The Christchurch Press bought it in 1891 to merge with its Weekly Press and it stasyed that way until the middle of the 1920's when i shifted base to Wellington. It "died" after a lengthy illness in 1939.

One of the main suppliers of copy in it's heyday was Fred Thomas (writing as "Templar") a breeding and racing expert who also produced the first volume of the Trotting Stud Book in 1905, All of this was incredibly difficult then. He was still contributing features on the sport into the 1950's.

Another standout was a contributor and later editor, John Olliver, whose cricketing family was closely connected with the founding of trotting in Christchurch. His early death accelerated the end of the Referee era.

Some early trotting writers were men of influence. W G Garrard was a rugby test referee and a leading cricket journalist on first name terms with some of the greats of that game. He was still supplying season statistics to the Trotting Calendar shortly before his death in 1944. Thomas Davey, another early trotting scribe, was a Member of Parliament and also Mayor of Christchurch.

THE TROTTING ANNUAL

Moa Publications discovered a mini goldminein the 1970's producing hard-backed, easy to read reviews of the season in several different sports. The Trotting Annual, sponsored for many years by Bominion Breweries, kicked off in 1972 with Auckland Star identity Ron Bisman as editor and contributions fron Norman Pierce, Mike Grainger and even Lord Langford who led a movement to make the sport popular in England.

The Annual was on most harness fan's wish list for Xmas for many years and sets were carefully collected and stored. Some still are. Dave Cannan, a highly regarded harness writer for the Christchurch Star and author of Unhoppled Heros, was a remarkable compiler of statistics and took over the editorship in 1981 with Don Wright the man from the south along with Otago's Taylor Strong and northerner Leo George among those adding support. He handed over to Jeff Scott, later trotting editor of the Christchurch Press ans now a website editor, in 1985.

Bisman returned in 1990 as public interest started to waneand Moa the exited. With Alan Meadows (Meadowset Graphics), Bisman produced a colourful 1994 edition and then a handsomevolume in 1998 with the highlights of intervening years. But it failed to sell and the game was over. In its time however, the "Annual" was hot property and the volumes remain a great source of ststistical information today. Televised racing and video recording however, started a terminal bleeding that could not be stopped.

THE TROTTING CALENDAR

A pubilication called Racing and Trotting Digest briefly carried industry essentials (programmes) through the 1930's until a frustrated Trotting Conference established the New Zealand Trotting Calendar in 1938 under contract with top journalist Karl Scott and his brother Wattie. They produced and printed the paper and Charlie Craig (NZ Herald) and his successor Pat Naden were among contributors along with southerner Norm Pierce. Harry Jarden was another leading trotting journalist in Christchurch at that time and also a member of a famous racing family.

Karl Scott, a man of many talents, was the first to write a book in this country specifically on harness racing back in 1949 (Pillars of Harness Horsedom) though he later claimed he made more from his rural activities than from printing publications.

The Calendar was a rather simple volume of limited pages full of official notices and annoted results. Meetings were covered, an economical easy to read "pithy pars" style popular in that era covering a meeting with many titbits rather than a lengthy article. It was only sold to the public from a few outlets. In later years it broughtin new blood like Ron Bisman and Mike Grainger but the focus remained very much on the needs of industry participants.

THE TROTGUIDE

The Trotguide was a controversial move in the early 1970's with the familiar aim of widening the appeal of the industry publication. It involved the "Calendar" to Lower Hutt where it was produced under its new title by INL Print, publishers of the Friday Flash, NZ Racing Calendar, Turf Digest and the once very popular monthly Hoof Beats which was also seeking a new audience. It also now produced the Year Book of results a printing contract previously held by the Scotts. HRNZ discontinued that many years ago.

Tony Williams was the chief Canterbury contributor with enthusiasts such as Peter Larkin, Shelley Caldwell etc among the freelance supporters. The decision to move the publication caused resentment in Canterbury with a suggestion the Conference Executive at the time had been overly swayed by northern interests. The experiment was not a success from several points of view and especially the ill feeling which followed it from Christchurch.

THE NZ TROTTING CALENDAR(2)

In 1977 the Trotting Conference negotiated a contract with Tony Williams to edit the weekly publication in Christchurch with the proviso it regained its old title of the Calendar - reflecting earlier tensions. The venture, with Frank Marrion as a long time assistant, proved a success and especially from an advertising perspective, classier presentation along with lively content. Williams also reprinted the early Stud Books. Richard Turnbull provided a lot of northern content.

The arrangement lasted nine years but again there was not complete happiness in the camp when it ended. Terms could not be agreed. The advertising growth William had achieved was a major attraction and HRNZ decided to "bring the Calendar home".

THE HARNESS RACING WEEKLY

The new publication, under the editorship of Marrion and with pro-active former daily newspaper reporter Matt Conway among a livewire team, made another attempt to widen the market, publishing late in the week with full race day coverage to match the big boys along with hard hitting stories. Ther HRW was a competitor production-wise but again it didn't make the progress hoped for and so distribution costs, the cause for many closures over the years, became prohibitive.

Marrion left in 1987 for a breeding industry position (he would return later) and eventually Mike Grainger was appointed editor and Michael Guerin continued the tradition of NZ Herald contributions from the north. Michele Harris later became another important cog in the wheel and laterly Katie McNamara and Stacey Markham (nowMedia Manager) assisted among others the same general content was retained but in reduced form with earlier deadlines and lower costs. Printed by the Ashburton Guardian for many years if rarely, if ever, went over budget.

The Weekly remained a popular read for fans until, again because of increasing costs, the decision was made to move to a monthly under the editorship of Matt Markham with input from Michelle Harris, Courtney Clarke and Stacey Markham in 2015. It was a professional publication and gained strong reviews but there were practical disadvantages. Mainly, however, the "Weekly" proved too strong a tradition to erase and is niw due to return.

THE DAILIES

Newspapers increased their coverage of racing before and following World War II as a result of growth in the industry never since matched. 25 years ago city newspapers had full racing departments and a staff of at least six, sometimes with three reporters covering one code on race day before computers took over much of the routine work.

Even smaller provincial papers (Timaru Herald etc)had a specialist racing winter. Few papers now even carry full time specialist racing writers in what is a dramatically different working canvas. The wheel has gone full circle but the dailies retain somewhat basic coverage and fields.

Geoff Yule(The Press) and Pat Naden(NZ Herald) served 37 years and 35 years respectively as harness editors until the late 1980's, Yule being the first Kiwi daily journalist to cover an Australian InterDominion for a daily.

Bisman was ever present and Pierce and Wright spent similar stints in Southland and Strong in Otago. A number of their pupils moved on to greater things. Ron Bisman was an instition at the Auckland Star and also wrote several books, including a biography of Cardigan Bay and the momumental Salute to Trotting. With Taylor Strong he also wrote a history of the InterDominions.

A number of scribes from 30 years ago are still active in some way but the era of the full time specialist writer is almost over. Ironically many early trotting writers were known as "sporting writers" reflecting how they needed to cover more than one area to gain work. John Ollivier in the Referee, for example, covered trotting topics but was also the theatre critic for the paper.

THE OTHER WEEKLIES

Two of the best-known - the Friday Flash and the Truth were hugely popular at their peak but neither survive, though industry support helps The Informant and Turf Digest to carry on the Flash traditions.

Truth had a comprehensive racing coverage pushing controversy and more colourful writing as its point of difference. At its peak it sold 200,000 copies but gradually declined as "sensational" subjects (divorce; sex crimes) previously avoided by leading dailies, became part of the mainstream reporting. Truth demanded controversy and colour and woe betide the reporter who tried to avoid it. Some of its anonymous form par writers used codes(one, using a par such as "Good Day finding it difficult to regain form" actually meant to be on Good Day next start).

Its most notable modern editor was Ray O'Connor who balanced the news and the controversy fairly. In some ways Truth was a victim of its own success as vastly improved structures and systems removed a lot of controversy from harness racing.

The Friday Flash reached a Cup Week print peak of 35,000 in the 1970's but was down to around 3000 at the time of its demise in 2006. Those numbers are about on par with leading current publications. It offered superior previews and trial form as well as trackwork to punters along with a dash of colour and newsy columns. Des Coppins is most remembered among the editors and was followed by colurful Aucklander Bob Lovett who increased trotting content but unhappily, not sales.

The Sunday papers featured racing with full time staff writers for many years but none now employ them. When Barry Lichter took charge of the Sunday Star Times harness coverage increased even it proved a two edged sword for some of the more sensitive in the game. Again blanket television coveragemade even Sunday's news seem out of date.

THE INTERNET

Harness racing was quick to adapt to the computer age dating back to the 1980's and has continued to provide most of what fans and professionals need in the modern age. Victor Rolton(HRNZ) has been an industry leader in that field and Colin Steele od Addington Raceway has placed thousands of stories from times past on the Addington Raceway Timeline.

Frank Marrion posted another first with his online only news and tipping site Harness Express which eliminated distribution costs and pointed the way to the future.

Leading players also established their own sites carrying stable or industry news. This has been a challenge for commercially printed and sold news and form guides though "holding on to the page" still strongly appeals especially to older readers.

CHANGING TIMES

Early racing reporters wrote stories in longhand, had to use public transport and needed to be good handlers of pigeons to send the race results. The Press building demolished in the 2011 eathquake still had a Pigeon Loft which was used until the 1940's. Before the mid 1930's reporters could be and often were expected to work 100 hours a week if required and $10 was a princely weekly wage without overtime. Most were "stringers" working part time for the paper. In newspaper offices younger writers had to wait their turn to get a story published and much of their work was less interesting, largely involving preparation work for fields.

Technology revolutionised the profession through the 1990's computers, televised races, fax machines, then internet, emails and social media made everyone a potential critic on racing. Modern reporters needed to be more versatile using radio and tv interests either part of their contract or a pathway to the future. In the print media heyday no reporter dare take a job on radio. It was the competition.

As we said. Everything changes. But then maybe, as we also said, nothing really changes at all.


Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed July 2017

 

YEAR: 1987

ALEC PURDON

The retirement of former leading trainer Alec Purdon passed just the way he wanted it...quietly.

An unassuming gentleman, Alec had slipped from the limelight in recent years after losing the services of brilliant pacer, Master Dean.

Never one to hog the headlines anyway, Alec went about the task of getting smart trotter Game Way back in racing trim. The stallion had been put aside with leg problems soon after dead-heating for third with No Response in the Dominion Handicap in November.

Leading trainer in the 1953-54 season with 29 wins, Alec trained a succession of smart pacers and trotters, beginning in the early 1950s with Imperial Trust, Onward, Poranui and Prince Charming. Later he handled good sorts Zany(1957 NZ Oaks), Annual Report(1959 Dominion Handicap), Gay Robin, Smokey Express, Our Tim(1959 New Brighton Cup), Cloudage(1964 Rangiora Cup), Superfortress, Cherry Queen(1955 Reefton Cup) and True Friend(1955 Marlborough Cup).

Around the same time he produced Master Dean to win 17 races including the 1976 NZ Free-For-All and Pan Am Mile he also had speedy types Master Leon and Arden Bay. Master Dean, who won in 1:57.3, is one of the fastest pacers this country has produced.

Born in Glasgow in 1915, Alec came to NZ when only four and after trying his luck as an apprentice jockey, turned to trotting, working for Gladdy McKendry, Vic Alborn and Colin Berkett before going it alone. Alec has the distinction of winning his last drive - Bonaparte in a maiden trot at Addington in July, 1980.

Dave Cannan: DB Trotting Annual 1981

-o0o-

One of Canterbury's more proficient horsemen, seen at his peak in the 1950s, Alexander (Alec) Purdon died in Christchurch recently following a short illness. He was 70.

After experience with noted conditioners Bill Tomkinson, Gladdy McKendry and Vic Alborn, Purdon enjoyed a successful association with the late Colin Berkett, which in no small way contributed to Berkett heading the national list of winning trainers in 1947/48 and 1948/49.

Purdon set up as a professional trainer in the early 1950s on a property purchased by long-time Trotting Conference executive member, the late Bill Desmond. He eventually took the property over himself, and in 1953/54 he topped the trainer's list. Alec's important training and/or driving wins included the 1957 NZ Oaks and Ashburton Cup with Zany, the 1959 Dominion Handicap with Annual Report, New Brighton Cup with Our Tim and NZ Free-For-All and Pan Am Miracle Mile with Mister Dean. Other good winners Purdon trained included Smokey Express, Superfortress, Thurber Command, Cloudage, Onward, Double Cross, Grand Charge, Poranui and Game Way.

Alec is suvived by two daughters, Elaine and Janice.


Credit: HRWeekly 19Mar87

 

YEAR: 1984

BASIL DEAN

Yes, don't text, Basil Dean later won a Dominion Handicap and a lot of other races. But when his career is recalled, as it often is, it is because of only one race that amazing New Zealand Trotting Championship at Easter 1984, still a landmark in our trotting history.

Basil Dean, trained largely by Bob Jamison, was in the hands of Kerry O'Reilly and took charge of the race early on . What followed was so stunning all you could here in the Press Box was Star reporter Dave Cannan's strangled cries of disbelief calling out the fractions as the big trotter burned his rivals into the ground. When the clocks stopped it was at 3:15.3 for the 2600m, smashing his own national record by nearly five seconds having already eliminated Scotch Tar and Sir Castleton from the record books. No easy task in fractions never mind seconds.

To put this stunner into proper perspective Basil Dean's time was faster than the national pacing record held by Steel Jaw and Bonnies Chance. These days it is back to five seconds slower. Think of Monbet running around 3:55 in a Dominion. That is the measure of the impact on that sunny afternoon. Even though he had not won any of the most sought after races Basil Dean was voted Trotter of the Year on that one run and he held the title the following season when he won the Dominion.

But he never went anywhere near 3:15 again and who could be surprised? Even all these years later it is still hard to believe it the first time.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed 2016

 

YEAR: 1982

ANDY TODD

Andy Todd, the man they called "the flying sportsman", died suddenly in Christchurch last week. He was 87. While he hadn't raced a horse for some years, he had a string of fine pacers and trotters over a period of half a century, harking right back to the depression days.

It was about then he was given a young trotter. Todd Lonzia was the horse's name. He was to go on and win thirteen races, hold the NZ mile record twice and earn himself a chapter in Unhoppled Heroes, a book on our top trotters, soon to be published by Christchurch writer Dave Cannan. The young trotter wasn't Mr Todd's first racehorse. Working in Dunedin, where he was born, Andy Todd was offered a horse to race by a friend, Charles Hudson. However, that mare stumbled and fell heavily while competing at Balclutha and didn't race again. Mr Hudson, when told of the accident, immediately offered Todd Lonzia, already the winner of a couple of races for him, as a replacement.

Andy Todd could hardly refuse. Todd Lonzia over a long career won from long marks and several times - notably at Ashburton and at Washdyke - took on and beat the pacers. Probably the best of his own pacers was Drucus (by Jack Potts), the winner of nine races in NZ when trained first by Ces Donald and later by Derek Jones. Drucus was then sold to Australia. There were a lot of others, and most of them won a race or two. He raced the odd galloper and, back in the early days, was active in greyhound circles as well.

After working for some years in the hardware and builders' supply trade, Andy Todd bought the Bowling Green Hotel in Dunedin in 1939. Later, he took over the Caledonian, also in Dunedin. In 1945 he moved north to Christchurch where he had McKendry's Hotel (now the Cantabrian) for some years. Another move, this time to a hotel in Rakaia, before shifting to the Prebbleton Hotel. In 1965 he gave away the liquor trade and moved into the morning and afternoon tea business. Andy's Tearooms, in the bustling heart of Christchurch boomed. It was Andy Todd's constant delight to hand out sweets for the children in the shop, help mothers with their prams, carry trays for the older customers. That personal touch was his trademark. He retired from the business about five years ago.

It was back in the days at McKendry's when he and a friend, Les Ashworth, started organising air trips to race meetings all over the country for "the flying sportsmen." People queued to join the band. The group would fly, often in two aeroplanes, to Auckland, Manawatu, Tauranga, to Wyndham...or wherever. The pair organised many train trips, too, to the races at Forbury Park.

At one stage, Andy Todd was on the committee at Forbury Park, was patron at Hororata and was a life member of the Canterbury O.T.B. Association and the Kaikoura Trotting Club.

The trotter Final Donn was the last horse he raced on his own, while he was a partner with his nephew Brian Taylor of Christchurch for some years after that in Rere Hine, another trotter.

Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 24Aug82

 

YEAR: 1980

Cecil Devine adjusts Lord Module's headgear
C C DEVINE

"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."

-o0o-

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).

-o0o-

A PERSONAL TRIBUTE by Dave Cannan

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: 1975

FINAL DECISION

Many of the greatest 'one off' performances in racing are from 'chasers' horses which put up apparently impossible efforts after losing any realistic chance early. There have been a huge number of them over the years but not many to match that of Final Decision in the 1975 New Zealand Cup won in outstanding fashion by the Southland pacer, Lunar Chance.

It may well be the greatest non-winning performance in the history of the Cup, and that is saying something.

Final Decision was anything but ordinary. His sire Hi Blue was practically unknown, he was no oil printing and Derek Heckler had bought him for$600 from colourful Jim Donaldson. Then he had gone to America to race as a younger horse and thus became the first American raced pacer to start in a New Zealand Cup in modern times.

On Cup Day, driven by Robert Mitchell, Final Decision who had not won a race in 17 starts that year, began well and then went off stride after 200m. Mitchell, who was almost in tears after the race, could not explain why. But then Final Decision had always had a few quirks.

It was what happened next which astonished. Timed to be 9 seconds(about 100m)behind the leaders when he settled, Final Decision set off on an impossible mission. Around the 800m mark he caught the field and commenced to circle it. Nobody expected that to last long and he was twice checked on the way, yet rallied again in the straight to beat all but the winner.

Lunar Chance was rightly lauded for his gritty win because he didn't have all favours either, but nobody could believe what Final Decision had done. He had been timed by Dave Cannan to run his last 2400m in 2:58.8 when the national record was 3:03. And the Cup had hardly been a walk in the park at 4:08.6. "I had fought them off and then that horse came along. He was so wide I thought he had got me," Keith Lawlor said later.

Lunar Chance beat Final Decision on his merits in the Free-For-All before the northerner set a new national 2600m record of 3:16.6turning the tables in the Matson Free-For-All. He broke down in the Pan Am Mile and never featured in New Zealand again returning to race in mobiles in America.

Gone but never forgotten.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed Feb 2016

 

YEAR: 1958

VODKA

Vodka, winner of 11 races in the United States and holder of the NZ winning record for one mile and five furlongs, had to be destroyed recently at Saratoga Springs, USA. In a race there, Vodka suffered a badly shattered pastern.

When first campaigned in America by owner-trainer J S Shaw, Vodka won eight races, finished second twice, third once and fourth once in 17 starts. On the return of Mr Shaw to NZ, Vodka was leased to Earl Nelson, who won three more races with the Logan Derby gelding. Mr Shaw stated to the calendar that Nelson, who had grown very attached to the horse, was very upset over the loss.

Prior to the accident, Vodka had been working exceptionally well and it was thought he would win. Including his NZ winnings, Vodka has won over $34,000. Before being put into training this season in the USA, Vodka was taken to Canada, where it was thought he might not encounter so many difficulties, as that country is under the British flag. However, his career there was stopped before it ever started, as the powers that be refused to register Vodka. The reason given was that Vodka was not a standardbred. No horse is a standardbred over there unless it is completely American-bred. Vodka was registered in America as non-standard-bred.

In one race at Saratoga in which Vodka finished fifth after losing a big stretch of ground at the start, he was timed to trot the last six furlongs on a half-mile track in 1.29 1/5sec.

Vodka was a champion of scintillating brilliance when raced in the Dominion, and he made history when he crossed the Pacific Ocean to race in America. It was a gigantic undertaking and Jack Shaw did not fully realise what he had taken on till he was well on the way. A rough passage on the ship was experienced to start with and on arrival there, Vodka took some time to settle down in the new climate and different surroundings. Change of feed was also no small hurdle to surmount. However, Vodka, in the skilled hands of Shaw, eventually won out, but it was not without a grim struggle. Dollars were short and Vodka and his owner-trainer-driver were almost on their own in a strange land. Jack Shaw had previously been to the States to buy two stallions for two well-known NZ breeders and he was well received on that trip.

Vodka had always been very fast. When he was winning races in the North Island for his first trainer, J K Hughes, he already had amazing speed. He beat horses of all ages as a 3-year-old, winning four races that season. Vodka started out as a pacer - he finished fourth in the Manawatu Futurity Stakes, for 2-year-olds, to Red Slipper, Johnny Globe and Ohio and had several more starts as a pacer that season. Then he took time off from the racetrack while Hughes converted him to the trotting gait. He was an apt pupil.

At his third start as a 3-year-old he was a winner, and he took two more winning tricks in a row. He finished up that season on a tight line for a 3-year-old trotter, line 11, or marks of 3:33 for a mile and a half, 3:52 for a mile and five furlongs and 4:47 for two miles.

He opened his 4-year-old career by winning at his first start and he won two more races for Hughes that season before being sent south to Shaw, in whose colours he has raced since. As a young trotter Vodka had an ungainly action. At the outset he used to hit himself behind. Later he trotted cleanly and he did not touch himself anywhere, as his exceptional speed showed. "It used to take really half a mile before he got trotting," Shaw said. "Due to his early experience as a pacer he got confused at the start of his races and was liable to go away on the pace."

Vodka gradually overcame those disabilities and in his record-breaking winning run at Addington before leaving for America he was at full speed within a furlong; for the next half mile he put up the astonishing time of 58 2/5sec - a 1.56 4/5 mile rate. The 'hop, step and jump' method of locomotion once employed by Vodka in the early part of his races had been practically ironed out of his system by patience and careful study of his feet and shoeing and the improvement in his speed after he conquered his tendency to 'put down three and carry one' was phenomenal. It seemed certain that, given the opportunity, Vodka would have been the first two-minute trotter in NZ.

Mr Hoskings received several substantial offers for Vodka as a 3-year-old, one of 1500, but he would not sell him. J S Shaw asked him one day: "What are you going to do with him?" "When he runs out of the North Island classes I'm going to give him to you and you'll have a trotter who will take Worthy Queen's place, because some day he will be fast enough to break her record and will be the best two-mile trotter in the country as well," declared Mr Hosking.

In one race at Addington Shaw timed him the last mile and a quarter in 2:34 3-5, the last half mile in 1:00 4-5. On several occasions, after breaking at the start, he trotted the last mile and a half in 3:06 4/5 and 3:09, and on one notable occasion a middle mile in 2.00 2/5.

It is of interest to note that Vodka's pedigree was predominantly pacing. Both his sire, Logan Derby, and dam Cyone Girl, were pacers, and so were all four of his grand-parents, Globe Derby and Belle Logan (sire and dam of Logan Derby), and Tsana and Cyone (sire and dam of Cyone Girl). All too, were winners of the pacing gait. Vodka carried no fewer than three strains of the blood of Logan Pointer, a famous American-bred pacing sire who left very few trotters, although one of those was a champion in Trampfast. Vodka was by Logan Derby, a champion pacer by Globe Derby from Belle Logan, by Logan Pointer, and Vodka's dam, Cyone Girl, was got by Tsana, a little-known sire by another famous pacing sire in Jack Potts (who left only one trotting winner, Implacable), from Abyssinia, by Logan Pointer. Cyone Girl's dam Cyone, was also by Logan Pointer.

Cyone was out of Mavis Bingen, by Huia Dillon (Harold Dillon, imp-Grattanette, imp) from Belle Bingen(imp) by Bingen (famous American sire), from Bertha Belle(imp), the dam of champion pacers Great Bingen and Peter Bingen, and several other good winners, including the trotter Worthy Bingen, the sire of Worthy Queen, whose mile trotting record of 2.03 3/5 has now stood since 1934. Shaw trained and drove Worthy Queen.

-o0o-

'Irvington' writing in the NZ Trotting Calendar 1956

Vodka returned one of the finest exhibitions of trotting ever seen at Addington when he won the Holmes Handicap from the long mark of 102 yards and set a new world's winning record for one mile and five furlongs, lowering his own record by one second. He trotted one of his half-miles in 58.4 secs, probably the fastest for a trotter ever recorded in the Dominion.

Vodka began safely, and it was apparent passing the stands with a round to go that he had more than an average chance of winning. The crowd was quick to recognise this fact and he was given a good hand as he approached the showgrounds bend. The Logan Derby trotter moved forward at the three furlongs, and when the field straightened up for the run to the post he soon gathered up the leaders to win by a length and a half. The merit of his performance was fully appreciated by the crowd, who gave him and his driver, J S Shaw, a wonderful ovation on their return to the birdcage.

This was Vodka's final race appearance in New Zealand before leaving for America.

Postscript:
Vodka and Jack Shaw made light-harness history when they left for the United States at the end of February 1956, for this was the first occasion that a standardbred had been taken fron New Zealand to be raced in America.

Dave Cannan, in his book Unhoppled Heroes, notes that "There were no overnight flights to the states in those days. For Vodka and Shaw it was a 4000-mile sea voyage which lasted nearly five weeks and proved very arduous for both horse and owner."

Credit: 'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 17Sep583



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