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FEATURE RACE COMMENT

 

YEAR: 1939

1939 NEW ZEALAND DERBY

Purchased at a high price as a yearling, Imperial Jade, a full sister to the famous Indianapolis, yesterday won the New Zealand Derby Stakes at Addington. This was her second win. Only a small field contested the Derby and in an exciting finish Imperial Jade struggled home ahead of Gallant Chief, the favourite.

Partners in business in Christchurch and also in racing ownership, Messrs D McFarlane and W Scott are the owners of Imperial Jade. In an effort to win the highest class races in New Zealand, they spent a considerable sum on the importation of Bing Crosby and later Mackscot from the United States. "When we did not get very much success from our importations we thought we would endeavour to get the best in New Zealand," said Mr McFarlane after the Derby, "and we bought Imperial Jade from Mr Gerald Nicoll."

The form recently shown by Imperial Jade in training induced her joint owners to purchase from Mr Nicoll four weeks ago a full brother to the Derby winner. He is a yearling and is not yet broken in.

Possessing excellent manners, there not being a bad trait in her make-up, Imperial Jade has been an easy filly to train. However, her owners acknowledged that all the credit for her condition was due to M Holmes in whose stable she has been since a yearling.

Although their more expensive purchases overseas have not given the expected return, Messrs McFarlane and Scott have enjoyed a fair measure of success since they began racing. Their first venture was Sea Gift , which they bought for 200 from James Bryce, of Hornby, this mare developed into a champion trotter. They are also interested in gallopers, their horses at present being Ngaitama, Night Hawk, Knockfin and Tunneller.

-o0o-

A splendid performance by Imperial Jade in winning the New Zealand Derby Stakes was a feature of the racing at Addington yesterday, when another great crowd attended to see racing of the highest class. Imperial Jade, a sister to Indianapolis, the winner of three New Zealand Cups, proved herself a worthy relative of one of the greatest pacers New Zealand has known. She took the lead early in the race and defied all challenges to wrest the lead from her. Highland Scott, one of the well-bred three-year-olds from Roydon Lodge fell soon after the start of this race, but his stable-mate, Gallant Chief, put in a finish that stamped him as one of the best young pacers of the year. This son of Gallant Knight may have been unlucky in being shut in on the rails until the critical stage of the race, but the manner of his finish let no doubt as to his gameness and stamina.

The Derby horses did not break the record of 3min 16 1/5sec for the mile and a half established by the sensational War Bouy in 1933, but the 3min 22 1/5sec recorded by Imperial Jade was a performance that any owner might be proud of. Fully extended at different periods of the race, Imperial Jade might have done still better.

-o0o-

Imperial Jade followed up her success in the Riccarton Stakes by winning the New Zealand Derby after a splendid exhibition of pacing. Not only did she make all the running but she withstood all challenges that were made in a fast last half-mile.

Betty Boop went out of the barrier smartly, but Imperial Jade soon took up the

Credit: THE PRESS - Friday 10 Nov 1939

 

YEAR: 1998

Maurice Holmes 1909-1998
MAURICE HOLMES (OBE) 1909-1998

It was appropriate that Maurice Holmes OBE made headlines when he died last week. He was pictured on the front page of "The Press" in Christchurch with a short story that said goodbye to one of harness racing's all-time greats. A true champion, a driver of supreme ability, honoured by the Queen, twice voted NZ's Racing Personality of the Year, the first harness horseman to drive 1000 winners...a famous Canterbury boy; the tribute was no less than he deserved.

He went, in fact, closer to 2000, with a total of 1666 - a staggering number considering the opportunities when Maurice started out were half what they are now - and his biggest score of 93 came in his very last season, when he was 65, still in peak form and a competitor to fear. He died aged 89, at his Christchurch suburban home where he lived with his wife Elsa, who predeceased him five days earlier, and Paul, his son and loyal companion.

His record in many aspects is beyond compare. He was champion driver on 19 occasions, winning the premiership for the first time when he was 20. Few classics went past his reach, and some of them he won many times. The New Zealand Derby was one of them. He won this blue ribbon feature 12 times, with Wrackler, Arethusa, Circo, Aldershot, Imperial Jade, Scottish Lady, Free Fight, Congo Song, Royal Minstrel, Tobacco Road, Student Prince and Willie Win.

Student Prince was trained by Reg Stockdale, who spent nine years with Holmes when he trained such wonderful horses as Vedette, Chamfer, Globe Direct, Te Maru, Attack, Tactics, Lauder Hall, Walnut Hall, Scottish Hall and First Victory. "He was terrific to work with," said Stockdale. "We never had a cross word, and I didn't take a day off in nine years, only because I didn't want to. He said he learnt everything from his father. Free told him to drive for third. The idea was you would come with the last run and you would end up winning."

Stockdale was still with Holmes when he moved stables, from Russley Road to Yaldhurst, and the great horses continued until the end of the 50s...Lookaway, Dancing Years, Finestra, Robert Dillon, Recruit, Ruth Again, Super Royal, Black Douglas, Loyal Cis and Papatawa. Recalling how meticulous Maurice was, he said: "One day after we had worked the horses, Maurice raked the yard and drive and had it spot on. Then a man came in, driving an old truck, on to Maurice's neat and manicured yard. He said he was selling apples. Well, he went out quicker than he came in, and never sold an apple."

Stockdale who used Holmes to drive his good horses such as Bramble Hall, Jilaire, Blue Prince and Stewart Hanover, said he always drove to save ground and won many races at Addington "sitting on the fence." He could sum up a horse quickly. You would be training one for six months, and he'd drive it once round the track and tell you more than what you would know yourself. "He was a real Professional...never smoked and didn't drink, and no visitors were allowed the night before raceday...that was always an early night."

Stackdale said he knew when to hit a horse and when not to, and was good at pushing out during a race. "I remember being in a race at Ashburton when Maurice looked across at the guy outside him and asked how he was going. The fellow said 'by the time I looked round to tell him I was three wide.'"

Maurice was a modest man, with a dry sense of humour and a quick wit. Stockdale relates this story: "A fellow engaged Maurice to drive a horse he had driven many times himself without running a place. When he brought the horse into the birdcage, he proceeded to tell Maurice how he thought the horse should be driven, and as he walked away, said 'You know Morrie, she has never been hit.' To which Maurice replied, 'Well, she hasn't got long to wait.'" On another occasion, when an owner thanked him for a winning drive, Maurice replied: "We fed our rooster on thanks and it died."

In later years, Maurice raced many horses in partnership with Bernie Wilks. When old age started to finish better, Paul was able to drive his father to work his horses, and take him to trials and race meetings. "I know this was of great comfort to him," said Stockdale.

The other eulogy at his funeral, attended by many harness racing notables including Peter Wolfenden, Roy Purdon and Jim Smith, was given by Derek Jones who with Soangetaha was one of the last overtaken when Maurice brought Vedette wheeling out of the pack, dangerously late, to win the 1951 Inter-Dominion Grand Final. Jones, who said he wouldn't have been surprised to read in the paper one day that Maurice had died and the funeral had been held, thanked the family for giving the racing fraternity the chance to pay their respects. 'You had to be out on the track to appreciate his uncanny ability. He was fearless, he had hands like a BBC pianist and an electric brain. He had a super sense of pace, anticipation beyond description and his stance in the sulky was balanced perfection. "If you gave him the reins he would ask you what the horse does wrong, and say he would find out the rest on the way."

Jones said Maurice was never one for ceremony, and when asked to say a few words after winning a big race would invariably reply: "I think I've done my part. Thanks." "The day he drove his 1000th winner was an exception. He gave a wonderful speech. He could rise to the occasion when it was demanded," said Jones. He also acknowledged his remarkable gift of being able to get horses away safely from a standing start. "This is illustrated by the number of Derbys he won. They were in the old days, over a mile and a half, where the start at Addington was on the bend going out of the front straight. He always managed to get round that corner better than most," he said.

Canterbury trainer Bob Negus was one of many who turned to Maurice when the big money was up. He used him to win the 1955 New Zealand Oaks with Glint. "He gave tremendous advice," said Negus. "I was hard up in those days and I told him I had the chance to sell her. Maurice asked how much. He said to take the money would be the wrong thing to do, best for you to hold on to her. I mean, he could have bought her himself. That advice was worth thousands to me, but then he did that many times," he said. Negus said Maurice approached every drive with the same level of commitment, whether it was a Cup horse or a maiden. "It was so important to him, to get the best out of it. He always made suggestions to improve the performance of a horse in a very kind way. You had to listen very carefully to what he was telling you, and what he said would always be right."

According to Freeman Holmes, Maurice told him many times Vedette was the best horse he handled. "And I would say that his drive to win the Grand Final with Vedette was the best I have seen. He was three or four back on the fence. Soangetaha had gone clear, but Maurice got through that last bit and won. He would say you can't go through gaps if they are not there, but this was a really superb drive. He won seven races with Noodlum in his last season when there looked to be a chance that he could drive 100 winners, and he rated Noodlum the best young horse he drove. The thing with Maurice is that he could be in midfield, or further back, and he would know where everyone was. You never really knew when he would attack," he said.

Morrie was very much 'the maestro' from the time he started. His first win was at Addington in August 1925, riding Bonny Logan to win the one-mile Lightning Handicap, for saddle horses, by three lengths. He was 16, and he was 17 when he won the 1926 Auckland Cup with Talaro. At 20, he was New Zealand's champion driver.

One of eight children - four boys and four girls - Maurice was born into a family of racing blood as pure as it gets. He father Free won the 1888 New Zealand Cup on Manton, turned to harness racing and won the 1919 New Zealand Cup with the American import Trix Pointer, and in 1936, at the age of 65, won the Inter-Dominion Grand Final in Perth with Evicus.

In his first season of driving, the 1925-26 season, Maurice drove five winners, and 30 the first season he topped the premiership. The first of his three New Zealand Cup winners was Wrackler and the same day Maurice won the New Zealand Derby with his stablemate and younger sister, Arethusa. Wrackler was the first foal fron Trix Pointer, and two seasons later won the Dominion Handicap off 60 yards when trained as a trotter by Jack Behrns.

In the 40s, Maurice turned to training, and in the 1949-50 season, topped the premiership. He won the NZ Cup again in 1950 with Chamfer, a horse who had to be covered for one, short, sharp sprint. No-one could do this as well as Maurice. In the same year, Vedette joined the stable. Formerly trained by Jack Litten, Vedette was especially prepared for the Addington Inter-Dominions, and earned favouritism with a handsome win in his third heat, over two miles. From all accounts, the Final was a cracker, and Maurice had to be the great architect he was during the race to find space with a horse in hand. His third NZ Cup came in 1957 with Lookaway, a 4-year-old bred and raced by his brother-in-law, Clarry Rhodes.

Besides the Cup and the Derby, Maurice won the Auckland Cup (Talaro and Robin Dundee), the Great Northern Derby (Wrackler, Chamfer, Tutta Tryax), Rowe Cup (Recruit -twice, Ordeal), New Zealand Oaks (Glint, Petro Star, Earl Marie), Dominion Handicap (Recruit, Wrackler, Fair Isle), NZ Free-For-All (Harold Logan, Vedette, Lookaway, Robin Dundee), NZ Trotting Stakes (Acclamation, Alight, Court Out, Winterlight, Spark Gap), NZ Golden Slipper Stakes (Adroit, Rossini, Fidelio), Miracle Mile (Wag), and Sapling Stakes (Arethusa, Slavonic, Tobacco Road).

His last day at the office was at Alexandra Park on July 20, 1974. From eight drives, he won four of them, including his final one with the trotter Transmitter Sound. The Club marked the occasion by taking Maurice on a lap of the track in an open tourer, and drivers gave him a whips-held-high guard of honour.

In retirement, at an age when many had flagged it away, Maurice still maintained an active interest in harness racing, training his last winner when he was 80, and he had Apollo at the races when he was 86.

He was associated with wonderful horses that many of us did not see. He may well have had his last headline in the paper, but in old photographs, on the list of past winners, in the gallery of fame, Maurice Holmes will be a name that will last forever.

We thank you Morrie. As a horseman, you were someone special.

-o0o-

NZ Trotguide 25Jul74

A man who has been at the top of his profession over a span of 44 years has had his last drive. He is Maurice Holmes whose accomplishments as a horseman have made him a household name in NZ.

Holmes is by far the most successful reinsman in the history of trotting in this country dating back to the 1860s. He has driven 1666 winners and amassed $2,054,555 in stake money over the last 49 years. His skill has earned him the title 'Maestro' - a word usually reserved for an eminent conductor, composer or teacher of music. Maurice Holmes is considered to be in a class of his own.

Holmes has topped the national drivers' premiership 17 times and he is currently leading the list with a record number of wins before he retires from race driving under the Rules of Trotting. He has driven 93 winners since August, 1973 bettering his record total of last season. Holmes set the previous single season records of 67(1954/5) and 52(1949/50). His 52 wins in the 1949/50 season eclipsed the record set 16 years previously by the late Fred Smith who drove 51 winners in the 1933/34 season. Holmes also drove 67 winners in the 1959/60 season.

Holmes has driven the winners of practically every major race in NZ and trained winners of two Inter-Dominion Grand Finals, the premier light harness event in Australia & NZ. He trained and drove Pot Luck to win the Inter-Dominion Final at Addington in 1938 and was also successful at the Christchurch course with Vedette in the 1951 final. Oldtimers still rave about Holmes extracting Vedette from a seemingly hopeless position a furlong (200 metres) short of the winning post. It was described by one trotting fan: "Vedette, by some freak of fortune, virtually threaded his way through the eye of a needle and them sprouted wings."

Holmes has driven the winner of NZ's top handicap harness race, the NZ Cup on three occasions. The first was with Wrackler in 1930 at the age of 21. He also trained his two other winners, Chamfer(1950) and Lookaway(1957). Holmes has established a record without parallel in a single race in NZ by driving 12 winners of the NZ Derby - Wrackler(1928), Arethusa(1930), Ciro(1931), Aldershot(1938), Imperial Jade(1939), Scottish Lady(1942), Free Fight(1946), Congo Song(1947), Royal Minstrel(1954), Tobacco Road(1957), Student Prince(1960) and Willie Win(1972). He also trained Aldershot, Imperial Jade, Scottish Lady, Free Fight and Tobacco Road.

Holmes has also been in the top bracket as a trainer, heading the national premiership in the 1949/50 season with 30 wins. Other important wins for him as a trainer included the NZ Free-For-All with Vedette and Lookaway, NZ Sapling Stakes with Arethusa and Tobacco Road and NZ Golden Slipper Stakes with Adroit, Rossini and Fidelio. He bred and raced the last two in partnership. Holmes has also had success in Australia as a trainer-driver with Tobacco Road as a 3-year-old.

The announcement that Holmes will drive a horse immediately invites special attention from trotting fans and in many cases sends them rushing to bet on that particular horse. Holmes's ability as a reinsman was summed up by the noted trotting writer Karl Scott (now retired) in the November, 1960 edition of the NZ Trotting Calendar: "Maurice Holmes is an 'out and out' natural" and his knack of anticipating the moves of other drivers and horses in races borders on the uncanny. Horses race kindly for him, even notoriously hard pullers. Holmes is not keen on the use of hand grips on reins and this is sufficient testimony to his ability to handle the hardest puller with confidence. It is noticeable that if horses are inclined to want to make their own rules by tear-away tactics, Maurice is ofter seen allowing them to have their own way for a short while but they generally finish nicely tucked in behind something else and racing the way they should."
He is also a master at educating and gaiting young horses and invariably has a 2-year-old to the fore in the early part of the season.

The name Holmes has been associated with Trotting on a highly successful basis since the early days of the sport in NZ. Maurice is son of Free, affectionately known as the "Grand Old Man" of trotting. Free rode gallopers on the flat, over hurdles and steeples and was a trainer and owner of thoroughbreds. Free rode his first winner at Ashburton at the age of 12 about 1883 as a five-stone lad. His wins as a jockey included the 1888 NZ Cup on Manton; 1894 Grand National Hurdles on Liberator and a Great Northern Steeple on the same horse. His training successes including an Auckland Cup and he had Vascoe, leading stake earner in the 1903/4 season. Free had great success in the sister sport. He trained and drove Evicus, the grand champion at the inaugral Inter-Dominion at Perth in 1936, drove the 1919 NZ Cup winner, Trix Pointer and won the 1935 Auckland Cup with Graham Direct.

Maurice is the second son of Free, who also had four daughters, one of whom is married to Mr C L Rhodes, who has major holdings in the standardbred industry. Maurice's brothers, Freeman (eldest), and Allan also made their marks as horsemen while another, Walter was the right-hand man for his father. Freeman figured as the owner-trainer-driver of the 1953 NZ Cup winner, Adorian and trained Graham Direct for his 1935 Auckland Cup win. He trained and drove two NZ Derby winners - Bonny Bridge(1943) and Daphne de Oro(1927) and four NZ Sapling Stake winners - Richore(1926), Sonoma Child(1928), Captain Morant(1942) and Forward(1951).

Allan Holmes is best remembered for Gold Bar, who put up great exhibitions of speed and ran his rivals off their feet in the 1945 NZ Cup. He also drove Harold Logan in his second NZ Cup win from 60 yards in 1932. Today a third generation of Holmes's is continuing the family tradition for top horsemanship with Freeman L, Graham, Kevin and Colin, nephews of Maurice. Graham has driven the classic winner, Buccaneer(1953 NZ Sapling Stakes) and developed the Cup class pacer Co Pilot. Kevin, who also drove a NZ Derby winner Leroy(1968), is a prominent trainer at Cambridge and Colin has also had success. Freeman L figures as the trainer and part-owner of this year's star 2-year-old Noodlum and the fine 4-year-old trotter Edis Nova.

Maurice Holmes attended Riccarton Primary School. He began driving work at the age of 11 and was full time in the stable at high school age. Maurice was soon licenced as a reinsman but for a short time had his licence revoked on the grounds that he was too young. He had his first engagement in a race at Ashburton on Boxing Day, 1923. The horse Energetic, fell so it could be said that he started his career at ground level. Holmes maintained his association with Energetic's trainer G H Murfitt of Rangiora. Murfitt, the oldest licenced trainer in NZ was on hand when a presentation was made to Holmes by the Ashburton Club last month to mark his retirement. Holmes drove Life Bouy for Mr Murfitt that day but was unplaced.

Holmes had his first placing behind Wonder Why who finished third from 60 yards in the Governor's Handicap at Addington on November 14, 1924. He had his first win on Bonny Logan in a saddle event at Addington on August 17, 1925 at the age of 16. A description of the race in a Christchurch newspaper the following day read: "The winner was well and patiently handled by the young horseman, Maurice Holmes, whose first win it was. With the good judgement and coolness he showed, he will be heard of later." Maurice was considered a top rider whe saddle races were in vogue. His first win in a sulky event was behind Talaro at Auckland on December 23, 1926. Five days later he gained his first 'big' win with Talaro in the Auckland Cup. A free-lance driver in the early days of his career, Holmes first topped the drivers' premiership in the 1930/31 season with 35 wins and repeated the feat the following season.

He took up training in the depression years of the early 30s. It was a case of making a living with driving fees dropping from 3 to 1 and the chance of only five drives a week. Holmes retired from public training in 1959 though he still prepares a few horses for himself. He trained Strauss, a winner at Addington earlier this season and has about 450 wins on his record as a trainer.

Holmes achieved the $1 million mark in stake earnings when he reined Damian to success in the Le Lievre Handicap at the NZ Metropolitan meeting on November 21, 1959. He achieved $2 million when Waipounamu ran second in the Spreydon Handicap at Addington on March 30, 1974. Holmes hoisted his 1000th winning drive behind Rustic Lad, in the Final Handicap, last race of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club's Cup Day programme on November 8, 1960. His reply at the presentation to the thousands of fans who had been on tenderhooks: "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. It would have suited me much better five races ago." He was referring to the NZ Cup in which he was beaten into third place with Lookaway. Holmes gained win number 1500 at Oamaru on October 23, 1972, when Macamba won the Cecil Hore Memorial Handicap.

Holmes cut down on travelling much further afield than Canterbury in the late 1960s after topping the drivers premiership for five consecutive seasons between 1961/2 and 1965/66 with totals of 54-50-60-45-48. Consequently his tallies dropped away though he still remained high on the national list each season. Last season(1972/73), urged on by his wife, Elsa, and 17-year-old son, Paul, Maurice revisited some of his old haunts in quest of the record. His brilliance as a reinsman did the rest. He drove a winner on 54 of the 62 days or nights he had an engagement and piloted at least one winner on 24 consecutive days or nights between December 23, 1972 and March 24, 1973.

To emphasise his skill he landed five winners - Wag, Robin's Sister, Armbro Jodie, Strauss and Great Time at the NZ Metropolitan meeting on March 7, 1973. Holmes had twice previously driven five winners on one programme at Forbury Park. He was successful with Jenny Dillon, Walnut Jimmy, Te Maru (twice) and Lady Inchape on October 13, 1951 when he also gained seconds with First Victor and Scottish Nurse. The other occasion was on February 5, 1955, when he piloted Recruit, Trueco, Belle Renarde, Sure Phoebe and Secure.

At the presentation to Holmes when he drove his 68th winner for 1972/3 - Grizzly Bear at Addington on April 7, 1973 - thus eclipsing his old record of 67, NZ Trotting Conference President, Dick Rolfe, said: "The Holmes family have shaped the destinies of NZ trotting and 1973 will go down as Maurice Holmes' finest year."

Another feat for Holmes was to train and drive the winners of both divisions of a race. The event was the Waiwera Handicap won by County Clare and Valola at the Banks Peninsula Racing Club's meeting on March 2, 1946. Holmes won the only other light harness event on that programme with County Clare.

Maurice has a remarkably clean record as race driver. He had his first suspension for 18 years when given a one day penalty for causing interference at the Morrinsville meeting an April 2, 1974. The previous time he was outed for a month when found guilty of causing interference as the driver of Super Royal which finished second to Loyal Cis in the Author Dillon Handicap at Addington on November 8, 1956.

Among his big wins in 1972/3 were the $16,500 Stars Travel Miracle Mile with Wag (who set a national record of 1:57 2-5); NZ Derby (Willie Win); Champagne Mile Final (Tonton Macoute); Bridgens Memorial and Stewards Free-For-All (Jason McCord).

It is fitting that Maurice should be associated this season with Noodlum (trained by his nephew, Freeman) as the colt rewrote the record book for a 2-year-old by winning 12 races and $23,162.50. Freeman drove Noodlum to win five of his first eight starts then offered the drive to Maurice to help in his quest to top the drivers' premiership in his last season. Maurice obliged by piloting Noodlum to seven straight wins including the triple crown of 2-year-old racing - the NZ Sapling Stakes, Juvenile Championship and Welcome Stakes.

Maurice has had his share of spills; enough to rule him out when he volunteered for the Second World War. At 65 years of age, Holmes is driving with the acumen of men many years his junior. His nerve has never wavered. Another remarkable feat he has achieved in his final season, is driving a winner at 18 of the 20 tracks where he has attended his last meeting. This he proved at Alexandra Park last Saturday in his final day of driving when he drove four winners, two seconds and a third. It was a remarkable achievement and showed him to be the 'Maestro' to the end.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 15Jul98



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