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A £25 investment thirteen years ago is still paying dividends for Springston dairy farmer Les Wheeler.
Back in 1968 he and a friend went halves in a £50 broodmare, Wavering Downs, deciding to take alternative foals from her. Les Wheeler's first foal was a filly, Edis Nova. She developed into a top trotter. Then, ten days ago, Novander, Edis Nova's first foal, made it two starts for two wins when she took out the 4-year-old trot at Addington. She had, earlier last month, won her debut at Oamaru after several impressive trial runs.
Wheeler, an amateur licenceholder, trains the mare and races her in partnership with his son Jeff, himself licenced to drive at matinees and trials. There is nothing much of Novander but she showed she has got a big heart when she slugged it out with Bloxett all the way down the Addington straight after getting a long way back early in the race, then improving to sit in the open. The race didn't take too much out of her. And out at Springston last week the owners suggested she could have gone another round after winning at Oamaru.
Peter Jones has driven her both times. "She can be a bit tricky at the start, you have got to watch her over that first bit," Jeff, who does a lot of the work with the horse, said last week. "Peter knows her though. We have taken her over the Derek's place a couple of times so he could get to know her. The other night they got back because Peter didn't want to hurry her early, but once on the way she's as good as gold." Novander has many of the traits displayed by her mother. She is a lazy worker and generally has to be pushed along. Edis Nova, too, was a great doer, "just like this wee thing here," said Jeff, patting the latest stable star on the flank. The Wheelers, already pleased with the way she's gone so far, will be ecstatic if Novander turns out half as good as her mother.
Edis Nova won about a dozen races and racked up more than thirty placings in her career. Les Wheeler bred her himself, his first venture into the harness game. A fellow member of the Metropolitan Milk Board, Lester Moore, had bought Wavering Downs for £50 and offered Les a half-share. He took it. "Lester wanted to toss a coin to see who would have the first foal; But I reckoned that seeing it was his mare to start with, he should have the first," Les recalled last week. She produced a colt, Arthur's Pass by Password. The next season, Wheeler sent Wavering Downs to Tuft. "I didn't know much, but I thought I would like to breed a trotter. Dudley Moore had Tuft near my run-off property down the road, so I decided on him. "He was one of the first really trotting-bred horses here, wasn't he? Even that's no guarantee you will get a trotter."
The mating couldn't have worked out much better. Little Edis Nova was a good horse almost from the day she arrived. As a 2-year-old, she won three non-tote trots at Addington in a row, the first of then by an official fifty lengths. The filly was raced in partnership by Wheeler and Freeman Holmes who trained her until Les was granted a licence himself in 1975. All told, she won close to $31,000 before being sent to stud. She was placed in both the Rowe Cup and the Dominion Handicap.
"When I was contracting I'd had a bit to do with Leo Berkett and Dave Bennett and a few other trotting people...but I had never owned a racehorse before Edis Nova, probably because I couldn't afford it. There was no way I expected my first one to turn out like that." Edis Nova was retired because she was starting to make hard work of her races. She was meeting the likes of Easton Light and company. "She probably had another win or two in her, but she had been so good to us, we didn't want to break the old girl's heart," Wheeler said.
Over the following years, Lester Moore bred Pacific Wave, Star Wave (both by Pacific Hanover), The Power Game and promising maiden trotter Proud To Be (both by Game Pride) from Wavering Downs, a half sister to 1964 Rowe Cup winner Dreaming. Proud To Be showed her ability when she bolted in in the trotter's sweepstake event at the latest Canterbury OTB trials at Addington.
Meanwhile the Wheelers, since Edis Nova, have bred their share of winners from Wavering Downs. Lord Nova was their second foal. By Lordship, he won two races for them before being sold. He was a disappointment then, until he was sent to America, where he went 1:59.8 and won more than $100,000. "We were disappointed with the way he went here. We were sure he would win a lot more," Les Wheeler said. The next foal was Nicki Nova (by Tuft). She won one race pacing before leaving the speedy young pacer Nova Light (by Winterlight). So far, then, there hadn't been many to fulfill Wheeler's hopes of breeding trotters. But Wavering Downs' ninth foal, to Gerry Mir, was the fine young trotter Gerry Nova. Trained by Les' older son Ross, then a professional trainer, Gerry Nova ran third to Thriller Dee in the NZ Trotting Stakes at his first start. Two starts later he was second again to Thriller Dee in the Rosso Antico Stakes at Auckland before winning a maiden trot at Timaru in 3:31.7, a time seldom, if ever, bettered by a novice trotter on the track. He was then sold to America for good money while, soon after, Ross moved to the Waikato where he's been share-milking for the past three years. Wavering Downs has since left Star Nova, a Crockett 4-year-old who is close to qualifying. Unfortunately, she died the day after foaling Bad News, now a 3-year-old, by Evening News, for Lester Moore.
Her racing days over, Edis Nova was left in the north where, after missing to Crockett, she produced three foals to Great Evander. Novander is the first of them. She was floated back to the South Island as a weanling and was taken along very quietly. She showed hardly any inclination to trot at all in the beginning. "As a 2 and 3-year-old she appeared a natural pacer. We worked her quietly free-legged but then, gradually, the trotting side of her came through. "She almost got to the stage where she might have qualified pacing," Jeff, who's 19, said last week. "But now she trots cleanly with no weights and only very light shoes."
Jeff drove Novander when she qualified...twice. "She went 3:38.2 when winning at Addington but she couldn't qualify because she hadn't been inspected. We went back the next time and, even though we didn't go quite as quickly, she qualified again," Jeff said. Jeff gained most of his experience through helping Ross when he trained at Springston. These days when he's not helping with the cows on the family's three blocks, he spends all his time with the horses. They have already put some time into Edis Nova's other two foals by Great Evander, the 3-year-old Nancy Nova and Ricky Nova. Nancy Nova has been turned out for a good spell while her younger brother is also out for a while. "He's pacing at the moment but I think given time, he will probably trot," Jeff said. The only other in the stable right now is a 2-year-old filly by Lumber Dream out of Nicki Nova. She's trotting. "I think she'll be okay, too," Les said. "She's not being rushed."
With all the Wheeler family riding ponies and show jumping with some success when younger, the racehorses often get a saddle put across them. The latest in the team are no exception. "They should be handled a lot when young...and riding them provides a bit of variation and gives them a bit of strength in the back," Jeff contends. "Most of all, it takes time and patience." That, it seems, is sure to pay off with Novander.
In the meantime, Edis Nova is in foal to Scottish Hanover, a champion sire who's left very few trotters. "We decided on him when we saw her other foals paced a bit," Les said. "We thought, if she wants a pacer, we'll give her a chance." But, even then, it's not certain her next foal will pace. And that's what the Wheelers find fascinating about breeding their own horese...the uncertainty of it all.
Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 9Jun82