Robert Wilkin was born in Scotland and after a time in Australia arrived at Lyttelton in 1858. Two years later he was elected to the Provincial Council of Canterbury as the representative for Timaru. Wilkin had by this time amassed extensive land holdings throughout Canterbury and Otago and was a man of many interests. He organised the first sheep sale in Ch-Ch, was judge at the first Merino sheep sale at Shepherds Bush, was a grain and seed merchant in Ch-Ch, was on the council of Canterbury University and with George Matson founded the Agricultural & Pastoral Society of Canterbury.
Wilkin raced thoroughbreds, was on the handicapping committee of the Canterbury Jockey Club and one of the founders of the Middle Park Stud.
One of his business partners, John Carter of Tinwald was responsible for the importation of the British mare Miss Kate who holds a hallowed place in the NZ racing scene as the ancestress of both Phar Lap and Kindergarten. In addition her son, Perkin Warbeck II became the sire of several foundation mares in the NZ Trotting Stud Book.
Wilkin's interest in trotting bred horses was kindled more by a wish to improve carriage horses than winning races. In the mid 1870's on a visit to Australia one of the mares he brought back was Sally, which had a strong trotting action that would suit his purpose. After being sold, Sally was mated with the thoroughbred Touchstone and produced a filly, which as Pride of Lincoln founded an outstanding family.
In 1881 Wilkin bought the American bred Berlin which was an immediate success at stud in Canterbury.
The following year Wilkin was offered Childe Harold, which he bought and on-leased to Andrew Town of Richmond, NSW. During his seven years at stud Childe Harold was so outstanding he was hailed as the Hambletonian 10 of Australia and was one of the main reasons for the Australian standardbred proving superior to their NZ counterparts in this era. Sydney's Harold Park is named after him. Luckily, his greatest siring son, Rothschild came to NZ and established a dynasty here.
At first glace it would seem out of place to list a horse among the great stud sires who had not sired more than 60 winners which is a commonplace figure today. But Berlin, a sire with such a record, has a special place in our breeding history. For one thing, he was the first trotting bred stallion ever to stand in this country, being imported in 1881. For another he became a major influence on our breeding development as can be seen as his stud career unfolds. His 60 winners came at a time when trotting was in it's infancy and his achievements pro rata would equal most leading sires who followed him. He produced two horses who could fairly be called champions and one other who came very close to that rating, and his daughters bred on well. There are not many top families who do not carry Berlin blood somewhere along the line.
Bred in 1870 Berlin was exported to Scotland before racing and he was sold to New Zealander Robert Wilkin as a ten year old. Mr Wilkin was a businessman of substantial reputation who had a fondness for acquiring the fastest buggy horses around to help him beat the opposition on Christchurch roads. To steal a march on his rivals and to generally improve the breed of utility horses Mr Wilkin brought out Berlin and stood him at his Fendalton Stud. In later years he imported a number of others and mares who were extremely successful and he is generally recognised as the pioneer trotting studmaster. Whether in fact Mr Wilkin originally intended his imported stock to be primarily producers of racehorses however is open to debate.
Berlin was well-bred by American standards. His sire Woodford Mambrino had an unusual career racing once at three and not appearing on the track again for eight years. In between times he stood at the stud and did not get many mares and he only produced about 100 known foals. Many of these became fine performers and one of his sons, Pancoast, was sold at auction in 1886 for $28,000 which was a record price for a sire at that time.
In NZ, with no opposition of course, Berlin became very popular for he was described as a handsome bay of balanced proportions. Indeed some breeders became just a bit ambitious in getting his stock on the market for it was noted at the time that several yearlings by Berlin had been sold at auction before his first progeny appeared. Encouraged by Berlin's success Mr Wilkin then made more purchases this time in America and nearly all were successful. The tragedy for us was however that he leased Vancleve to Australia for two years and so successful was he that he never got back to this country, though a number of his stock were imported here.
Berlin however was sent mares of all descriptions and pedigrees but soon a number were showing to advantage on the racetrack and his matings with Wilkin's imported mares produced particular success.
His first track star was Callista a mare from Southern Queen who was predominantly thoroughbred in blood. Ashburton owned, Callista gave regular thrashings to assorted fields in the late 1880s and early '90s. And was our first recordholder over two miles. He saddle time of 5:22 made in Christchurch on a day when she had already won a race was followed by a 5:36 time in harness which remained for some years. At one stage Callista was owned by Dan O'Brien of Carbine fame but she became inconsistent in her form and was taken to Australia where she was asked to concede starts of up to half a mile in a three mile race. She was ultimately disqualified in that country and legend has it that she then went to America. Although the more cynical considered that she may well have been scoring victories in the country meetings around Australia under an assumed name, for such things were not unusual at that time.
Another by Berlin was Kentucky a son of the imported Jeannie Tracey. A trotter, Kentucky was the champion of his year and his influence on our breeding can never be erased, if only for one of his daughters - Thelma, the greatest broodmare ever bred in NZ. Contractor (5 wins) was another top horse of the late '80s while Stonewall Jackson by Berlin from Pride Of Lincoln (dam of Thelma) was the Robalan of his era. He won ten races which was a record in his day and won a number of them from the stable of young Freeman Holmes who raced him on lease. It was not unusual for Stonewall Jackson, a big versitile pacer, to concede starts of nearly 20 seconds to his rivals in two mile races - the equivalent today of 200 metres.
Wilkin, the result of a mating of Berlin and the great Polly, ancestress of over 85 winners, was another recordholder of his day taking a mile time of 2:16. Other fine performers he sired were Fraulein, Shamrock, Young Berlin, Berlin Maid, Patchwork and General Tracey. Berlin was easily the leading sire of his day. His 60 winners were accumulated at a time when trotting meetings were not as common as they are today. In addition the programmes were often of five races and these included at least one pony event which restricted sires of the time in amassing impressive records. It is not known how many mares Berlin served before his death in 1896 but it can be fairly claimed that few of them ever saw the racetrack. They were used as buggy horses, their owners producing the three or five guinea service fee either at the Fendalton Stud or when Berlin was taken 'on tour'.
If Berlin made a big impression with his immediate offspring his feats as a broodmare sire were even more impressive. Fraulein (from the imported Woodburn Maid) won one race only but produced at stud the wonderful Fritz, the greatest trotter of his time, perhaps anywhere in the world. Australian and NZ crowds loved this game foolproof trotter who, in dozens of starts, broke his gait only once. His full-brother Franz was also a noted performer and later a successful sire. Puella, a full-sister to Fraulein was the dam of Belmont M and Almont two top performers in their time. Almont, who was also a successful sire, held the three mile record for many years when that was a popular distance. In fact if it comes to that he probably still does hold it. Brown Duchess was another daughter to breed on, and the family she established produced in recent years, the top pacer Leading Light. Patchwork became the dam of the well performed Needle Work.
Another great foundation mare by Berlin was Regina who was ancestress of Logan Chief, Native Chief, Grand Mogul, Walter Moore and Southern Smile amongst others. Regina is typical of many of the mares Berlin had to serve being of doubtful ancestry though thought to be thoroughbred. Minto claims Parisienne, Garcon Roux and Soangetaha among her descendants.
If Berlin has had considerable influence through his daughters (and we have only skimmed the surface here), he has had a wide influence through his sons also perhaps more so than most other sires to stand here. He had a good start of course. Being the first trotting bred stallion in the country it was natural that owners of his sons were keen to put them to stud and many of them held their own against the increasing number of imported stock. One of his best sons was Contractor who seems to be missing from registered sires lists. A good winner himself Contractor sired Specification who at Lancaster Park in 1894 lowered the world record for four miles covering the distance in 10:47 although there seem to be some argument over the time. Contractor was still racing at this stage. Specification himself was a successful sire in later years.
Prince Bismark, another unregistered stallion, sired Ruahine who in turn produced the Australasian pacing champion Dan Patch in the early years of this century, Dan Patch took a 2:09.4 mile time but unfortunately died early and had virtually no stud career.
So although Berlin may not be a name which springs to mind as a great sire there are any number of top horses which carry his blood in their veins. The old fellow mightn't have a lot going for him on paper in terms of winners and stakemoney but he was our first champion sire and considering many of his stock never saw a racetrack he can hold his head up with any of the great sires who followed him.
Credit: David McCarthy writting in NZ Trotguide 14Oct76
In any survey of great stallions of past decades, the case of Vancleve would never be challenged as being the most unusual.
Although sires earnings were not officially recorded until well into this century there is little doubt that Vancleve would have topped such a list at least once and would have been in the top five over a number of years. The fascinating thing about that is that Vancleve never stood at stud in this country and as far as is known, never left a foal here. His influence was based solely on Australian imports as he spent all of his stud career in that country. He did pass through NZ in the early 1880's but there is no record of his having served any mares and even if he did their subsequent stock are lost in the mists of time. And while other Australian-based sires notably, Ribbonwood and Globe Derby have influenced our racing, none had the impact of Vancleve.
Foaled in 1881, Vancleve was imported to NZ by Robert Wilkin the following year along with another colt Blackwood Abdallah and several mares. Mr Wilkin already had Berlin at stud so decided to lease Vancleve for two years to Mr Andrew Town owner of the big Hobartville Stud in New South Wales. Vancleve was so successful he never returned to this country and Mr Town later bought him outright. It is understood Mr Wilkin did make attempts to get his horse back at the end of the lease but, as often happens in such cases, there was always good reasons why he could not travel. Vancleve raced occasionally across the Tasman and was in fact the first horse to break standard time in Australia going 2:28 in 1893. This made him much faster than the NZ champions on the day.
While Vancleve had tremendous influence on Australian trotting it is his NZ success which we are concerned with here. But in passing it might be noted that his daughter Fidget was the grandam of the mighty Globe Derby the greatest colonial bred sire. Vancleve produced pacers and trotters with equal ease though many of his pacers were free-legged performers. His greatest son was Fritz. Fredrick and Franz were full brothers to Fritz and were also fine performers, while in Australia one of Vancleve's sons in Valour won many races and took a 2:16 mile time. Another outstanding son of Vancleve was Vascoe who was Australian-bred but who made most of his reputation in NZ from Free Holmes' stable. Vascoe was the leading stake winner in the 1901-02 season and won races over many seasons.
Many of the Vancleve horses which made good in this country were brought over by Mr James Buckland who campaigned teams here at the turn of the century. Other Vancleve winners he brought were Viva and What. Undoubtedly the best pacer he brought over however was Durbar. Durbar won in Mr Buckland's colours before being purchased by Mr H F Nicoll and for his new owner he won many races including the National Cup and the NZ Cup of 1908, the Otahuhu Cup of 1903 and two other placings in the NZ Cup. Mr Nicoll named his well known Durbar Lodge after his old favourite.
Another top horse Vancleve produced and who came to this country was Quincey a trotter who won the inaugural Dominion Handicap from the Ashburton stable of S Scott who later stood the Vancleve horse at stud. Quincey's dam had been imported from America and he had fair success as a sire. Altogether Vancleve sired more than 60 winners in this country which in those days was a fine achievement for any sire, never mind one who never stood at stud here. Among them were Van Dieman who won an Auckland Cup, Vanquish, Verity, Archangel, Valmond and Velox the latter winning six races in the 1902-03 season in spite of being barely 14 hands.
As a sire of broodmares Vancleve was even more successful and a number of his daughters were particularly fine producers. The most successful has been Verity the second most successful broodmare this country has ever seen and steadily making ground on the famous Thelma. At last count her family had produced 154 winner-producing mares of over 380 races. Verity has achieved most of her stud renown (she was a fine pacer herself) through her daughters Pearlchild and Pansey to whom any number of fine horses trace.
In Australia, Vancleve was the sire of Doris M two of whose sons Hardy Wilkes and Pedro Pronto did very well in this country when brought over by Jack Kennerly. Hardy Wilkes was a fine trotter and Pedro Pronto almost in the champion class as a pacer, and later a successful sire. Vanquish another Vancleve mare was the grandam of the champion trotting mare Worthy Queen. Other Vancleve mares who established successful families here were Daybreak, Whist, Archangel, Cling and Ella G the latter the grandam of Captain Sandy.
Vancleve didn't have a very successful sire line though Franz must have had considerable influence for his name is in the pedigrees of some of our best trotting families including that of Whispering Grass (dam of Sea Gift winner of 18 and grandam of Durban Chief) and Olive Turmoil the ancestress of Court Martial, Nigel Craig, etc.
Most of his later influence was through his daughters which is not surprising when you look at Vancleve's own pedigree. Vancleve was by Harold, an intensely in-bred stallion, as both his sire and his dam were by Abdallah. Harold was by Hambletonian from Enchantress a mare which spent most of her life at work in a New York livery stable. He was an undergrown awkward colt treated as a no hoper for much of his life but subsequently proved to be one of the great trotting sires in North America. Vancleve's dam Vassar was by Belmont (also a son of Abdallah) from Venus, a mare by the much scorned stallion Seeley's American Star. Interestingly enough though, Harold had a fine stud reputation just before his death. Subsequently his daughters bred on better than his sons and the same happened with Vancleve.
It was a sad day for NZ breeding when Vancleve was shipped over to Australia, but all the same he made an immense contribution to the evolution of our standardbred without ever standing in the country where he was a leading sire.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in NZ Trotguide 28Oct76
There is always a concentration of interest in a match between two high-class racehorses that appeals strongly to the average racegoer. As a matter of fact matches seldom produce the vivid struggle anticipated beforehand; yet there is something magnetic about them that can always be relied on to draw the crowd. The greatest duel in the history of trotting in New Zealand was staged 41 years ago at Addington. It was between the Australian trotting king Fritz and the Dominion's champion pacer Ribbonwood.
In their respective countries these two horses stood out in a class by themselves. Fritz was bred and owned by that grand Australian sportsman the late Mr J A Buckland. Fritz was by the imported stallion Vancleve from Fraulein, the latter being by Berlin from Woodburn Maid both of whom were imported by the Canterbury sportsman Mr Robert Wilkin. From the day of his birth Fritz knew no other but the trotting gait. As a three-year-old he made history by defeating such recognised Australian cracks as Osterley, Mystery, Calista, and St Louis in a race at Moonee Valley (Victoria), and in doing so established an Australasian record of 2:14.
Towards the close of last century trotting had made such progress in Canterbury as to attract the attention of Australian owners. One of the first of these was Mr Buckland who owned two huge stations in New South Wales, and whose hobby was the breeding and racing of trotters. His first venture across the Tasman Sea was in 1898, the star performer of his team being Fritz whose reputation had preceded him. The trotter's presence at the Canterbury Trotting Club's meeting, held on the Addington Show Grounds, drew a record crowd, thousands of whom had never attended a trotting meeting previously, turning out to see the Australian crack in action.
Fritz's first race in New Zealand was in the Free-for-all, in which Mr Buckland drove him to an easy victory from Monte Carlo, also a trotter, and St Louis, a stablemate of the winner, driven by Mr Buckland's right-hand man, the late Claude Piper. Though the track was fetlock-deep in mud, Fritz gave a perfect display of effortless trotting. Some months later the Wonwobbie sportsman made another trip across, Fritz again being his star performer. On this occasion the gelding still further endeared himself to local enthusiasts by accounting for a purse of 100sovs given by the Canterbury Trotting Club for any horse lowering the then mile record of 2:15. Without being extended at any part of the journey he went the distance in 2:13, a record that stood for several years.
When the new track was opened at Addington in 1900 Mr Buckland was again a visitor. Fritz gave another masterly display in his race, while his younger brother, The Heir, a pacer, accounted for the Juvenile Stakes.
Up to this time Fritz stood out as the undoubted champion of Australasia, but then appeared "another Richmond in the field". This was the sensational Ribbonwood who was regarded as something of a freak. There was nothing about his breeding nor early appearance to suggest him as a prospective champion. He was bred by Mr Gilbert McHaffie, being by Wildwood from the Young Irvington mare Dolly, and it is worth recording that none of Dolly's subsequent contributions were of much account. As a two-year-old Ribbonwood gave outstanding promise in his contests with older horses, while next season he jumped into frame by winning the New Year Handicap at Addington in 4:46 2-5, which, in those days was hailed as an outstanding performance for a three-year-old.
Ribbonwood at that time ran in the nomination of "Dave" Price, but it is generally understood that he was owned by the crack jockey L H Hewitt. Having practically swept the boards as far as New Zealand races were concerned, the enterprising Dave looked round for higher game. His first move was to issue a challenge offering to race any horse in Australasia for £500 a side, best two of three mile heats. It was apparent that Fritz was the horse aimed at, as there was nothing else of his calibre in sight.
When the challenge came under Mr Buckland's notice he at once decided to throw down the gauntlet of battle. At the time Fritz was running out and advancing years placed him at something of a disadvantage. Seldom has a contest been undertaken under such adverse circumstances. Fritz could only be given a couple of serious work-outs before leaving Sydney, and was only half fit when put on board the steamer. On arriving at Christchurch even the elements seemed to conspire against the visitors. During the fortnight before the match the public tracks were so bad as to make fast work impossible, whereas Ribbonwood had the advantage of a comparitively dry private course. Truly it looked a forlorn hope for the Australian, but with true sporting spirit Mr Buckland determined to go on with the contest.
Fortunately the disadvantages under which Fritz laboured were not generally known, and interest in the match was general throughout the Dominion. Even a good number of Australian sportsmen made the journey across the Tasman Sea. For fully a week before the meeting, held at Addington on April 11, 1903, visitors commenced to pour into Christchurch. Special steamers were run from Wellington to cope with the North Island contingent, many of whom were making their first appearance on a trotting track. Excursion trains brought visitors from all parts of the South Island, while local enthusiasts turned out to a man. The Addington enclosures were packed; indeed never had such a huge and more representative crowd assembled at the popular convincing ground.
In the pre-totalisator betting Fitz was the early favourite with the general public, but there appeared to be unlimited money behind the Price stables. It was an inspiring sight as the two champions entered the birdcage. Cheers greetedthe debonair "Dave" as he took the "little black demon" on to the course, and seldom has a horse shown to better advantage in the matter of fitness. But Ribbonwood's reception was nothing to that accorded Mr Buckland and his champion when they came onto the scene. The twelve-year-old Australian was far from being tuned up, and he got through the preliminary in his usual sedate style. Ribbonwood, on the other hand, was so full of 'pep' as almost to pull his driver out of the sulky.
Unfortunately the match failed to produce the anticipated thrills. After considerable manoeuvring at the start, which was all against the older horse, Ribbonwood went away like a streak and was never off the bit. With three parts of the journey gone, Fritz aroused the enthusiasm of his admirers by making a gallant effort to overhaul the flying leader, and for a brief moment it looked as if he would at least make a race of it. It was only the dying effort of a game horse, however, and Ribbonwood sailed past the post an easy winner by two lengths in 2:14 1-5.
Nor were matters more favourable for the visitor in the second heat. It was quite evident from the startthat Fritz was outclassed by his younger opponent, who came home on the bit in 2:13. Contrary to expectations Mr Buckland decided to go on with the third heat more to give the public its money's worth rather than with any hope of success. On this occasion Price took the opportunity of showing what his colt was really made of. He cleared out from the start, and, with Fritz toiling hopelessly in the rear, cut out the mile in the record time till then of 2:10. It was a case of a brilliant young pacer against a half-fit veteran trotter, and youth had to be served. Had Fritz been athis best he would at least have extended his opponent, for Mr Buckland subsequently told me that in some of his earlier trials at Wonbobbie the veteran had frequently reeled of miles in 2:06 and 2:07. No doubt the Australian sportsman was a very disappointed man, but this can be said, that by his gameness in undertaking the match, he gave light harness racing the biggest 'boost' it has ever had.
Despite Fritz's failure, Mr Buckland had a good meeting at Addington, for he won races with Velox, St Simon and Verity, all driven by himself. Though this marked the Australian's last trip to New Zealand it did not conclude his racing activities. He kept on winning races in Australia, winding up a great career by a successful drive at Victoria Park, Sydney. On returning to Wonbobbie after his defeat Fritz was pensioned off, and in his later years delighted in acting as schoolmaster to many of Mr Buckland's juveniles.
Ribbonwood also subsequently found his way to Australia, where he was an outstanding success at the stud. His trainer, Dave Price, soon afterwards relinquished the light-harness sport in favour of galloping. For many years he held a high place in the ranks of Victorian trainers, and up till the time of his death, which occurred recently, was just as keen a racing enthusiast as ever.
Credit: F C Thomas writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 6Sep44
The date was April 11, 1903, the arena was the newly formed Addington raceway, the event was an 1100 sovereign match race, the horses Fritz, representing Australia, and Ribbonwood, from New Zealand. 1100 sovereigns, or pounds, was a considerable sum in those days. Six months earlier Ribbonwood had won the 200 sovereign New Zealand Handicap, which became the New Zealand Cup in 1903 for a stake of 310 sovereigns.
But it wasn't the money that saw a record 11,000 people jam into Addington on that fine, clear day - it was the spectacle. Undoubtedly the finest trotter and pacer seen in Australasia were to do battle that afternoon and nobody wanted to miss it. Not only were there thousands of visitors from all over NZ present but scores from Australia, and the NZ Premier Richard Seddon. How Christchurch catered for the influx is not understood, the last vacant hotel room was taken early the previous afternoon. Never before had a single sporting event in NZ created such enthusiasm, for this was the "People's Sport". Ribbonwood was a four-year-old and had already raced himself to an impossible handicap, while Fritz was 12 years old and returning from virtual retirement.
A striking black stallion bred by Gilbert Hamilton McHaffie, the second president of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club between 1903 and 1905, Ribbonwood was owned, trained and driven by Dave Price, one of Addington's leading horsemen at the time. Known as the "little black demon", he was bought by the debonair Price as a two-year-old for £250 and was a sensation in his two year career under Price's guidance. Ribbonwood was initially owned by Jack Thompson and trained by "Manny" Edwards, and won two of his three starts for them as a juvenile. Within two starts as a three-year-old he was racing against the best horses in Canterbury, in fact giving away starts like seven seconds over a mile to them.
At Addington in November, Ribbonwood won a three-year-old event by what was officially known then as a "walk-over". All he had to do was complete the course to collect the stake, as nobody else even bothered entering a horse against him. Ribbonwood was beaten twice in eight starts that season, on the second day of the November meeting after giving the winnerWild Bill an eight second start over a mile, and then three days later, after winning the three-year-old event, he was beaten in an event against time, running a mile in 2:20 when required to beat 2:18.
In August of 1902 he had to be content with minor placings on three occasions, but then came eight straight wins, including two against time. Among them were the NZ Handicap in November, beating inaugural NZ Cup winner Monte Carlo by eight lengths after sharing the back mark with him, a similar event in February from scratch, beating Boldrewood (10 seconds), Harold C (15), Monte Carlo (6) and The Needle (8) by fifty yards in record time for two miles of 4:35 4/5, and a 50 sovereign event to beat Fritz's Australasian mile record of 2:13, in which he recorded 2:11 2/5. Under the handicapping system at that time, horses were penalised for winning times, thus Ribbonwood was never off the bit, asked to win the race and no more. With nothing able to live with Ribbonwood on the track, Price began looking for alternative challenges for his champion.
Exactly how the match race came about is a little clouded, some reports claiming Price put up 500 sovereigns for anybody to take him on, while Price himself was later quoted as saying he overheard a rather vociferous Australian claiming the greatest horse in the world was in Australia. Whatever happened, there was simply only one horse in Australasia considered worthy of stepping on to a racecourse with Ribbonwood, and that was the marvellous New South Wales trotter Fritz.
Fritz had reigned supreme as Australasia's champion for a number of years, that is, until the advent of Ribbonwood. He had already made three trips to Addington, endearing himself to the New Zealand public as much as in his homeland. In fact, in his day, Fritz was even more of a celebrity than Ribbonwood. However, no less well known was his owner, John Arthur Buckland, a wealthy New South Wales farmer who had made a hobby out of breeding standardbreds at his mammoth Wonbobbie Station about 350 miles west of Sydney. Buckland had entered the game after taking the advice of noted breeder Edgar Deane and purchased the unwanted American Stallion Vancleve for 55 guineas. Assembling a sizeable band of blue-blood mares, Buckland and his sons of Vancleve were soon dominating trotting meetings throughout Victoria and his home state. With 5000 head of cattle and over 100,000 sheep on the property, Buckland enlisted the help of the neighbouring Claude Piper to train his team, and it was a familiar sight to see Buckland and Piper fighting out finishes with the rest of the field only entering the home straight.
One of the mares Buckland had selected was Fraulien from New Zealand, who was by imported parents in Berlin and Woodburn Maid. Vancleve, Berlin and Woodburn Maid had been amongst the first imports from America by Robert Wilkin in 1882, his intention being to breed Berlin mares to Vancleve, or vice versa. It was therefore a great tragedy a few years later when Wilkin's health took a poor turn, forcing him to either sell or lease the horses he had imported. Vancleve had been leased to Andrew Town in New South Wales for two years when Wilkin passed away, leaving his ownership in the estate. After Town refused first offer and Vancleve had failed to attract a bid when sent to auction, Buckland stepped in and took the advice of Edgar Deane, who had originally advised Town to lease the horse but did not have the means himself to breed with him. Fraulien had been bought as a three-year-old in 1887 at Wilkin's disposal sale by Fraser Martin of New South Wales, who later sold her to Buckland when he was looking for mares to breed to Vancleve.
Thus it was Buckland who stumbled upon the remarkable results of crossing Berlin mares with Vancleve, as Fraulien's first foal was called Fritz. Fraulien was bred to Vancleve on six occasions, also producing two unraced fillies and good winners in their own right Franz, Frederick and The Heir. Like all of Vancleve's sons, Fritz was gelded by Buckland and brought into training as a two-year-old, and soon showed rare speed. Produced as a three-year-old, Fritz won his first two starts at Kensington so easily that when nominated in a strong field at the track, the handicapper placed him on the backmark of 400 yards, giving two stars at the time, imported J H and Ariel, a start of 100 yards. Despite this crippling handicap for the young trotter, Fritz finished second to the frontmarker Satan. At Kensington's next meeting, Fritz toyed with a free-for-all field but later in the day found the 430 yard handicap beyond him, finishing second to St Louis, who was owned by Buckland and trained and driven by Claude Piper. That was to be Fritz's last start in a handicap event in Australia. Buckland refused to start him when placed off even longer handicaps at future meetings. Fritz had highlighted the inadequacy of the handicapping system and was to spend the next two years in exile at Wonbobbie.
Suddenly free-for-all events had become extinct and nobody was foolish enough to take him on in a match race. However, in 1896, a special event was planned for the Moonee Valley grass track in Melbourne, bringing together the best trotters in Fritz's absence, Osterley, Mystery, St Louis and the former NZ mare Calista. Called the Inter Colonial Free-For-All, the event was run on a sweepstake basis, with £10 per starter and a £50 bonus to the winner. It was a meagre stake even in those days, but all Buckland wanted was a chance to race his champion again.
If the organisers were hoping for something out of the ordinary they certainly got it. A best of five series over a mile, Fritz won the first heat by 75 yards over Osterley, recording 2:19, which sliced five seconds off the Australian record. He won by a similar margin in the second heat, recording 2:16 2/5 in beating Calista, but Buckland was still only joking. In the third heat Fritz passed the winning post before the other four has even entered the straight and recorded 2:14 4/5, more than ten seconds faster than any other horse in Australia prior to that day. Not surprisingly, Fritz was to spend the next two years unchallenged as well. Periodically he was brought back into work and in later years Buckland was adamant Fritz could reel off miles in 2:06 any time of asking
During those exasperating years, Edgar Deane had suggested the NZ handicapper might be a little more lenient, and in the Autumn of 1898 Buckland arrived in Canterbury, bringing Claude Piper and a team of nine horses. At a Canterbury Trotting Club meeting, then held at the Addington Showgrounds, the stable made an auspicious debut, Piper winning the first event with Sunshine while Buckland won with Fritz and Viva. Fritz had been handicapped off the backmark of 100 yards, giving the local star of the time, imported Wildwood, a start of 50 yards in the two mile event. Fritz was untroubled to win. Fritz had his next outing in a free-for-all and won by such a wide margin over Monte Carlo and St Louis, handled by Piper, that officials had difficulty arriving at a margin.
Buckland returned home during the winter but was back later that year with Fritz and an even stronger team. At one Addington meeting he owned every winner on the programme. By now Fritz was on a virtually impossible mark in NZ as well. On Boxing Day 1898 the gelding lined up in a handicap event at Addington, giving the eventual winner, Rosewood, a 24 second start. After a false start, Fritz became unsettled and refused to begin for some time. However, on the second day, the Canterbury Trotting Club put up 100 sovereigns for Fritz to trial against the track record of 2:15. This he accomplished with ease, trotting the mile in 2:13, which bettered his own Australasian record as well.
A week later Buckland had Fritz in Wellington for their Summer meeting, but again he refused to leave the mark. Lining up in the Wellington Trotting Club Handicap, Frotz was giving half the field more than 50 seconds start, the equivalent of almost half a mile. There had been a considerable amount of criticism levelled at these events, many considering it unfair to ask the backmarkers to stand at the start and watch the rest of the field begin at intervals. Even the grand old trotter Monte Carlo, a noted beginner, had become wayward in his tendancies.
Fritz was reported to have returned to NZ in 1900, but the official "Turf Register" from those years shows no evidence of this.
Buckland was a regular visitor to Canterbury, making four trips between 1896 and 1900, while Piper became so impressed with the newly formed Addington Raceway, he settled in Christchurch and became one of the leading horsemen with Wonbobbie horses. During his first visit to Canterbury, Buckland not only established himself as a fine horseman but as a stirling sportsman. Buckland usually drove Fritz in harness, but on this occasion was riding him from his backmark. Also in the event was the pacer Weary Willie, who is believed to be the first horse in NZ raced in hopples, and was trained and driven by none other than Dave Price. After half a mile Weary Willie faltered and fell, leaving Price lying motionless on the track. In due course along came Buckland and Fritz, making up their handicap in great style. Without hesitation, Buckland turned Fritz around to help Price, and returned with the dazed driver to a rousing reception.
Such was the character of John Arthur Buckland, and it was these qualities that lead to the greatest match race of the time, which turned out to be only a sporting gesture on Buckland's part and no more. Fritz was virtually in complete retirement when Price's challenge came under Buckland's notice. The 12-year-old had not been worked for several months and right from the start everything went wrong for Buckland. With less than six weeks until the big event at Easter, they began preparing, but miserable weather in the district saw Fritz hardly benefit from any work. After a rough passage across the Tasman, Fritz arrived in Christchurch, only to be boxed in his stall for several days, as Canterbury weather was no better than at home. Thus, what was thought to be a great match race, was actually a disastrous mismatch. Despite Piper openly expressing his reservations about the race, Buckland was determined not to let the NZ public down.
The big day came around and Addington was bursting at the seams. The grounds were less than half the size they are today. Price and Ribbonwood moved onto the track to a champion's reception, but it was nothing compared to the greeting accorded Fritz. The conditions of the event were for a best of five heats, each run over a mile from a moving start. After a considerable amount of manoeuvring at the start, which Price was entirely responsible for, Ribbonwood and Fritz got underway with the young star quickly showing the way. Fritz kept in touch until the last quarter, where Ribbonwood easily spurted clear to win by five lengths. Time 2:14 1/5. Fritz drew the inside for the second heat and held his own, keeping Ribbonwood parked for three quarters of the mile, before the stallion ran clear to win by two lengths. Time 2:13. Ribbonwood had not been off the bit so far, but Price let him stretch out in the final heat, with embarrassing results. Well clear passing the grandstand for the first time, Ribbonwood gradually increased his lead to eventually cross the line 80 metres in front of Fritz. Time 2:10, which bettered his own Australasian record.
In an after match ceremony, where Ribbonwood and Fritz were paraded and speeches were heard from Price, Buckland, Canterbury Trotting Club president Victor Harris and the Right Honourable Richard Seddon, Buckland was his usual sporting self, paying tribute to the new champion. "Personally, I don't mind being beaten, but I don't like to see the old horse beaten," said Buckland. "However, if Fritz cannot do it, then I hope to have a try with another one," he added.
But that was to be Buckland's last visit to NZ. He had already sold Wonbobbie Station around the turn of the century and bought Pine Ridge Station, where he continued to breed on an extensive scale. With the death of Vancleve in August 1904, however, his days in the limelight were numbered and he later sold Pine Ridge and moved to the 500 acre Marsden Park in the Richmond area. Buckland and Fritz have long since passed away, and one can only hope that their deeds will never fade into obscurity. They loomed as large in our history as any horseman or standardbred since.
At the after race function Price had been quizzed by Vic Harris on how fast he thought Ribbonwood could go. To Harris's surprise, Price claimed Ribbonwood had never been extended during the match race, and happily accepted to time trial his horse on the third day of the meeting for a stake of 100 sovereigns. A large crowd again turned up to witness the trial and after a first half in 64 seconds, Ribbonwood completed the distance in 2:09. On returning to the birdcage this time, Price challenged Harris to a further trial, but any thoughts on this being entertained were later that day squashed
Only a few weeks earlier W Rollitt, secretary of the New Zealand Trotting Association, had been appointed the first stipendiary steward. After the sixth race Price was called before Rollitt and charged with "foul" driving, and disqualified for six months. Price continued to train for a while from his Riccarton stables, winning a number of races with the outstanding imported mare Norice. He also stood Ribbonwood at stud in the spring, the little black producing 18 foals, all of whom were later winners. Among them was King Cole, who eight years later, under the guidance of Price's brother Newton, reduced Ribbonwood's mile record to 2:08 3/5.
However, Price was becoming discontented with the financial returns of being a leading horseman in Canterbury, and early in 1905 he moved to Victoria, where he became a leading trainer of thoroughbreds. With him went Ribbonwood, who was soon sold to the New South Wales sportsman A D Playfair, who immediately placed him at stud. New Zealand's most famous sons had been adopted by Australia. Ironically, Ribbonwood soon displaced Vancleve as the leading sire in Australia, producing 258 winners, including Realm, who campaigned in NZ and reached the tightest mark. Ribbonwood was also the grandsire of Roselawn, dam of Australasia's first 2:00 horse Lawn Derby (TT 1:59 2/5) and another champion Van Derby. Ribbonwood died in 1920, but his memory has lived on in recent decades with the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club staging the Ribbonwood Handicap at its National Meeting in August this year. The event has been renamed the Moores Dry Cleaners Handicap.
Price, a few years before his death in the 1940s, was interviewed by an Australian journalist and spoke of his champion. "Ribbonwood was foaled in Christchurch in 1898. He was by Wildwood, who was bred by the famous Palo Alto Stud in the United States, out of a mare by Young Irvington, by Irvington (imp). As a two-year-old he was a little fellow, full of quality. When trotting authorities found that the system of handicapping was driving horses such as Ribbonwood out of the harness sport when at their peak, they created limit races. Ribbonwood rose to great heights as a pacer because he had intelligence as well as speed. All I had to do was talk to him. With a 'Come on laddie' he was into his stride in a flash. A slight tightening on the rein and he would increase his speed. 'Whoa laddie' was all that was required to get him to slaken speed. He raced with ears cocked like a hare. He knew every word I spoke to him. Ribbonwood knew when it was race day as well as I did. Many of my friends got amusement out of seeing Ribbonwood play his most famous trick when called on to do the last furlong. His ears would be back flat like a hare in full flight at a given signal. He waited for that command when nearing the end of a race. I have no hesitation in saying that Ribbonwood could have paced a mile in 2:05. With tracks as they are today he would have done a mile in 2:00. He was the gamest thing on four legs. He didn't know the taste of a whip and, although booted for protection, he was never known to put a mark on the boots. Now, would you not be proud and inclined to boast a little, if you were the owner of a horse such as Ribbonwood?" Price concluded.
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 13Dec83
1908 NEW ZEALAND TROTTING CUP
1915 NEW ZEALAND TROTTING CUP