You can still find Len Butterfield at the races. Not in splendid isolation as he used to be, because 12 years have gone by since he retired from the solitary job as chief stipendiary steward with the Harness Racing Conference.
As much as anything else in his twilight years, he enjoys getting on the track and meeting the people who love their horses. He arrives with the same tall and regal bearing, and a hat always a hat, which used to be compulsory gear for Conference stewards.
At 77, racing is just one of his retirement interests. He plays his golf at the upmarket Russley club, where he says his handicap is "very competitive," he has his bowls and he likes to get into the garden.
No different to most industry people, he likes hearing the latest story on what's going on; for instance..."this bicarbonate business, interesting to see how that goes...In my mind if anyone returns a positive, and this is what this is, then out they go." Since his retirement at the age of 65, Butterfield often reflects on the changes in the conditions and demands of a stipes job. "It's luxury compared with what it was like when I started, with Fred Beer."
Butterfield was 32 when he took the position as a stipendiary steward. He knew all about horses. He rode work at Addington, where his father, Arthur, was a prominent trainer, winning big races with such good horses as Acron, Agathos, Glenelg and Lady Scott; Agathos won the NZ Cup in 1924.
He was a natural sportsman, shining especially at cricket, representing New Zealand, though he has been a success at anything he has taken up. He was first employed in the plumbing trade, which he didn't like, and then joined the New Zealand Trotting Association as a deputy stipendiary steward, joining Beer and Jack Shaw. In those days, there was a lot of travel, in trains and buses, and the odd plane ride. We would go down to Oamaru on the day before the races, and catch the express on the way back, getting into the station about 8pm.
"And when we went to the Coast to do the trots on a galloping day, I would catch the 2:20am railcar on Saturday morning, which got us in about 7am that morning. Then I would be on the 6pm railcar back, which got in at about 11pm. When we went to Westport, we'd get off at Stillwater, have breakfast at the railway station, and wait for an hour and a half for the railcar up from Ross." The Coast trips were a test of stamina. On one trip, by car on the gravel road, the fog was so thick over the Pass that Conference handicapper Arthur Neilson was sent forward on foot with a torch to see where they were going.
Another 'luxury' he didn't have for many years was a race film. "In my day there was no camera, so I had to become an expert in race reading. You had to depend on evidence, and you had to know if anyone was telling lies. The drivers often tried to look after one another. I'd get to know their colours. I'd have my book, pencil and glasses and I wouldn't take my eyes off the race while I was writing something down. These days, if they miss anything during the race they can soon check up by watching the film."
The NZ Cup won and lost by Stella Frost was a case when there was no official film, though there was an unofficial one he was able to make use of. "'Doody' Townley had eased off the fence, and some of the horses behind had been squeezed up. If there was a fall someone had caused it. It was a serious matter, and eventually the horse was put out. At the inquiry it was like getting blood out of a stone. Much later, when I spoke to the Balclutha OTB, I stayed with Len Tilson, he owned Stella Frost; it was nice of him to ask me to stay with him."
A stipendiary steward can be a lonely job, though Butterfield said the responsibility never worried him. "The Devine-Litten whipping case in 1957 was the biggest I had, and I was the only one to see it start. The funny thing was the patrol steward didn't see it. I said to him 'that is bloody lovely, you should not be out there if you can't see.' I never really found out who moved first; I suspect what happened but you could never prove it. George Noble, who was right behind them, was swinging both ways so I had no evidence. The difficulty was that I had to do it on my own. It went on to late in the night, and the phone at home never stopped ringing."
Butterfield said he found most trainers and drivers took their penalties well. "Ted Lowe got two years on a positive, shook hands later and said 'you've got a job to do.' Cecil Donald was the same. I disqualified a horse of his from the Timaru Cup - I think it was Chief Command - and he appealed. He told the late Peter Mahon that he had to win the case because I was taking thousands of dollars off him and I had to be straightened out. I always admired old Donald. He would have 20 to 30 horses in work, three stallions, cattle and a dairy farm, and he'd be up and on the phone at 5am getting business done."
Butterfield has a deep admiration for some of the top horses that raced when he was younger, particularly Highland Fling. "I've seen nothing faster. He'd go from last to first in a furlong and a half." He had great respect for the likes of Young Charles, Johnny Globe, Chamfer, Soangetaha and Vedette who all raced in the same era. "You had to admire those horses when you look back. Take Acron. He ran a mile at Addington in 1924 in 2:03.6, he never pulled a wide sulky, went on the clay and was never near the fence. Tracks these days can make horses better than they are. As far as grass tracks went, New Brighton was the best in New Zealand; it was like a lawn."
Butterfield sat on many swabbing cases, and made a study of drugs and how they affect horses. "We don't want people in the game if they're corrupt. I remember having a case once where a horse has returned a positive to caffeine, and the trainer said the horse had drunk a lot of tea. So I went round there one morning and he offered me a cup of tea. I said I wouldn't have one but we'll make one for the horse. Well, he wasn't too keen about that, but we filled up a bucket and took it out to him. He just snorted and wouldn't touch it. The chap got two years."
Like everyone else with the welfare of the industry at heart, he sees the decline in attendances as a worry, and like everyone else, knows the lack of good handicappers is caused by huge stakes now available for two and three-year-olds. "It is common to try those young horses out to see if they can win that money and there are so many more trials for these horse. It's easy to burn them out." He has no answer to why crowds aren't as big as they used to be. "There were top horses at the Easter meeting at Addington, but there wasn't a big crowd. Why is it?"
Still with his good health, Len Butterfield will continue to show a fatherly interest in the family sport.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 8May91
The recent death of Len Butterfield, a highly-respected former Chief Stipendiary Steward, revived memories of the infamous whip slashing incident at Addington in 1957. Butterfield, who was appointed Chief Stipendiary Steward for the NZ Trotting Conference that year, suspended driver Cecil Devine and Jack Litten for six months over the affair.
Butterfield chaired the three-person panel - it also included another stipendiary steward and a club steward - which laid the charge, conducted the inquiry and imposed the penalty. Harness racing adopted the thoroughbred racing system of judicial control in 1997, with stipendiary stewards acting as prosecutor only and a Judicial Control Authority person and panel assessing the evidence and imposing penalties. One member of the JCA in now the norm for all except the major racemeetings, when two are appointed.
Devine and Litten struck at each other with their whips about 250m from the finish of the NZ Flying Stakes on the fourth day of the Cup Meeting. Devine was driving Don Hall with Litten (False Step) on his inner. The pair were fighting out second and third placings in a gap behind Caduceus, then a stablemate of False Step in the Litten stable. Caduceus, driven by Tony Vassallo, won the mobile start race by five lengths, posting his 29th win. False Step finished second with a length to Don Hall in third.
A Press Association report in the "Times" read:
"It is understood Devine and Litten slashed at each other outside the furlong post. Inside the furlong, Litten turned and hit at both Don Hall and Devine. As the horses were pulling up, half a furlong past the finishing point, Litten slumped in the sulky holding the left side of his face. He was still obviously in pain, with his left eye closed on returning to the birdcage, where he and Devine were greeted with boos and cat-calls from many hundreds of people both on the inside and outside enclosures. The payment of place dividends on False Step and Don Hall was delayed until proceedings concluded three hours after the race. The inquiry was adjourned to call additional witnesses."
False Step, who won the 1955 NZ Derby for Litten, and six races as a 4-year-old, did not win at five and was transferred to Devine in 1958. He won the NZ Cup that year, and again in the following two years. Butterfield and Devine had numerous clashes which developed into a feud.
Butterfield ordered the removal of a neck pricker from False Step on the second day of the Inter-Dominions at Addington in 1961. The gear, blunted tacks attached to the inside of the neck band to prevent a horse veering out at the start of a race was illegal. False Step had set a world record for 13 furlongs when he finished second to Diamond Hanover fron 48yds on the first day wearing the pricker. He ran outsider Massacre to a nose in the Final. Massacre who had won four races, scraped into the Final after placings in two heats.
Butterfield, who began work with the Trotting Conference in 1946, was Chief Stipendiary Steward for 21 years until he retired at 65 in 1978.
Hopple shorteners are now accepted gear for pacers but Butterfield disallowed their use briefly in 1968 at the Inter-Dominions, causing controversy. Trainer-driver Dick Benger was barred from using shorteners on the Australian pacer Lord Setay. The horse fell in the opening round of heats and the gear was permitted for the remainder of the series after representations from the Australasian Council of Kindred Associations to the Inter-Dominion Conference.
Credit: Taylor Strong writing in HRWeekly 1Sep99
The February 1 launch of the new Racing Integrity Unit coincides with the first day of retirement for Neill Escott. Harness Racing's First Man of Integrity has his last day as Chief Stipendiary Steward at the Oamaru meeting on Sunday week. He spoke of 37 years as a stipendiary steward with Weekly Editor, Mike Grainger.
"I was looking for a change of lifestyle. At the time I was working as a Stock and Station Agent. I had two young kids and I was leaving home before they were up and getting home when they'd gone to bed. I saw that the NZ Trotting Conference, as it was then, was advertising two positions and one was for a Trainee Stipendiary Steward. I went through a series of interviews and got the job.
I came under the wing of L.A. Butterfield, and the other full-time stipe in Christchurch at the time was Les Purvis. Our deputies were Doug Watts, Laurie Mahoney and Errol Williams. I was very fortunate starting off with Butterfield, who carted me everywhere. He told me to sit in a corner, say nothing, and keep my ears and eyes open. He was very experienced, confident and he would administer justice fairly. It was important to have the ability to read a race. You either had it, or you didn't. Fortunately, I had it. There were a number of things that gave you that confidence, and knowing the the colours was just one of them. When I started, race filming was just in it's infancy, and Roy Kennard was in the process of refining it and taking it to where it is today.
After L.A. Butterfield came Harry Fryer, who was Senior Stipendiary Steward, and then Peter Mackenzie took over. I did a lot of meetings in Southland with Peter, and I had no trouble with him. He could be arrogant, I know, and I know many did not see eye to eye with him, but he did have a heart. He was an excellent race-reader and a good steward, and he loved his golf and squash, and he did so much work establishing the Gore squash courts that the building was named after him.
Michael Carrigg came next - a Queenslander from Rockhampton. It was obvious that those who made this decision did not think there was anyone here capable of handling those duties. At the time I was not considered suitable for the position. You have to take those things on the chin, but it's fair to say I was disappointed I was not appointed then. I took over after he died.
We are so fortunate today that we have a growing number of stewards who have been out on the track and have that experience. It's something like 'employ a thief to catch a thief'. It's harder with filming for anyone to beat the system, but you get to know by body language if someone is telling porkies or being on target with the truth. But even with the film, there are people who throw up a smokescreen for the JCA, and put up too many excuses.
Raceday filming and laptops. I recall when all reports were hand-written. The employment of former licenceholders who have on-track experience has been a new and successful change. Clubs giving junior drivers increased opportunities has been a great step forward forward and the standard of race driving - with the exception of amateurs - has improved dramatically. There are no longer many charges that come under the serious category, and that's a result of more trials and workouts as well as racemeetings.
On the demerit side, I still think the JCA is a big expense for clubs and needs fine-tuning. I don't agree with the JCA taking the line of asking a driver or trainer if they are in a position to pay a fine. The penalty should fit the offence and there should be no choice. You don't get asked what you'd like if you get a traffic notice, so why here? I also think it's wrong there can be no appeal on raceday placings. There should be an avenue by which aggrieved owners can appeal those decisions.
Well, the worst day of my life, ever, was at Methven. Everyone remembers it.
To start with, there was a power failure early in the day. It meant that there was no payout of winning tickets that had been sold. So the meeting was put back 10 minutes. The club's Tote Steward then decided to go to lunch without telling anyone and he hadn't passed this information on to the Starter. I was in the room when I heard Reon Murtha on the speaker saying the Starter was bringing them into line. This would have been the fourth race. I went out to see what was going on. And before I could do anything, they were off. I thought the best thing to do would be to go out on the track and stay close to the gate and wave the drivers down...bring them in like Pied Piper and they'd all follow... Some stopped, some didn't. Of course, the tote was still open, and wasn't closed until they were halfway home. After that it rained...poured down. One fiasco after another. They decided to rerun the race after the last. I think eight went round again. (For the record: the T.S. Harrison-Nevele R Three-Year-Old Stakes was won by Beaudiene Bolta - John Hay - from Megatrend and All The Rage. Eight started after 12 were scratched, including the original winner, Twilight Time).
I got home feeling gutted. Mackenzie was down south and phoned and asked what was going on. But the first to call was the galloping stipe Bruce Craik who offered his commiserations, and then a few weeks later much the same thing happened to him. And just to keep the wound open, I started getting some odd presents in the mail box...white gloves, stop signs and loud hailers...good fun.
One inguiry that still disturbs me was the Hoppy's Jet one at Oamaru. The horse was just beaten on the first day after coming with a late run. Michael De Filippi drove him as he always did, and that's how it suited the horse. After viewing replays of the race, the committee of the day did not lay charges. On the second day, the horse was in a race for junior drivers, and he went straight to the front for Paul Hampton and won. I had strong support for the decision I had taken, and I'd been told action by some trainers and drivers would be considered if the matter went further. I had always been against clubs having penalty-free races for junior drivers on the second day of a meeting, and soon after that change was made.
We were at Nelson for one meeting, when Dennis O'Reilly asked where Make To Royce was. The horses had left the birdcage and were round at the start, and just about to come into line. Carrigg asked me what we should do, and I said use the common-sense rule - scratch it. It was plain to see the horse wasn't there. Then Ian Cameron came up the shute with the horse, saw what was happening, then turned around and went back. It was a bit embarrassing, being owned by an Executive member, as it was.
On another occasion, I was at Wesport and Roy Craddock was the Starter and he was having a hard job getting Tufty Boy to line up. He was rearing and plunging and needed an oxygen mask each time he came up for air. Craddock then called out if anyone had a rope. A rope was duly presented and four big men pulled the horse into line. When they left, Tufty Boy took the rope with him, and it dragged behind him for the entire race.
Another Coast incident was at Reefton when the Starter saw the balloon go up, and saw it come down and let the horses go. The balloon was a kerosene drum full of concrete. What happened was the rope that took the drum up broke, crashed and broke a chap's collar bone. It could have been worse.
Final Decision in the New Zealand Cup and Lord Module in the Matson will go down in history as two of the greatest efforts we've seen. Steel Jaw's huge win in the NZ Cup and then the death of his owner in the birdcage after the race was memorable. Two of the best trotters I've seen were No Response and Nigel Craig and of the modern-day horses, Monkey King. And I'd have to mention the time trial by Mount Eden at Addington after Charlie Anderson had to grade the track after the last race. So much has changed. Years ago, you wouldn't see a 2-year-old until the Sapling Stakes in June, and now there are four or five 2-year-old heats at many of the trial meetings. Just recently, I think we inspected eight 2-year-olds ond day just from one stable."
Escott, a man of 100 cliches, said he retired thankful of the assistance and help of the majority of clubs and licenceholders. He served under 10 Board Chairmen - Dick Rolfe, Dewar Robertshaw, George Cruickshank, Sir James Barnes, Jack Phillips, Max Bowden, Ralph Kermode, Jim Wakefield, John Penney and Pat O'Brien and four General Managers - John Rowley, Ian Mill, Mark Todd and Edward Rennell. "I always admired Jack Phillips. He'd always speak to the staff...very human, down to earth...never changed.
If I had one wish it would be to see a common approach to rules and regulations between New Zealand and Australia. I participate in the annual meeting of stipendiary stewards between the two countries and everyone wants to do their own thing. If there was more consistency, people would know where they stand. It's not like that now. Probably the highlight of my career is when I've been given the opportunity to put my views, on behalf of the New Zealand industry, to the Annual Meeting of Chief Stipendiary Stewards in Australia. But to get changes is like pushing rope uphill."
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 19 Jan 2011