A gap will be created at the top NZ harness racing administrative level that will be extremely hard to fill when Bruce Woods of Prebbleton follows his plans to move with his wife Colleen to live in Queensland. Due to depart in April, Bruce is relinquishing his posts as Treasurer of the NZ Trotting Conference, director of Addington Raceway and committeeman of the New Brighton Club, not to mention various positions on harness racing-affiliated organisations. He first joined the Conference executive six-years-ago; he is a past-chairman of Addington Raceway; he is a past-president of New Brighton and has been chairman of its programme committee for some 15 years.
"I haven't got a horse left, I have sold the lot," said Bruce. "I've had this move in mind for years. There's not a lot more I can do here - I've been involved with the sport every which way, and I want now to try a change of pace. I don't intend to drop my trotting interests, and, possibly, I'll become embroiled in it all over there - not that I'm going out of my way to do this. But I've a feeling that is what could well happen."
On the practical side, Woods was licensed as a stablehand in 1943 before getting his amateur trainer's licence, while he has contributed greatly to the installation and improvement of various harness racing tracks.
Born next to the Addington course, Woods grew up with the sport. He remembers crawling through a hole in the fence as a 9-year-old to see Pot Luck and Maurice Holmes win the first Inter-Dominion Final at Addington in 1938. Soon after, Bruce lived at Templeton with Dick Humphreys - "a great horseman" - who let him take his first horse into the birdcage. That was Cantata, who finished second to Lucky Jack in the 1939 NZ Cup. Cantata's stablemate Blair Athol finished third.
Woods learned the rudiments of educating, training and driving not only from Humphreys but also a string of fine horsemen associated with Humphreys, including Jack Pringle, Howie Smith, Wes Butt, Doug Watts, Alan Fields, Jack McLennan, Gordon Collinson and Snow Upton. In 1943, Bruce began working full time for Methvem breeder-trainer Andy Wilson. "My first job there was taking Loyal Friend, who was owned and trained by Andy, up for the 1943 Auckland Cup. He won, with Bill Doyle at the helm. Andy had a top trotter in Royal Worthy. He used to be driven by Free Holmes or 'F G' Holmes, who seemed to get on with him best. A lot of times he never went away. He had 30-odd starts and won 15. He remains one of the best trotters I've seen and I'm sure he would measure up to today's best. Realm Again, a Jack Potts horse, was another fine performer of Andy's."
After four years at Methven, Woods returned to Halswell, just down the road from Addington, to work for Howie Smith, who was to the fore at the time with good pacer Navigate among others. On marrying, Bruce embarked on a more dependable vocation, general contracting in the earth-moving line, gleaning considerable expertise that would serve him in assisting with developing racetracks later on. "But I retained an interest in the horses. Over all the years until the present, I have been very closely associated with Felix Newfield. We went to school and worked a milkround together. He has trained and driven horses over many years for me.The best of these would be the trotter Power Cut, which I trained and either Felix or Fraser Kirk drove. The best horse I actually ever had was Lunar Chance, who I trained on lease from Keith Lawlor after he had won the 1975 NZ Cup. For me he was second in the New Brighton Cup (clocking 4:06.6) before going to the States."
Bruce in his youth at one point worked a stint with Jack Fraser, who often drove champion Indianapolis for Bill Tomkinson and subsequently trained gallopers. He was associated briefly with the top flat performers Bruce and Finalist, and the very good jumper The Vulture.
Another part of the Woods story is the chapter over the past eight or nine years in which he has built horse floats. He boasts that he has been responsible for something like 190 of these that are on the roads. In hotels for a few years (Avonhead Tavern, Esplanade, Black Horse, Blenheim Road Motor Inn), Bruce has led a more settled existence over the last 15 years at Prebbleton, where he has "bred and raced the odd horse or two". The best horse Bruce has seen? "Highland Fling"
For some 15 years, Woods has contributed his knowledge significantly to the development and improvement of tracks around NZ. He served as consultant to the Racing Authority in the establishment of the Ruakaka, Greymouth, Rangiora and Timaru tracks, and has also assisted in several other areas where advice was required, more notably at Manawatu.
In association with Addington course superintendent Charlie Anderson, he mastermined the reconstruction of the Addington racing strip around 1970. "We felt sure our work would make it a top track," said Bruce. "This has been proved. Vin Knight (Bag Limit, Alpine Fella), who is tops in his own right in Australia, told me Addington is two seconds faster than Moonee Valley - and that is saying something because Moonee Valley is pretty quick."
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 26Mar87