YEAR: 2007

Former top pacer Iraklis has been put down.

Owner Kypros and Mary Kotzikas said the decision was based on veterinary advice after it appeared he had been suffering from an undiagnosed hearty problem.

Iralkis was a great racehorse, winning 22 of his 51 starts, and more than $1 million in stakes.

He won his first three for trainer Robert Cameron, and after that his successful drivers were the late Danny Campbell and Ricky May. He produced a towering performance to win the Free-For-All on Show Day as a 4-year-old in 1996, won the Miracle Mile, and just held out Smooth Dominion to win the 1997 NZ Cup.

At stud, he was not the giant he was on the racetrack. To date he has 251 foals, and 34 individual winners, the best of thembeing Irak Attack(6 wins), Posh Lavra(5), Phevos(4), and Rakalees(4). His first crop of 73 foals was his biggest, and he has two mares in foal this season.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 3Oct07


YEAR: 1997

The Weekly cover celebrates Irakis's win

It was supposed to be a cakewalk. In the end, it was little more than a fine line between the hotshot and the roughie.

The infamous Relief of Mafeking during the Boer wars was nothing compared to the relief that followed when Iraklis was declared the winner of the DB Draught NZ Cup at Addington. Small fortunes were bet on Iraklis winning the race, including a $10,000 wager by part-owner Kypros Kotzikas on fixed odds at three to one, and a bit less bet on the day.

The money looked as safe as the Sunday collection when Iraklis put a break on the field turning in. Iraklis was about to preach to the converted. But lurking behind pacemaker Anne Franco and inside Iraklis was a tough old beach-trained gelding whose body had taken more socks than Evander Holyfield. Two hundred metres from the finish, the script was being followed beautifully. Iraklis was running the race of his life, still clear, when the old pug lurched off the ropes. This became a serious challenge. More than that, Smooth Dominion actually gave meaning to the prospect of a technical knockout when he put his head past Iraklis about 20 metres from the finish.

Driver Robert Anderson, presumed to be one of the race 'extras,' was in danger of upstaging the star. This was not part of the play. The six inches that Smooth Dominion took, tottered briefly and fell the other way as Iraklis rallied short of the finish to save the day.

"I thought he'd lost it on the post," said Kotzikas, an expansive fishing mogul who owns more than 80 horses with trainer Robert Cameron. "I didn't know he'd won it until Reon Murtha called out number seven, but then, from where I was sitting, I knew the angle was in our favour," he said.

Iraklis won the race the hard way. He was under incredibile pressure, having won his last nine New Zealand starts. The first of them, a win on the grass at Motukarara, was the launching pad in 1996 for the Cup in 1997. He went through the next year gaining experience, getting the ringcraft, as Cameron and May charted the course to the Cup. On the day, he was as fit and ready as any horse in the race, and those who challenged this and that were never convincing.

There was a hic-cup at the start when he paced away, and then scrambled. Further down on the track, his stablemate Anvil's Star did the same. Up front, where Iraklis was nowhere near, Brabham, then Smooth Dominion, and finally Anne Franco were leaders. Sharp And Telford, not the horse he was at Kaikoura, worked round early to sit parked, and that was the early activity. Driver Ricky May made his move with Iraklis at the 1400 metres. With a lap to go, Iraklis was second. May had declared his intentions. Those who reckoned that Iraklis had to be saved for one giant uppercut now had to watch and see if he could do the 15 rounds. "I never doubted his ability to stay," said May. "He was jogging on the corner. The only reason he lost the lead was because he shied at the crowd. He'd never seen people that close on the inside before," he said. So the favorite prevailed and so many went away happy. He took 4:00.9, a fast run on a windy day.

Smooth Dominion almost made a goose of the pundits after a perfect drive by Anderson. Aussie rep Sovereign Hill made solid headway from five places deep on the inside to run third, and was stiff, being held up twice over the last 500 metres. The 'Mike Tyson' who did not deliver was Sharp And Telford, who ran 12th and last of those who finished, with apparent leg problems.

Cameron, 59, who watched the race on television in the driver's room because there was no room in the stand, played down the achievement with his usual laconic modesty, saying winning any race is a thrill. "I didn't think the other horse would run him that close, but a horse can come out of the trail and do that. It's great for Kyp. We have been partners for 10 years and even when I've made mistakes there has never been a cross word between us. For me, you could say this is another era over," he said.

Kotzikas got into the racing game in 1976 with a galloper, named Cypriot's Pride. He admits to spending millions on buying and racing well-bred horses, Iraklis one of the dearest at $85,000. He is superstitious, and his two best horses - Iraklis and the outstanding Australian galloper Lavross - both have seven letters, which must have something to do with good fortune. Perhaps he thought of this before choosing his partner in harness racing. Or is it coincidental that "Cameron" just happens to have seven letters!

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HR Weekly


YEAR: 1998


Great races usually involve more than a superlative performance from one horse, and by the time the 1998 NZ Cup rolled around, there were only two horses on everybody's lips - the 'defending champion' Iraklis in the red, white and blue corner and an upstart young challenger in Christian Cullen in the light blue and white one. They had met for the first time in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, where Christian Cullen had delivered a telling blow, but the injury-troubled star still had to make it to the post and there were many rating the great stayer Iraklis just as big a chance, even with a 10m handicap.

Brilliant northerner Agua Caliente, winner of the Taylor Mile/Messenger double the year before, had gone amiss with a breathing issue in mid-October, but the likes of such quality performers in Anvil's Star, Anvil Vance, Brabham, Franco Enforce, Kate's First, Surprise Package and There's A Franco hardly raised a mention, such was the hype around the 'favs'.

Anvil's Star was a 7-year-old and in his last campaign in NZ, having already won over $400,000. He was beaten less than a length when Il Vicolo won his second NZ Cup, and a fourth at Kaikoura where he was beaten a head and two noses showed he was still a force to be reckoned with. Anvil Vance was a year-younger son of Vance Hanover who had also won over $400,000 for trainer Barry Purdon. He had been placed twice in both the Auckland and NZ Cups and won that year's Easter Cup in 4:04 over Happy Asset and Franco Enforce.

Brabham was an 8-year-old winner of over $600,000 and also coming to the end of his career for Mark Purdon. He had been beaten a head by Kate's First in the previous season's Auckland Cup, and a devastating finish to win the North Shore City Stakes by three lengths in a NZ record 3:20.3 (MR1:59.3 for 2700m stand) showed he was in as good a shape as ever. Franco Enforce was a 5-year-old and had won nine of his 16 races starting the season. He had won the Sires Stakes Final by a nose over Franco Hat Trick and Lavros Star in a 1:57.5 mile rate in his third lifetime start, and was beaten a nose in Bogan Fella's NZ Derby before winning the Queensland/Australian Derby double in grand style. Resuming the previous February with three wins at Addington before a third in the Easter Cup, there was little fuss for Franco Enforce to qualify for the Cup with wins at Motukarara and Addington going into Ashburton. A sound fifth there didn't hurt his Cup prospects at all, although the 'OK Bye factor'was soon to rear its ugly head.

Kate's First was also a 5-year-old and the splendid stayer had won the NZ Oaks in 3:13.1 and as a 4-year-old the Auckland Cup in 4:01.2, both records. Surprise Package was starting to get a bit long in the tooth as a 7-year-old, but had won that year's Hunter Cup when 10 of the 14 starters were either NZ-bred or trained, or both, and banked over $700,000. He had only resumed at Kailoura, so was a bit of an unknown package going into the Cup, but class always has and had to be respected.

There's A Franco was a 6-year-old and had won 11 of 24 races starting that season, having missed her 4-year-old term through an injury. She had been placed in four races going into Ashburton, where she was a close and solid sixth, and as one of four mares starting in the Cup that year, also gave them a high card in a strong hand. Holmes D G, the winner of four Derbys the previous season, had been brilliant when resuming in the Kumeu Stakes in late October, but Barry Purdon opted to bypass the Cup and wait for a return bout with Christian Cullen in the FFA.

Thus, while Agua Caliente and Holmes D G were not there to challenge for the north, and there was the usual amount of 'padding' to make up a full field, it can be seen that this was a good Cup field, even without Christian Cullen and Iraklis.

Iraklis had been Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old after blowing away Brabham in the Junior FFA and NZ Free-For-All, where he also dealt to the dual Cup winner Il Vicolo, before winning the Miracle Mile in a race record 1:54.2 and finishing third in the Inter-Dominion at Globe Derby Park. The previous season he had again been unbeatable in the spring, winning twice at Addington, the Hannon and Ashburton Flying Stakes before winning the Cup, although the half-head over rank out-sider Smooth Dominion was a bit scary for those who had made him the odds-on favourite and shortest price winner in the history of the event. On the comeback trail as a 6-year-old after going amiss the previous December, Iraklis had looked just as good again in romping away in good company at Addington and again winning the Hannon inpressively, and a pending first showdown with Christian Cullen loomed at Ashburton.

Iraklis had opened the $2.75 favourite with Fixed Odds for the Cup and Christian Cullen was at $4.75, but a lot was about to change. There was a nagging doubt that the In The Pocket entire would both remain sound and take the next step to Cup class, given that he had already twice gone amiss on the eve of Group 1 assignments.

He had looked a budding superstar from the time he won his first two races as a juvenile - the first such race in the South Island at the Cup meeting in November by five lengths and a 2600m M0 stand in January by six in 3:18.6. The Welcome Stakes and PGG Sales race proved mere formalities, but after getting a knock to a tendon in the week leading up to the latter, a week later he had to be withdrawn from his Sires' Stakes heat and the rest of the season. In the spring he won the Rising Stars, but was beaten in his other four races going into the Sires' Stakes. Christian Cullen was too strong for Holmes D G on that occasion however, and on the final night of the meeting, against mostly open class horses, he convincingly downed Anvil's Star and Brabham in the $100,000 Round Up 1950.

That controversial late withdrawal from the Miracle Mile over a supposedly contaminated swab when Chokin had already found the task as a 3-year-old so overwhelming and an unlucky third in the Great Northern Derby followed, and then Christian Cullen was on the sidelines again when the NZ Derby was run and also won by Holmes D G, who would be 3yo Pacer of the Year by virtue of also accounting for the Victoria and NSW Derbys. Resuming in August with two wins over Good Mate in intermediate company from a handicap and the Superstars from 20 metres, set the stage for Christian Cullen's first clash with Iraklis.

Adding fuel to the fire in the pre-race hype - it was pretty much the Cup field - was the fact that Ricky May had opted off Christian Cullen after winning the Sires' Stakes, in light of the pending clash with Iraklis in the Miracle Mile. The drive went to O'Meara's 25-year-old stable foreman Danny Campbell, who had earlier worked for Cameron and been the regular driver of Iraklis going into the 1996 Cup Meeting, only to be replaced by May. May could hardly be blamed for being faithful to the horse who had won the Miracle Mile and NZ Cup, but now Christian Cullen was coming back to haunt him. There must also have been a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that Christian Cullen would not be around for long at all. In the decade prior, O'Meara had had a host of top pacers including Naval Officer, Really Honkin, Trident, Tuapeka Knight, Bold Sharvid, Tight Connection, Reba Lord, Hey Jude and Spirit of Zeus, and for one reason or another, none had made it to the start of a NZ Cup.

When the dust had settled at Ashburton though, any doubts remaining existed in the minds of Campbell's rival drivers to the effect of 'how on earth are we going to beat this horse?'. May was the first to move and had Iraklis in front passing the winning post the first time, but stalking them were Campbell and Christian Cullen and they smoked past soon after. Campbell stacked them up a bit on the turn and Christian Cullen sprinted them home; try as he might, Iraklis could make no impression at all. Christian Cullen had been timed over his last mile in 1:53.5 (58.4, 55.1) and finished 2/10ths of a second outside Master Musician's national record of 2:57.8, set in winning a Kaikoura Cup from 15 metres. He hadn't raced for seven weeks and O'Meara believed the run would improve him.

And as if that was not enough, Christian Cullen trialled over 2400m at Ashburton a week before the Cup and beat There's A Franco and Iraklis by six lengths in an unbelievable 2:56.8 - a mile rate of 1:58.5 from a stand. The stage was thus set for not just a two-horse race, but a two-horse war.

'Cullen' had firmed in favour dramatically with the 'bookies,' but Cameron and May were not lying down even though Iraklis would have to concede 10 metres - the two miles of the Cup tended to be a great leveller and Iraklis was a great stayer. May was happy with his drive without being overly confident, but O'Meara and Campbell were quite bullish. Anvil Vance, third at Ashburton after following the first two around and never leaving the fence, and Tony Herlihy were the third choice but at double figure odds, ahead of Brabham, Kate's First, Franco Enforce, Anvil's Star, There's A Franco and Surprise Package - the rest were just there to get in the way.

As the big Cup Day crowd began to fill every vantage point in the stands, the growing 'hum' from anticipation and chatter increased exponentially as the race approached, and then before you knew it they were off! Roymark and Franco Enforce showed out early and as they settled, Christian Cullen was well back but Campbell was about to seize a three-wide cart into the race, and Iraklis had only the wayward Aussie visitor Hilarity Lobell behind him.

'Cullen' was in command shortly after the first lap had been covered at the 1900m, and when Campbell then eased the speed a bit, around came Iraklis to sit at his wheel for the last lap - this was what the people had come to see. Seemingly jogging down the back, Christian Cullen dropped Roymark passing the 400m and Iraklis dropped on to his back, hoping for a slingshot late in the piece. Iraklis was travelling well and May briefly entertained the idea of upsetting his nemesis and the $1.90 shot, but Christian Cullen "kicked on" and never really looked in danger of defeat.

Just as at Ashburton, Iraklis could get to Christian Cullen's wheel but no more, and the margin was again a length and a quarter. If there had been a mid-race breather it hadn't been for long - Christian Cullen's 4:00.4 equalling Luxury Liner and Il Vicolo's race and track record. Iraklis had gone terrific and was gallant, being timed post to post around the field in 3:57.5 as they came home in 28, but the 10m and Christian Cullen were the big difference as they finished seven lengths clear of Franco Enforce and There's A Franco.

For Christian Cullen it was his 14th win from 20 starts, and he was of course just just getting started. Soon to follow and fall were the Free-For-All over Holmes D G; that spine-tingling Miracle Mile and a magnificent Auckland Cup performance in 3:59.7 in what was a memorable two months. Christian Cullen would go amiss again that season after winning on the first night of the Auckland Inter-Dominions, but it had been an unbeaten and glorious 12-start campaign and he would be an overwhelming choice for Horse of the Year in a season where Courage Under Fire remained unbeaten in 22 races and won six Derbys.

That year was in fact the beginning of the end of Christian Cullen's racing career, but all that really meant was that it would signal the start of an equally if not more sensational one at stud.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 2Aug06


YEAR: 1996

Iraklis home free in the 1996 NZ FFA

In Greek mythology, Hercules was a hero of superhuman strength. Son of the god Zeus, and of Alcamene, a mortal woman, Hercules was set 12 impossible tasks to to gain his freedom. Miraculously, he did so.

On Show Day at Addington, racegoers had the devine pleasure of witnessing the Hercules of modern day harness racing, his name - Iraklis. Pronounced I-rark-lees, the name is Greek for Hercules, and part owner Kypros Kotzikas could not have given this amazing animal a more appropriate title. Son of Vance Hanover, himself a "god" amongst pacing stallions prior to his demise, Iraklis stunned the harness racing public during the running of the $100,000 Air New Zealand Free-For-All. The event on Show Day had everything.

From the moment Iraklis slaughtered a high-class field in New Zealand Record time on Cup Day, the build up began. Trainer Bob Cameron stated his intention to take on the "best" pacers in New Zealand via Friday's Free-For-All. But then the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club's field selection committee seemingly tried to stop, placing Iraklis second on the ballot. The pendulum swung back towards the Iraklis camp though, with the scratching of Vic's Vance, another defection would enable Iraklis to take his place in the field. Cameron and Kotzikas decided to scratch Anvil's Star from the Free-For-All, a predicament made easier only because of the fact Anvil's Star had "lightened up" since his run for second in the Cup.

So it was all on, Iraklis would get the chance to prove himself after all. The buzz amongst the crowd prior to Show Day's event was electric. Even in the Press Room there were some noted harness racing scribes who thought Iraklis couldn't do it; some did though. Just minutes before the race during an interview with Trackside's Sheldon Murtha, Cameron, not known for revealing everything on his mind, was asked how he felt about Iraklis taking on the Cup winner, Il Vicolo. His reply: "We'll give him one helluva fright today". How right he was.

Anvil Vance took the early lead until Bee Bee Cee went round him. Iraklis, guided through beautifully by Ricky May, settling three back on the outer. Surprise Package kept the tempo sizzling, forging to the front after 700m, and as the challenges came around, Iraklis was shuffled back. Rounding the showgrounds bend, the 4-year-old was surrounded by a wall of horses and towards the tail of the 14-horse field, albeit off the rail. May followed Desperate Comment all the way down the back straight. Rounding the home turn, he pulled Iraklis out to challenge, but they were still a good two lengths from Surprise Package, with Il Vicolo eyeballing the leader. Once straightened though, May asked Iraklis to go and that he did, zooming to the front with ease. The race was over in seconds, Iraklis coasting to the line to win by nearly two lengths from Brabham, Whale Of A Tale and Hoppy's Jet, who were the only ones to make any impression down the straight.

Those who do not already think that Iraklis is a champion, will have to one day change their way of thinking. Sure he hasn't won any major Cups, or even two consequtive New Zealand Cups which in itself is an amazing achievement, but he hasn't had the chance to either. Who could have believed that a horse, just a 4-year-old with a mere 21 starts under his belt, would dish out such a comprehensive beating to the country's best pacers - and do it with simplistic ease. And as ominous as it sounds, Cameron remains adamant that we won't see the best of Iraklis until he is five or six.

Bypassing the Monsanto Mile, on the 1996/7 list for Iraklis is the $400,000 Sydney Miracle Mile on December 6; the $250,000 Victoria Cup in Melbourne on February 1; the $450,000 A G Hunter Cup, also at Moonee Valley, on February 15; and the Adelaide Inter-Dominions in March.

Many of the 12 tasks given to the mythological Hercules involved the capture or killing of certain animals. Rest assured though, the only capturing the 1990s Hercules will do will relate to Cups, titles and record times. And there will be no bloodshed as Iraklis continues to slaughter his rivals on the race-track.

Credit: John Robinson writing in NZHR Weekly


YEAR: 1998

Christian Cullen winning the NZFFA from Holmes D G

Holmes D G followed the path of Iraklis when finding Christian Cullen unbeatable at Addington on Show Day. A game and courageous run by Holmes D G was recognised but it failed to bring success in the Air New Zealand Free-For-All.

Out first from the 2 gate, Christian Cullen set all the pace and Holmes D G was left doing the hard yards - as driver Barry Purdon suspected he would - outside him. Christian Cullen then sped in from the 800m in 54.4, the fastest official last half recorded in a race in New Zealand, and Holmes D G didn't let go, finishing only half a length back. The underrated Happy Asset finished strongly from near last on the outside to be three quarters of a length back.

Trainer Brian O'Meara now has his sights set on the Miracle Mile, over 1760 metres, the race he was withdrawn from by the Harold Park club stewards last year. He believes Christian Cullen could handle the trip in a 1:52-1:53 mile rate. "After that, we will step back and look at things from there," he said. O'Meara has always maintained how good Christian Cullen is if he is allowed "to roll along". "And people didn't know how tough he is. He loves his work, too, although he was a little tired after Tuesday's Cup," he said.

Christian Cullen and Iraklis are New Zealand's only Miracle Mile contestants at this stage, though Anvil's Star could earn a place if he wins one of two Quantas Springs at Harold Park. Holmes D G was invited, but will not be going. O'Meara is hoping to fly Christian Cullen to Sydney next Wednesday. Iraklis, who missed the Free-For-All, is there now, having left on Sunday.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in NZHR Weekly


YEAR: 1998

Dan Campbell & Christian Cullen

If you'd seen Dan Campbell on Tuesday, you'd think it could've been a day at the Sunday Trials. Not a hint of a smile gave the show away. Not a wink or a blink to the waiting nation. Later, efficient, practical, calculated comments. Nothing to suggest this occasion was a beat up from any other. But it was.

Aged 26 and with the physique of a jockey, Campbell was the coolest dude on course after winning the $350,000 DB Draught NZ Cup with the Michael Jackson of the track, Christian Cullen.

What the pair lacked in ringcraft and experience they made up for in brilliance, verve and total faith in each other. As Tony Abell, the President of the Metropolitan Trotting Club, said later: "Christian Cullen was always going to be the one to beat. It was stamped so clearly, so indelibly in the lead-up racing. It is a huge thrill for a horse of such inexperience to win a race like this."

Like trainer Brian O'Meara and part-owner Ian Dobson, Campbell had no doubts that Christian Cullen had the stamina to stay the trip as well as the best and better than most. Speedy horses such as Master Musician, Our Maestro and many others have failed when hurt turns to pain in the final gasps of two mile at Addington. Christian Cullen was not one of them, neither was Iraklis who refused to give up the chase. But Campbell was honest: "No he'd had enough by the time he'd got to the post. I thought he would have to do the work he did, but when, I didn't know. He was pretty lucky the way it turned out, because I was able to give him a good breather once I got to the front. Breather! Not for the others. Christian Cullen flew the 3200m in 4:00.4, which equalled the race record shared by Luxury Liner and Il Vicolo.

He clipped along in front, with dainty, feathery steps, but all of them quick and bold. He had Iraklis outside him for much of the last lap and Roymark and Franco Enforce behind him. On the corner, where the levels of class were apparent, it was down to just the two, the old champ equalled by 10 metres and the new one.

Ricky May, who had won the race on Iraklis the year before, knew what he was up against. "We were going as good as Christian Cullen was going, but the ten metre handicap was the difference. I thought for one wee minute on the turn that we had him but then he kicked on." Trainer Robert Cameron had the evidence on his watch, halves, quarters, sectionals, telling figures ... his 3200m in 3:57.5, final 2400m in 3:00, last half in 59.7, final quarter in 28.41. Good enough to beat 13 but not number 8, the dashing bay with the regal carriage.

The Wayne Francis owned pair Franco Enforce and There's A Franco were third and fourth. Both had nice runs near the pace and did the best they could. The others simply did not get close enough for long enough to breath on the leaders.

Many of last year's supporters of Iraklis had seen the new bright light and moved onto Christian Cullen, backing him down to less than double the money to win. They were everyone's quinella when the pedigree kings drew swords 300 metres out. That was when May thought he had his name on it. Briefly, as he said. Still Iraklis was a game and gallant rival. He didn't give ground; he didn't make it. He gave the crowd a finish they'd come to see. It was not a classic finish of its type; more a matter of two great horses showing the way to 13 good ones. The margins were a length and a quarter and seven lengths.

Just past the post, I could've sworn I saw Dan Campbell smile.

Christian Cullen, almost in the mould of a spaceage horse being by super sire In The Pocket, gave part-owner Ian Dodson something to sing about afer winning the Cup on Tuesday. Dobson, who said he had a "nice collect" on futures betting, arranged for brother Andy to compose a tune and write the lyrics for a song about Christian Cullen. The result of this effort was sung by John Grenell in the birdcage after the presentation of the Cup. It says "Cullen, Cullen, Cullen" quite a bit which is pretty much the way songs go these days, but it is safe to say the issue might only be found in selected libraries.

Dobson was always bullish on Christian Cullen, from the time he asked Brian O'Meara to train for him. Letting the O'Meara eye do the finding, Dobson paid $15,000 to Paul Bielby for a three-quarter share in Christian Cullen as a yearling, was sent back to buy the other quarter for the same amount, then watched O'Meara nuture his vast potential. O'Meara has not let Dobson down. The horse is little more than a neophyte, earning $724,925 from only 20 starts.

Christian Cullen becomes the sixth 4-year-old to win the Cup, following Lookaway (1957), Lordship (1962), Stanley Rio (1972), Inky Lord (1982) and Il Vicolo (1995). "I have found the pressure very hard, yet I've always been confident in the horse, in Brian, and in Danny. I felt the pressure come off after the Flying Stakes, and now what he has done today has silenced a few critics," he said.

Dobson was born on the wrong side of the tracks during the Depression years. He was reared by foster parents who gave him a wonderful life. He was prudent during his early working years, telling his wife Doreen to resist the big spend; she could fill her wardrobe with fine things if she wanted to later on. It was not until he was 47 that he took the cover off the jam jar - he once bought a factory making jam covers - and bought his first horse. Later on, he stepped into the fast lane, outlaying big money for the galloper Royal Creation who won a million, and since then he's been sitting in the Merc.

He was thrilled that their daughter Lyn Umar was able to join them, flying in from Auckland the night before, and he has always welcomed the company of those genuine harness racing enthusiasts. He was just as keen telling everyone afterwards that the Christian Cullen - Iraklis quinella was good for racing.

We'll sing to that, Dobbie.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in the HR Weekly


YEAR: 1904


There have been few more colourful tales of our harness world than that of Norice, arguably the greatest broodmare in its history, and her owner Mabel Duncan.

In the World War One years Norice was the breeding queen of New Zealand and Duncan kept her in suitably palatial surroundings at the country's plushest trotting stud, Coldstream Lodge in Fendalton. The present homestead at the end of Chilcombe St - the property originally fronted Memorial Avenue when it was 59 Burnside Rd - remains the only memorial to what also was the first stud of any code in New Zealand and the place many harness fans angled to get an invite to visit during carnival week in Christchurch.

Coldstream had been established and named by Ernest Jerningham Wakefield on whose motion the Canterbury Jockey Club was formed in 1855. He stood The Peer there (Peer St is still close by) but Ronald and Mabel Duncan would enlarge and transform it at great expense into a showplace hosting four of the most famous standardbreds of their time.

Horse-mad Mabel Duncan, an accomplished show rider in her youth, was the youngest daughter of A J White whose furniture store was Christchurch's largest. Her Husband, an accountant, successful real estate agent and land speculator, was the sixth son of the former Mayor of Christchurch, Andrew Duncan (there were seven in all) and a dashing "man about town" in the land agency business. They had been married in Sydney in 1905, chiefly to avoid embarrassment to family. The Whites were the high profile Catholic family in the city and the Duncans leaders of the Presbyterian church - not a popular quinella at any religious ceremony in those far off times. The doomsayers would have the last laugh.

Ronald Duncan acted as judge, timekeeper and stipendiary steward at several Canterbury racing clubs and later on the executive of the NZ Trotting Association and King Cole (for a time) was the only horse he raced. He added 10 ha to Coldstream and built a luxurious stable complex and trainer's quarters which included, a reporter marvelled, a hot shower. Mabel was loosening the purse strings as well.

She bought Norice, the most famous racemare in the country, for a hefty sum from the popular Bower Hotel (New Brighton) owner, James Pettie, who had imported Norice from California (accompanied on the trip by Dave Price who brought back the first spreaders used here) but was now moving to the outskirts of Gisborne. Mabel also bought the promising King Cole from Nelson Price as well as his dam. Mabel's trainer, Dave Price, had already given her his half share in King Cole as a foal.

King Cole was one of only 17 foals left here by Price's champion, Ribbonwood. 15 raced and 12 won. Another notable and expensive purchase, before her marriage, had been the champion Sal Tasker, the fastest mare in Australasia, with a sensational official time at Addington in 2:20. She was named after Sarah Tasker the wife of her prominent breeder James Tasker - though Nelson Price first raced the mare and landed a betting plunge first up at Sockburn with her before selling.

At the outbreak of World War One Coldstream boasted both the fastest mare and stallion in Australasia (King Cole having broken his sire Ribbonwood's mile record in a special morning trial at Addington) as well as Norice, the most commercial broodmare. Mabel often used Sal Tasker when driving to town (Ronald played a big role in the tramway being extended to Clyde Road later) safe in the knowledge no challenger could possibly beat her down Fendalton Road.

Mabel also sent mares to be bred in Australia to Abbey Bells and horses to race there including Sal Tasker and her son Coldstream Bells, which was cruelly robbed of the biggest prize in Australasia, the Melbourne Thousand, when another driver deliberately crashed into him and Price at the start. Coldstream Bells still ran second and was later a sire of some note. Mabel Duncan seemed jinxed at times with her horses yet Norice was always there to give Coldstream its status. She also had a champion pony stallion which went years without defeat in Christchurch show rings.

Norice had six generations of recorded pedigree when most local mares, Sal Tasker included, rarely had more than two. She was by Charles Derby (ancester of Johnny Globe, Lordship etc) and after she was bought a half-brother became one of the fastest juveniles in America. Black, fast, sometimes erratic, Norice was the leading stake earner of 1904 winning six of her first seven starts here. She would have won the first NZ Cup that year too but she had problems which prevented Price from training her sufficiently for the race. Even so she led clearly most of the way and as she was eased when passed by Monte Carlo in the straight the big margin was misleading. The veteran never beat her in shorter races.

Norice made history again when disqualified from first in a Flying Handicap at Addington for galloping near the finish. In a landmark decision the race was restored to her because the committee had not taken evidence from her driver, Price, which would have established that a hopple had broken. From then on committees could not make decisions without hearing evidence from the drivers. Later in the day she won the Champion Free-For-All. Norice had also caused Pettie some grief because he had to lodge another cheque "under strong protest" with the NZTA before Norice could race here. Her previous owner was apparently in forfeit to the American Trotting Association and that body had just agreed to share it's rulings with this country.

At stud Norice left a series of smart colts who were in strong demand in Australia as sire but her most famous son was Nelson Derby, a striking colt from birth bought from Mabel by George Craw of Palmerston North for a record 750. He won the Great Northern Derby and the Auckland Cup though not sound, according to trainer Bill Tomkinson, and sired Haughty the first mare outside America to break two minutes. Therein lay quite a story.

The racing dream which seemed to belong to Ronald and Mabel Duncan started to fall apart around 1916 when Duncan took the extraordinary step then of suing his wife for 325 through the courts, presumably for Coldstream costs. Coldstream was sold with Mabel retaining the home block. Ronald Duncan bought and moved to the famous homestead block in North Canterbury. He later moved to Australia where he died in 1942 having remarried after Mabel's death.

Mabel had to cut numbers and sell virtually all her young stock. Watching Nelson Derby, the horse she had been aiming to breed for so long walk out the gate must have been heartbreaking. Selling Norice and Sal Tasker (whose descendants are still competitive today) was never an option. She still clung to part of Coldstream when she died in 1936 the once wealthy heiress having been adjudged bankrupt the previous year. Her parents had a strong social conscience and spent much of their wealth on community projects including building and supporting the large St Joseph's orphanage in Halswell. Norice had her last foal in 1931.

Among the horses sold was Queen Cole (King Cole-Norice) to John Grice of Tinwald whose son Ben inherited her first foal Colene Pointer (Methven and Timaru Cups) a fine stayer and dam of Queen's Treasure and Kingcraft. Ben had another foundation mare, Logan Princess, dam of the high class Regal Voyage. When that mare retired, down the road at Walter Gudsell's Pluto Lodge Stud in Tinwald was a poorly patronised Nelson Derby and so history in the form of Haughty was made. Crossing the two families and doubling up on Norice blood through Nelson Derby by Ben Grice to reinforce the family speed factor has ensured the survival of the Norice character through every generation since. Native King was another Norice colt successful at stud. Kingcraft, by the obscure Quincey who also happened to stand locally (Colene Pointer had broken down so badly she could not travel far) was almost a great horse, competing in the NZ Cup after just eight starts, but like his granddam was erratic at times.

Norice's essential qualities of high speed and waywardness combined with soundness problems have suvived to a remarkable extent through almost a century of breeding. At crucial times her tribe produces fast fillies like herself, like Single Star, Riviera and Petro Star for Grice. Perhaps the best example of the potency of the mare was the amazing Mount Eden. He was the essence of her pacing power and like her highly strung yet his performances were so stunning no less a commentator than Ron Bisman claimed he was to him the fastest horse the world had seen.

The Norice line has actually thrived on the superior breeding performance of relatively few mares, and largely just three breeders - Mabel Duncan, Grice and the Cummings family of Tuapeka whose mare Sakuntala has been the springboard of much of the family's recent success. The New Zealand Cup winners Iraklis and Monkey King, both from this source, were noted for extreme acceleration. Their ancestress Hindu Star, dam of Sakuntala, carried a close up (3x3) Norice masterminded by Grice. Holmes D G came from a more obscure branch of the Norice tribe but still had the essential double cross of Nelson Derby.

In earlier eras stars like Nicotine Prince, Chief Command and Indecision; the speedy Maurice Holmes 2yos like Strauss, Violetta and company; Hardy Oak, Single Star, Ardstraw, Canis Minor, Tuapeka Star, Ruling Lobell etc, etc kept the Norice name to the fore. O Baby is her current Horse of the Year poll winner.

The Norice legacy can be character building for those seeking to extend it. Lightning does not strike as consistently as with some families - but when its stars align it sends an electric charge through the pacing world that no other family can match.

Mabel Duncan and Ben Grice knew what they had to work with. Their work was not in vain.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in HRWeekly 10Apr13

In the event that you cannot find the information you require from the contents, please contact the Racing Department at Addington Raceway.
Phone (03) 338 9094