Edna Hampton lost another of her 'family' the other day. Jerry died on August 2, the day after his 35th birthday. "It broke my heart," Mrs Hampton said a few days ago. "I'm still getting over it. I look out the window to his paddock and keep thinking he might reappear..." But Jerry won't. He was put down just as all the effort of trying to keep going a little bit longer was starting to become a bit painful for him.
Jerry was just his pet name. He was officially Court Martial. He had been part of the Hampton household since the day he was born. Mrs Hampton, at 76 now no longer as agile as she was, remembers that day. The Hampton's mare Suda Bay, served by that old gentleman Light Brigade, was due to foal. The night before she had been a bit unhappy and Joe Hampton "knew she'd foal in the morning. He went across the road at four in the morning to check on her but he was back in a few minutes. The foal was there but he was a whopper. Joe said it was the biggest foal he'd ever seen. He couldn't get up to stand to suckle. But that, really, was only a momentary problem. We wrapped him up, put him on a barrow and wheeled him under the old mare to suckle. He was a lot stronger after that first meal. Right there and then, Joe reckoned he'd keep the horse as a stallion. He was so impressed with him." And, after winning three or four races and then breaking down when involved in a skirmish at Wellington, Court Martial was indeed sent to stud.
No-one has to be told how successful he was. He's still making his mark. His mares can't help leaving winners. All told, Court Martial left close to 480 foals...for 149 winners, a grand performance. There were some champions among them, too. And Jerry has also left 128 winner-producing mares, another top effort. He hadn't served any mares over the last few years, Joe Hampton took him out of public service abour six years ago when he considered they both weren't as fit as they had been. Mr Hampton himself died almost two years ago.
From the time he was retired, Court Martial had his own little paddock with a road frontage in one of the outer suburbs of Christchurch. He'd walk backwards and forwards, just checking, and then, when children on bikes or ponies rode past, he'd be away to investigate. "His ears would prick up and he would whinny away to them. He was a real darling," Mrs Hampton said. "Everyone round here knew him and would talk to him." And at meal-times. "You had to be right on the dot otherwise he'd come up and lean over the fence and look at you as if to say, "I'm here, where's my tea? If he didn't get his food then, he'd stalk off in a huff." It was when Mrs Hampton went out to feed her old pet the other morning that she realised somthing was wrong. Jerry used to sleep in the hay barn..."there was plenty of straw there for him to lie down on." But this morning, instead of the usual whinny of greeting from the barn, there was only silence. "I thought it was a bit strange. He always used to call out when he saw me going to the feed shed. I went into the barn and he was still lying down. I told him to get up and he gave a couple of kicks but he couldn't or wouldn't get up. There was still food left from the meal before so I thought he wasn't hungry (he was always well fed). Then when he tried again, I thought perhaps his cover might be hindering him. I'm not strong enough to try to unfasten a cover with a horse on the ground, so I rang Gavin (her son who trains at Weedons) to come over and see what was wrong."
Gavin thought "the poor old chap had had it and called the vet. The kindest thing to do, the vet said, would be to put the old horse down. He could have got him up, but he would be in pain. It was hard, but it was the best thing." Court Martial was given an injection that afternoon. He's now buried in a plot alongside his brother, another fine trotter in Signal Light, and Bonny, Mrs Hampton's Queenland Blue Heeler who was run over. "I'm not keen on going into that paddock. It's as though all my family's there in the one plot. While Court Martial was known affectionately by all and sundry as Jerry, Signal Light, who won the Trotting Stakes at his first start, was known as Barney. "People used to reckon we had a couple of Irishmen on the place," Mrs Hampton said.
The Hamptons bought their dam, Suda Bay, when she was two for 60 guineas as part of an estate sale. She and her daughters bred on well for Joe and Edna Hampton. Court Martial's half-sister by U Scott, Heather Dew, left several good winners including the Cup horse Rhyl. And another half-sister, Landgirl, left Pipitre, the dam of champion trotter Nigel Graig.
The list of the open class trotters sired by Court Martial goes on and on... Reprimand, world record holder Moon Boy, Aquit, Seven Nights, Logan Count, Marshella, Rannach Lad, Jason McCord, Aronmot, Fair Play, Merrin, Sure Mart, Macamba (who provided Maurice Holmes with win number 1000), Slane and latest Australasian Championship winner Courting Appeal. Among his pacers have been the likes of Hoover, a huge winner in America, and Martial Salute (US1:59.8). He also sired the dams of horses like Trafalgar, Royal Armour, Dingle Bay, Ambleside, Wee Win, Classic Touch, Stevie Prestige, Logan Lea, Dryden Lobell, Tough Girl, Local Product, Cyclone Lad, Mister Square, etc, etc, etc.
Around the place, Court Martial was always a pet. "He was a real Light Brigade. He didn't have a single vice. Even in his younger days when he was serving mares, he was the gentlest horse you would ever meet. A kid could lead him along on a loose rope; or they could sit up on his back without any fear. He was just one of those lovable old horses. I still miss him. I think I always will..."
Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 24Aug82
Your father, Joe, had racehorses. Were you always going to make a career with them?
No way. I actually started working in town as an office boy but I got a bit sick of that.We had always had ponies to ride to school at East Eyreton where Dad had a farm. Anyway I was helping out at home. Dad went to the races at Ashburton one day and came home and said he had found a job for me. It was working for F J Smith in Auckland (Takanini), so I packed up and off I went.
F J Smith? He was the Englishman who had been in America and was a champion trainer always immaculately dressed?
Yes, he had a lot of success here. He was a top horseman and he knew all the latest things they were doing in America. I was there for about 18 months.
I suppose since he was one for appearances everything had to be spot on?
My word! We had two horses each to look after. There were 19 of us working twenty horses most of the time and we lived in a house there at Takanini. Each day you had to have all the gear hanging up outside the stable and he would inspect that and the horses.
A tough test?
He used to have a white silk handkerchief. He would rub it over the horse's rump and hold it up to the light. It had to be clean or you had to do it over again. He would do the same with the gear, giving it a dust test. The included the horse's covers. We had to wash and scrub them every day. He was a stickler for that. He also had a big collection of treatments he gave to the horses. If you ever went near there you were soon told to get back to work. He died not that long after I left there.
You came home?
Yes, I was training a couple at East Eyreton. Then Dad sold the farm and I moved out to Belfast. I was at George Ashby's for a while and then at Kent Smith's stables next to the Belfast hotel.
A tough start?
I started training for £2 10 shillings a week. But you could get a bag of chaff for five shillings and oats were cheap so it wasn't too bad. The top trainer charged up to £5.
I remember you had a good horse called Masterpiece soon after. How did that happen?
He was a Southland horse and Herbie Booth owned and trained him. I got to know him at Forbury when the meetings were spread over a week. At the end of it he offered me Masterpiece. He had won about four races then and that took him out of the Southland racing classes.
A good horse to work with?
A stallion but a lovely horse to do anything with. We won a lot of good races against the top horses an hell, they were good then. He won a free-for-all beating Vedette, but I never got him to the NZ Cup. He broke down in a suspensory ligament before the race. We bred mares to him. He later left Master Alan, which was a top wee horsepeople will remember.
What was it like for a young guy with a top horse then?
Well, it wasn't all easy. A leading trainer I wont name went all the way to Invercargill to try and get it off me. He told Herbie I didn't know what I was doing and h would do a better job. Herbie turned around at th end and said the horse was at Gavin Hampton's and he was staying there. In fact he sent me up other horses including a trotter called Ecosse which won a lot of races. Herbie died near the end of Masterpiece's career, but his son kept the horses with us.
Ecosse, another stallion. He was by U Scott? What was he like?
Yes, by U Scott, a little weed and a dirty little bugger. You just couldn't trust him. I remember I sent him over to Lyttelton one day to go to Wellington. In those days they used to hoist them onto the boat. When I go to the boat there was a hell of a scene. Horses bandaged everywhere. He was next to Johnny Globe who was a lovely quiet horse and had attacked him and everything else he could get at. I didn't have many mates on that ship.
What had been your first winner?
Rowan McCoy, which Dad bred and owned. A good trotter on her day.
What was the story behind Signal Light that you drove in the 1951 Inter-Dominion trotting final?
Dad had a rabbiting contract in Hakataramea and that required horse. He used to go to the Tattersalls Horse Bazaar in town to get them and that was where all our best racehorses came from when he decided to breed from a few of them. Suda Bay, the dam of Signal Light was one of them. She later left Court Matial for my father. He bought another one, Margaret Logan, which was to start a line for us. They were only going for hack prices.
Did Signal Light have his chance in the Inter-Dominion?
Yes, and I thought it had it won. Then Gay Belwin came along and took it off us in the last few strides. Signal Light won a Trotting Stakes and he was placed in a lot of the biggest races. There were terrific horses to race against then. I especially remember Dictation. He held all the records. He was one of the best trotters I have ever seen if not the best.
Court Martial. He made a big impression, especially as a sire?
He was a good stayer as a racehorse but he was a terrific stallion. He left horses like Moon Boy, lots of top liners. Dad stood him at stud in Riccarton on Hawthornden Road.
A big operation?
Not with old Court Martial. He was a dream. they'd walk him into a paddock of mares and he would just stand there while they tested the mares and palpated them. They'd call him over , he would do the job, then start eating grass. Nothing ever bothered that old horse. He was 35 when he died.
After Masterpiece, Signal Light etc, your next headliner was Radiant Globe. What can you tell us about him?
He was the best horse I trained. Right from the first time I put him in the cart he was special. He gave us a lot of thrills and the two biggest disappointments of my racing life.
How did you get him?
I really only had him to break in initially. Graham Holmes suggested they give it to me. Bob White, who was then a barman in Blenheim - he later had his own pubs - had bred him from a mare he bought from Westport for about $100. She didn't have a lot of breeding. John Hart had a share in him with Bob. As I said I liked him right from the start and they let me go on training him. He was better than anything else I handled.
What were the disappointments?
A New Zealand Cup and an Interdominion. You don't get many bigger disappointments than those two in our game.
Which Cup was that?
1971. He was second to True Averil whom he had beaten in the New Brighton Cup not long before. He was the favourite and he should have won it.
I was in front. He was happy there. He could start to pull if you tried to do too much with him. Anyway, we were going along sweet as a nut when Robalan came around. They wanted to lead and there was some noise going on and my horse started to pull. It cost him the race.
Still second though.
When Robalan wouldn't go away I let my horse run clear of the field. He was only going to pull his way into the ground otherwise. We had a big break on them at the turn and it was only in the last few strides True Averil got him.
What happened at the Inter-Dominion?
They wouldn't let him into the final because he had missed the first round of the heats. That was the year Mount Eden didn't make the final either. Radiant Globe was going terrific that year but he had a muscle problem just before the heats started and we couldn't risk him like that. He got enough points in two rounds to get into the finals but they wouldn't let him start. He won his consolation heat by half the straight and went faster than they went in the final. He'd have won that too if he had got a go.
A kind horse?
Just a lovely horse to do anything with. Kids could ride him no trouble. A bit of an actor too. His only bad habit was that he liked to pull battens out of fences. I got a long piece of polythene pipe about 20ft long and gave him that to distract him. He loved that. He would stand on his hind feet and swing it around like a circus pony. The papers came out and took photos of him in action.
You ended up taking him to America?
Yeah. It wasn't a great result. When I first got there I had him at a farm, riding him and doing pacework with him. They thought it was a novelty riding a free-for-all pacer, but I did a lot of it with him. He thrived out there but Del Insko, who had charge of him, wanted him in town to step up his work. He didn't take a lot of work and he didn't show his best up there. In the end he broke down.
Wendy Dawn was a good filly you raced?
Yes, I bred her by Johnny Globe, like Radiant Globe was. Her mother (Meadowbrook) was from Rose Logan which Dad had bred from. She showed me quite a bit early on but when it came to race time I just couldn't get a start with her anywhere. Not many trials then and a lot less races. So I entered her in the New Zealand Derby for her first race. A bit daring then.
How did she go?
She ran fourth, pretty good first up. It was Tactile's year. Her second start was in the NZ Oaks and she won that.
What a career start. What happened next?
Not a lot to be honest. She was smart but she never really got any better. She was also a bit disappointing at stud. She left Tilringer which was useful, but not a lot else.
You did a lot of freelance driving later?
Yes, I had some good clients. Swannee Smith gave me drives on Gay Lyric when he was going well earlier on and Starbeam was another I got a drive on. Jim Curragh had Kind Nature and others and I drove Sassenach and Stampede. Lucky Boy was another and Alandria which Jim Winter trained. I drove Philemon earlier on. Paul did very well in his own right as a driver. He was probably better than me.
How did you get on Stampede?
Mainly through Andrew Sellars. I had driven horses for his father earlier. Alan Devery was training him and said "who is Gavin Hampton?" Andrew said to him he would soon find out because I would be driving him. We did alright together.
What are the horses which live in your memory over the years?
Lordship, Johnny Globe, Cardigan Bay. I mentioned Dictation last time and there was a great trotter in the 1940s called Certissimus who was just beautiful to watch. He died young. Radiant Globe is the horse of my own I will always rate right up there.
Credit: Interview with David McCarthy in The Press 19Feb 2011
1968 DOMINION TROTTING HANDICAP