YEAR: 1993

The Cup presentation to the connections of Chokin

The real hero of the 1993 DB Draught NZ Cup finished at the back of the pack, driving one of the beaten runners. While Chokin dished up a serving of his best form to win the great race, Barry Purdon was a little too far back to observe the end of it. He came in 10th with Christopher Vance, who paid the price for a super fast beginning which left him parked in a race which really developed into a dash home from the 800 metres.
But it was Purdon who has been the key player in a fascinating tale of a brilliant 2-year-old who was put through the gauntlet at three, recovered from serious injury at four, and made the comeback complete at five by winning the Cup.

Well, almost complete, because he is almost certainly going to Sydney for the Miracle Mile later in the month, and if any race owes him something it is the Mile. In that race two years ago, as somthing of a new boy at the game, Chokin had a crack at Australasia's best and took an awful tumble when pressured hard during the race. There was much speculation beforehand, and more afterwards as the young star fell from grace. He had been trained by Roy and Barry Purdon for a glorious 3-year-old career, and on the night of the Mile moved to Bob Knight's stable. The Pacers Australia Syndicate was keen to run him in the race. So was Knight who by this stage had a share in him. Purdon was not.

After the Miracle, Chokin eventually returned to racing, winning the South Australian Derby and a heat of the Victorian one. But then he suffered a tendon injury to his near foreleg that put him out of the Victoria Derby. Chokin went out for a long spell after the operation, and the syndicate took time out to consider its next move.

In September, to the syndicate's credit, they sent the horse back to Roy and Barry Purdon. "When we took the horse away, Roy and Barry willingly let the horse go to another trainer," said syndicate manager Terry Henderson. "And then, when he recovered, they were only too happy to take him back," he said. "You can put it down to Barry's skills. He got to know the horse. He can be a bit piggie. Bob was very keen on starting in the Miracle Mile, and so were most of the syndicate. That was the worst day in my life in harness racing, but today, winning the Cup, is the pinnacle. It is a great sense of enjoyment, and this win is dedicated to Barry," he said.

Partners with the syndicate in Chokin are two Melbourne men, and Aucklander Bert de Boer. Like Henderson, Barry agrees that Chokin is "a bit of a one-man band horse. You have to pamper him, but he doesn't like a lot of fuss. In some ways, he has to be treated a bit like a stallion," he said.

Chokin was trained for a start by Brian Hughes, and after winning for of his five starts as a 2-year-old for Pam Hughes and Sue Meadows was sold and went to the Purdons where he remained unbeaten in eight starts before going to Sydney. "That was a bad experience in Sydney, for us and the horse," recalled Barry. "It was sad to see it, and Christopher Vance won the race. I guess he's old enough to handle it now," he commented.

With a formline this season of 1740, it was hard to know whether Chokin was on a winning course for the Cup, although there was little doubt in the mind of the public who backed him strongly. "He was a wee bit disappointing at Kaikoura; there's no point in saying otherwise. I thought he'd done the work, but perhaps the turns and the pole made him a bit unsettled. I backed off him a bit after that, and then he did work terrific on the Sunday before. It was as good a work as anything I've done with him," he said.

Chokin gave Tony Herlihy his third win in the race, following that of Luxury Liner in 1988 and Christopher Vance two years ago in 1991.

Chokin has now raced 34 times for 22 wins and five minor placings for stakes of around $730,000. He is racing testimony to the skills of great trainers, a great driver and what has been a great comeback to the top level.

Master Musician was a game second, being unofficially timed to run his last 800 metres in 54.6. Giovanetto and Blossom Lady came next.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in the HR Weekly


YEAR: 1993

Chokin outlasts Master Musician in the Free-For-All.

The scratching of stablemate Two Under on the morning of the race was a significant factor in Chokin joining a long line of NZ Cup/Free-For-All double winners. Two Under's late withdrawal with a stone bruise meant Chokin was the only second line starter, allowing Tony Herlihy the choice of which horse to follow from the mobile.

Herlihy was well aware that Tigerish, from barrier three, had plenty of gate speed and a brief chat prior to the race with James Stormont confirmed their intentions. Pre-race predictions that Chokin would follow out Giovanetto from the pole and wind up at best three back on the fence in the early part proved totally unfounded as Chokin scored up behind Tigerish and received a charmed run through to the one-one behind his biggest threat Master Musician. From that point the result was never in doubt, although Master Musician fought tenaciously to the line to lose by a long neck. "That's the way it goes. They are both great horses and if the runs had been reversed on both days, so would the results," reflected Robert Dunn afterwards. "Maybe we'll have better luck in the Miracle Mile," he added.

Like the NZ Cup, the Air New Zealand sponsored Free-For-All was a relatively tame affair. Both Herlihy and Dunn were surprised they had run the journey in 2:25.9, with the final half in 56.2 and quarter in 26.8. "It didn't really feel that quick and I didn't push things much because I felt our only chance of beating Chokin was to outsprint him from the furlong," said Dunn. However those plans went awry when he was left alone in front at the 450m by the galloping Tigerish, who upset the chances of Giovanetto and Sogo. The latter was a surprise early favourite for the race due to an All-Up bet. "I saw her prick her ears at something on the track and then she tried to jump it," said Stormont. The Stipendiary Stewards later comfirmed it was a lost whip.

Master Musician and Chokin then engaged in a classic stretch duel, with the latter always holding a norrow advantage - Herlihy quiet and confident in the silky. They were out by three lengths at the finish fron Christopher Vance, who had tracked Chokin, with half a head to Giovanetto. Blossom Lady was next in, valiantly trying to make ground three wide from the 800m after settling towards the rear. Two unlucky races during the week netted her connections $17,000.

Chokin's double was worth $230,000 and took his earnings close to $800,000, the result of 23 wins in 35 starts. The 5-year-old Vance Hanover gelding remains unbeaten in nine starts at Addington.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HR Weekly


YEAR: 1991

Christopher Vance parades after the win

Christopher Vance and Chokin gave Tony Herlihy further armchair drives as they followed up their NZ Cup and Sires' Stakes Final victories of three days earlier by accounting for the Air New Zealand Free-For-All and Coupland Bakeries Three-Year-Old Stakes with similar consummate ease.

Christopher Vance trailed The Bru Czar in the Free-For-All, Herlihy taking a calculated risk that the good Kumeu pacer would move out in the straight as he had noticed him doing in his races. It paid off. When The Bru Czar veered away from the hub rail in answering the game of the parked-out Surmo Way, Christopher Vance was quickly through on the inner and on to victory by a length in 2:26.8 for the mobile 2000m.

A 1:58.2 rate, this was nevertheless well outside Armalight's race and New Zealand mark of 2:23.5, established a decade ago. But, as with Chokin, Chrisopher Vance won with much in hand. It took his record to 41 starts, 20 wins, 10 seconds and 4 thirds for $843,720.

The Bru Czar held second by a nose from Surmo Way, with Clancy a strong finisher from the rear into fourth, a length and a quarter back.

Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HR Weekly


YEAR: 1993

Chokin is too strong for Blossom Lady

A good crowd, an exciting race, a finish which had everyone on their feet and a performance to marvel at. Those were the ingredients that made the 1993 DB Draught Easter Cup one of the more memorable races seen at Addington in recent years. From the time the 'guns' - Blossom Lady, Christopher Vance and Chokin - came into the race with sweeping runs in the middle stages, it was obvious something special was about to happen.

Anthony Butt took Blossom Lady into the lead with 1500m to run, forcing Christopher Vance to sit parked, while Chokin was fortunate to drop into the one-one after tracking then around when Mac Magpie was unable to match the torrid tempo. The pace had been merry from the outset but Blossom Lady wound things up another notch. Obviously at the top of her game at present, Blossom Lady attempted to grind her rivals into submission and had Christopher Vance struggling a long way out.

But the big threat was always going to be Chokin, who despite an early mistake which added to his 15m handicap, received a relatively economical passage over the last mile. 'The Bloss' skipped clear on the corner and for a moment it appeared she might have enough of a break to win the Cup for the second time. But Chokin, a star half her age and also at the top of his form, was not to be denied and got up in the dying stages to win going away by a length.

It was an enormous performance by the Vance Hanover gelding, and there was just as much merit in the run of Blossom Lady. The heat was really only on up front from the mile, but Chokin was timed over his last 2400m in 2:57, 2000m in 2:24.3, 1600m in 1:56 and 800 in 56.6, completing the 3200m journey in 4:03.

Only Insutcha, last year's winner of the event in 4:02.4, has paced a faster two mile trip at night and on this occasion a chilly wind made conditions less than conducive to fast times. "I didn't want to have to chase him up with the whip unless I had too, and I didn't," said driver Tony Herlihy.

The 10m runners, Sogo, Two Under and Butler's First, were next in a gap of three and a half lengths, really only in a race for the third cheque, while Christopher Vance faded to ninth and disappointed trainer-driver Barry Purdon. While the 6-year-old winner of over $1.5m is obviously badly disadvantaged by handicap racing, he is still not the force he was at four and five in open class racing. "He had a tough run but a horse of his class should have finished closer than that. We will have to get the vet to have a look at him," said Purdon.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 7Apr93


YEAR: 2012


Russell Morton described the late Murray Gray as direct and uncomplicated, black and white. "There was nothing gray about him," said Morton, who had helped at his stables for the past seven years and led the funeral service for Murray. He died at Ryal Bush on May 27 aged 63. "He had the strength and confidence to do the right thing with horses; he knew when to be patient, to get the right response or when tough love was required," Morton added.

When it came to greatest moments in harness racing, there is no doubt Giovanetto provided them for Gray. Bred in partnership and trained by him throughout his 59 start career, the entire son of Fitch II and Bella Ragazza won 18 times including the 1991 Welcome Stakes, and in 1992 the Southern Supremacy Stakes, 4yo Rising Stars, Hannon Memorial and Monsanto Free-For-All.

The paths of Giovanetto and Chokin crossed regularly and when Giovanetta finished second in the 1991 3yo Rising Stars and 3yo Sires Stakes, Chokin was the victor. The same was the case when Giovanetto ran third in the 1991 2yo Sires Stakes, the 2yo Championship an the 1993 New Zealand Cup. A year earlier he finished second in the Cup, denied then by Blossom Lady

At the time, Giovanetto was the best Gray had bred but that all changed when his half brother Holmes D G, by Holmes Hanover arrived. Gray developed Holmes D G, qualified him at Wyndham as a juvenile in 1997 and took him to Forbury Park for his debut with son Brett in the sulky. "We lost 80 of 90 metres at the start," recalled Brett. "He finished second (beaten three quarters of a length). That run created the real interest in him." Sold before he raced again, Holmes D G went on to win all-but $2 million.

One of six in a family, Gray's parents ran the Makarewa freezing works farm. He attended Makarewa Primary and Southland Tech High, excelling in athletics, cross country and rugby. After leaving school at age 15 and worked as a farm hand for a time, he went shearing. He married Jen at Milton in August, 1970 and after Brett they had two daughters, Joanna and Paula.

While still a shearer, Gray and family moved next door to the property of Ron Barron. That was when his interest in harness racing grew to participation. According to Brett, his father's involvement then was still as an amateur, gradually changing to a professional level about 30 years ago when he moved to Ryal Bush.

Gray was a successful breeder, seller, owner, trainer, driver and administrator, being a driving force and founding member of Southland Caduceus Club, head for a time of the Owners Trainer Breeders (OTB) organisation, prominent in the Standardbred Breeders Association and a Trustee for Kids Kartz. He trained the winners of about 150 races and also drove a few. When Giovanetto was a 3yo he was in the sulky six times for six wins.

Outside harness racing Gray was active in the Makarewa Country Club during its early years and president of the Ryal Bush Community Centre.

Credit: HRWeekly 13June2012

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