Sydney-trained Steel Jaw demonstrated just why he has been tagged the "Mittagong Mauler" in his home country when he eclipsed his nine rivals in the 1983 NZ Cup.
Steel Jaw, in the hands of trainer Norm Lang who trains the horse at Mittagong, some 100 kilometres south-west of Sydney, left the cream of New Zealand's pacers struggling in his wake as he coasted to the line nine and a half lengths clear of Camelot and Bonnie's Chance in the $100,000 Addington feature.
Steel Jaw set a race and New Zealand record in winning, running the 3200 metres in 4:05.3, a tick over a second better than Hands Down's record and five tenths of a second inside Delightful Lady's previous New Zealand best.
The celebrations surrounding the victory were quickly dampened, however, when Ossie Marr, part owner of Steel Jaw, overcome with the sensational success of his horse, collapsed shortly after the presentation. Quick action by the St John Ambulance brigade on course saved Mr Marr's condition from worsening and he was rushed into the intensive care unit of Christchurch Hospital.
Steel Jaw became the find of the early season in Australia when, after a change of ownership and trainer, he strung together 15 straight successes. Formerly owned and trained in Victoria, Steel Jaw was bought by Ossie Marr and life-time friend Stan Everett for only $5500 "including postage", said Mr Marr, meaning the transportation of the horse to Sydney. A novice class pacer (maiden) when purchased, Steel Jaw had recorded only a second and third in 11 outings. The sale was negotiated without either Mr Marr or Mr Everett seeing the horse. The two owners placed their trust in the judgement of a close friend, Peter Sandford, who had first brought the horse to their attention. It is a decision they have no regretted.
Steel Jaw is five. He is by the American import Gaviland from the unraced mare Ardeer and was bred by S G Harrison and Mrs M Maxwell of Leeton, New South Wales.
While Steel Jaw is a true Australian, he does have a slight New Zealand connection. His dam's sire, Danny Hanover, was bred in New Zealand.
He raced with distinction in and around Sydney and won a heat of the 1959 New South Wales Derby. He was by Smokey Hanover. Mr Marr and Mr Everett took charge of Steel Jaw in March and he started racing for them in May. Within four and a half months he was racing against the best pacers in Australia. He strung together 15 straight wins before the $1M pacer Gammilite broke his sequence at Harold Park late in September. Steel Jaw was only third that night - Willadios, a rival in last week's Cup - splitting the two. At his next start Steel Jaw faced up against Popular Alm at the grand opening of the new Albion Park complex. He was not disgraced in running second, after racing without a trail all the way, running his mile in just over 1:56.
Disaster nearly struck at his penultimate outing to the Cup when Steel Jaw was involved in a skirmish which saw him lose driver Norm Lang after 200 metres of a mile event at Harold Park on October 26. "I thought the trip was off when that happened," said Ossie Marr. "He's a clever horse, he clipped the gig and tipped Norm out, but, after going without a driver for a couple of hundred metres, pulled himself up and waited to be picked up by the clerk of the course." That Steel Jaw suffered on injury was apparent in his Cup victory.
Steel Jaw arrived in Christchurch last Thursday week, along with Willadios and Scotch Notch. He gave an indication of his ability when worked over 3200 metres on the Sunday prior to the Cup. That workout was completed in around 4:14 for the distance and the horse was then given barrier practice from a stand. In the 18 starts Steel Jaw has had from Norm Lang's stable, all have been mobiles and there was a train of thought that suggested the horse may not be capable of beginning with the field. At the pre-Cup dinner at Addington on Monday night, Norm Lang was asked whether the horse could improve on the time. "He could go a couple of seconds faster," was Lang's answer, which brought a round of laughter from the gathering.
Steel Jaw showed just how much he could improve on that time in the Cup. He was the best away from the start - Hands Down breaking with Camelot, and Our Mana was slow to find his feet after striking trouble. Steel Jaw led at the bell from Sun Seeker trailing, Hands Down without cover, Willadios three back, Derby one out one back, Enterprize, Camelot, Bonnie's Chance, Our Mana and Ben. Steel Jaw appeared to be pulling from the 1600 metres to the 600 but Norm Lang said after it was just "a very tight hold." When given his head, Steel Jaw raced away from his rivals and before the pair swung into line they had already established a winning break. It was increased as they ran to the line. "He went well all the way," said Lang after, "Hands Down tried to kick us along at the half way but I said "no way" to his driver when he asked for the lead."
There was no excuses for the beaten runners. Camelot provided the other feature of the race, coming from second last at the 500 metres for second. He lost ground at the start but driver Robin Butt said there was no way he could have won anyhow. If they hadn't brought him over we might have won the race," he added. Bonnie's Chance was a game third. She made up a good deal of ground over the final stages but was no match for the winner. Ben was a useful fourth, this time holding the placing - he was disqualified from a similar placing last year.
Our Mana and Derby were next home. Our Mana lost ground at the start. He made a brief run at the leaders 600 metres out but only battled in the straight, while Derby appeared to have every chance though he was hampered by the tiring Hands Down about 150 metres out. However, he was a beaten horse at that stage. Enterprise was seventh after having every chance. Hands Down was next. Peter Jones tried to wrest the lead from Steel Jaw after improving three wide at the 2300 metres. He was left without cover from that point on and was a beaten horse 400 metres out. Sun Seeker, after enjoying a perfect run in the trail, dropped out to beat to beat only the other Australian, Willadios, home. Brian Hancock, trainer-driver of Willadios, said he had no excuses. "We didn't seem to be going that fast," he said when noting the time. He added that he thought Steel Jaw was improving with every run and that he did not think the horse would be too far inferior to Popular Alm. "We Aussies got the quinella," he added, "first and last."
The day was a good one for Australia. As Ossie Marr said at the presentation, "You came over and pinched our Cup last week (Kiwi - Melbourne Cup), now we've come over and pinched your one."
Steel Jaw's success was of even more significance for Ossie Marr. Tuesday was his seventieth birthday and there is no better way to celebrate such an occasion than with victory in such a prestigious event as the NZ Cup. A retired grocer, Mr Marr has raced a few horses over the years. Elegant Jamie won 25 odd races for him and he also has a good pacer in Black Peter who won 10 races from Norm Lang's stable last season. He added that there was another horse, Dazzling Diamond, a three-year-old, ready to win more races in his colours as well.
Steel Jaw's other owner, Stan Everett, 50, could not make the trip because of business commitments. However, said Mr Marr, he was sure his partner would be over the moon with the news of the success. "I'm usually a $20 punter," said Mr Marr, "but this time I put $50 on him, so I suppose you could say we were a bit confident he could win."
Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar
Constant pressure, applied for 1800 of the 2000 metres in the Benson & Hedges NZ Free-For-All, brought about the downfall of the NZ Cup winner Steel Jaw at Addington. This time rival drivers were awake to the talents of Steel Jaw, and set about putting the pressure on right from the start.
Driver Norm Lang sent Steel Jaw in search of the lead from an outside barrier draw, but Stampede, Bonnie's Chance and Our Mana all went with him, forcing the Australian to cut out the first 400 metres in 26 seconds. From then on, it was no rest as Enterprise and Bonnie's Chance re-applied pressure with a round to go, and kept it on through the first mile in 1:57.2.
In the meantime, Robin Butt, driver of New Zealand Cup runner-up Camelot, and Peter Jones, driver of beaten Cup favourite Hands Down, were biding their time. As Steel Jaw, Bonnie's Chance and Enterprise began to show signs of strain on the home turn, Camelot swept up wide with Hands Down on his outer. These two drew clear and settled down to a torrid battle, which Camelot won by a long head.
There was no more delighted man on the course than Camelot's owner, Dr Harry Crofts, who had travelled all the way from Saudi Arabia to see the Cup carnival. Though Friday's win was Camelot's eleventh win, it was the first time Harry had seen one of them. Camelot's main mission now is the $180,000 Auckland Cup in February, with possibly a tilt at the Adelaide Inter-Dominion to follow the same month.
Hands Down, showed all his old fight, was gallant in defeat, while Stortford Lodge, who only graduated to such exalted company with a win on Cup Day, fought on gamely for his third though over three lengths back. Northern visitor Ben made up a lot of ground for a close fourth after settling back, while Enterprise, trapped three wide for most of the way, fought on gallantly for fifth. Not surprisingly, the others who took part in the hectic early battle with Steel Jaw had little left at the finish, Our Mana finished seventh, Stampede eighth, Bonnie's Chance ninth and Steel Jaw tenth.
Norm Lang admitted to being a little disappointed with the Cup winner's run. "Yes, he was a bit disappointing, even though he was under such pressure all the way," he said.
Camelot paced the mobile 2000 metres in 2:27.2, a mile rate of 1:58.5.
Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar