In a crawling, unexciting, melee-prone 1969 New Zealand Trotting Cup, in which a fall, a disqualification, and a general mess marred the entire race, Spry emerged the winner. But not until the programme had been set back a quarter of a hour after a prolonged inquiry had resulted in Stella Frost being axed from first place.
Stella Frost, trained by Doodie Townley at Tinwald, left for 'dead' the summer fashions - frilly mini skirts and bright summer hats - in the parade in the birdcage prior to the race. But she did not win the wreath of flowers after the event. Instead the honour was given to Spry, after Townley and Stella Frost were disqualified for interference to Garcon Roux. Garcon Roux fell with nearly two furlongs to run after being chopped off by Stella Frost. Others to suffer in the skirmish were Leading Light, Lords and Allakasam.
Generally the race fell a mile short of expectations. On paper before starting time, the pace appeared as if it would or could be a cracker from the start. It wasn't. In fact they lumbered over the first mile in 2:10.2, and then left the mile and a half behind on a fast pitch in 3:16.
All honours however rest with Spry. He was paraded in excellent order by his part-owner and trainer, Charlie Winter of Spencerville, and driven to perfection by Pat O'Reilly, who rated the horse second to none. Spry raced in the first half-dozen throughout the contest, and spurted clear of the rest running towards the two furlong peg when Diarac called it a day pretty suddenly. Spry had two lengths on the others starting the last furlong and a half, but although overtaken by Stella Frost, stuck to his guns well to fend off Holy Hal. Charlie Winter was as happy as a sand boy after the event. He remarked to me that it was a good go, and that was before the result of the inquiry was known. Winter will attempt to round off a Cup-Derby double when Berkleigh will parade for the classic.
Spry has now fashioned a record of 11 wins and 21 placings worth $28,335 for Mr & Mrs C A Winter, who bred him from Fifth Brigade. Spry was her second foal, her first being Bonny Strathair in Jack Carmichael's stable. Fifth Brigade, the dam of Spry, was bred in 1947 by Light Brigade out of Diamond Queen, a Gamble mare out of Phoebe's Chance, by Judge Hancock out of Mavis Bingen, by Huia Dillon. The breeder of Fifth Brigade was Mr W J Moir of Flaxton, a small settlement near Kaiapoi, and it was from this area that she was saved from a premature death by Winter and Mr E G Mitchell who had been asked by the local publican, Mr A G Faigan, to find his mare, Fifth Brigade, and shoot her. However, after it took them half a day to find her in her Kaiapoi hideout Messrs Winter and Mitchell decided to breed from her, taking alternate foals.
Stella Frost must be somewhat unlucky not to hold the race as she had a length on Spry at the finish and was doing her work 'on her ear.' Everything went well for the pair (Stella and Townley), and on the day they were too good. Holy Hal went a gallant race, finishing a length and a half behind Spry with Chequer Board finishing on from the back for third. His performance was commendable considering the ground he lost at the start, but the loitering allowed Jack Carmichael to join the tailgate without too much bother.
Spry gave Pat O'Reilly his first winning drive in the race, and Stella Frost paved the way for the second disqualification in the 64-year-old history of the event. Sherwood back in 1921 was relegated to second, and the race was given to the trotter, Reta Peter, also winner of the race in 1920.
After the starter waited for Chequer Board to behave, the field was despatched before over 18,000 pairs of eyes. No sooner had they hit out when Garcon Roux broke, Chequer Board doing likewise, while Holy Hal and Lords also made mistakes. Chief Command breezed out in front, being overtaken after half a mile by the towering Diarac. And so he led from there on, being stalked by Chief Command, Stella Frost, Spry, Co Pilot, Meadow Bank, Cuddle Doon, Garcon Roux, Leading Light and Wipe Out three wide. Coming into the last half mile no change could be noticed, although Wipe Out and Spry had moved forward and Stella Frost had been pushed back a place or two.
Then with nearly two to go, Stella Frost clipped Garcon Roux and down went the brave chestnut, interfering with Leading Light, Lords and Allakasam. At this stage, Pat O'Reilly had set sail for the post, and indeed to most observers, Spry had enough daylight on the rest to carry the day. But bearing down on him with over a furlong to run came the black cruiser, Stella Frost, with Doody Townley leaving the whole task up to the mare. And without so much as a flick of the stick, Stella Frost passed Spry, who in turn had a length to spare from Holy Hal, with Chequer Board coming home stoutly for third. Co Pilot finished fourth, Chief Command plugging into fifth, followed by Cuddle Doon, Meadow Bank, Wipe Out, Tobias and Diarac last. Stella Frost was disqualified, Garcon Roux fell, and pulled up were Lords, Leading Light and Allakasam.
Once Diarac reached the lead, the progress of the race slowed considerably. The first quarter was put away in 32.2, with the first half mile being put away in 64. Six furlongs took 1:39, with the first mile coming up in 2:10.2. The last mile they went through in 2:04.8, with Stella Frost bringing them home the last half mile in 59.8, which she can do at her leisure. Gross time was 4:15.
Credit: M W Grainger writing in NZ Trotting Calendar