During the 1950s the Ohoka amateur trainer/driver Bill Bagrie and his wife, Elaine were farming in Southland. But after Bill suffered a haemorrhage he was told by his doctor he should give up farming and find a less physically exhausting job. Both Bill and Elaine came from farming families so when an alternative lifestyle had to be chosen it was difficult to know where to look so they decided to head north for Christchurch to see what life there had to offer.
Bill had an interest in harness racing and he had decided to buy a broodmare and begin breeding racing stock. So one of the first things he did when the family arrived in Christchurch was to attend a dispersal sale where he outlaid the considerable sum (in those days) of 450 guineas for the Dillon Hall-Tondeleyo mare Margaret Hall, a fine racemare who had won six races and was already the dam of the outstanding racemare, Rowan Star (now better known as the dam of the Australian pacer and now successful sire, Garry Rowan), and another winner in Rosslyn Rowan. Margaret Hall was in foal to U Scott but the foal was born dead. She was sent back to U Scott, the sire of her earlier winners, and in 1958 she foaled a filly whom Bill and Elaine called Kinsella.
At this time parking was just becoming a marketable commodity in Christchurch and so soon after Bill and Elaine arrived in the city they bought a parking centre - one of the first in Christchurch - close to Cathedral Square in the central city. They ran the centre - now known as the Avon Parking and Service Station Ltd - for five or six years before buying another central city business, Bennetts Shoe Store.
When it came time to begin working Kinsella, Bill leased facilities from Alan McKenzie in Harewood Road. Kinsella was the first horse Bill ever trained or drove, but she proved an outstanding introduction to harness racing, winning seven races and Bill drove her in all of them. Kinsella had given the Bagrie family a taste of success in harness racing but Margaret Hall's next foal - her 1959 colt by U Scott called Orbiter - was to achieve even better things on the racetrack.
Orbiter won 17 races in NZ including the 1963 Kaikoura Cup, the 1964 New Brighton Cup, the 1964 Hannon Memorial, the 1965 Allan Matson Stakes, the 1965 M G Pezaro Memorial, the 1965 Champion Free-For-All and the Dunedin Festival Cup Final in 1966. He also recorded a best mile time of 1:58.8 when he won the Flying Mile Free-For-All by three and a half lengths at Cambridge in 1966. From only 52 race starts in this country he finished further back than fourth in only 11 races, an outstanding record of consistency, particularly when the many miles he travelled during campaigns outside Canterbury are considered. Although he won only two races in the 1964-65 season, as a 5-year-old, he recorded four important seconds that year, three of which were at the NZ Cup meeting. He ran second to Lordship in the National Handicap at Addington in August, second to Cairnbrae in the NZ Cup, second to Lordship again in the NZ Free-For-All, and again in the Allan Matson Stakes on the final night of the Cup meeting.
Because Orbiter was racing so well, it was only a matter of time before somebody made Bill and Elaine an offer they could not refuse for the gelding. Early in 1966 the inevitable happened and an offer of $US120,000 was made for Orbiter by Noel Simpson, on behalf of a small grup of Americans. The offer did prove irresistable and Orbiter had his last race in NZ at Forbury Park on February 5, 1966 when he won the Dunedin Festival Cup Final. His American buyers wanted the gelding to race in the rich International Series at Yonkers that year and he was to be trained by Del Insko.
The geldings new owners - keen to get the best out of their purchase - invited Bill to travel to the United States with Orbiter and Elaine joined him there later. They were given an all-expenses-paid holiday in New York to enable Bill to assist Del Insko to prepare Orbiter. But somehow things did not work out as planned. Insko had his own way of doing things and he did not appreciate advice from somebody else on how he should train his horses. To make matters worse, Orbiter contracted some sort of chill or virus soon after he arrived in New York and the morning of the big race he was in an oxygen tent - fluid streaming from his nose - and obviously a very sick horse. Elaine said that it had been "heart breaking" to see him in such a bad way and if he had been at home he would not have even been worked in such a condition let alone raced. But race he did and, needless to say, he was unable to show his true ability that day. However, a NZ bred pacer did win the $100,000 International that year. The Yonkers favourite Cardigan Bay proved much too good and won easily, five lengths clear at the finish in the near race record time of 3:04.4 for the mile. Bill and Elaine returned home to NZ dissappointed and disullusioned at the way things had gone on the trip.
Soon after their return, Bill decided that the rented facilities he was using to train from in Harewood Road were no longer sufficient for his needs, so he decided to invest some of his money from Orbiter's sale in land. He sold the shoe business and bought 133 acres on Smiths Road (now known as Bradleys Road), at Ohoka, near Rangiora. The property, which has since been increased to 260 acres in two blocks, was essentially a sheep and cropping farm but even 20 years ago it was considered to be only marginally financially feasible. So the first thing Bill did was diversify the property. A large chicken shed was built and a contract to supply chickens to General Foods was undertaken. This proved a great success and today the Bagrie family have a contract to supply 100,000 chickens annually.
About six years ago Bill decided to further diversify the farm and he bought 17 hinds in calf. They now run about 120 stags and 130 hinds on the property. The deer provide three sources of revenue - velvet, venison meat and live sales. Although all three can be lucrative, live sale had been the most profitable because of the demand and subsequent inflated prices. Farming the property has always been a family concern and never more so than now, for last April Bill suffered a brain haemorrhage from which he has still not fully recovered. While Bill is recuperating Elaine and their son Peter, have continued to run the farm. Their workload is simply an extension of what they were already doing before Bill's illness.
Bill had a small team of horses in work when he became ill and Peter, an amateur trainer/driver, has been able to work them for him in the meantime while Elaine has been taking care of the mares and foals. Peter has often driven his father's horses in the past and he enjoyed an outstanding run of success in 1978 with Bill's horse, Gentle George who died at stud in 1983. Gentle George, by Bachelor Hanover from the race-winning mare Orbette (a half sister by Hal Tryax to Kinsella and Orbiter), won eight races altogether but created a big impression when he won four races at the 1978 NZ Cup Meeting. The stallion won one race at each of the two day and two night meetings (a feat equalled by only two other horses, Cardigan Bay in 1963 and the trotter Tutira in 1969), surprising many people but nobody more than the Bagrie family. Cello Sydney Wilkes (1919) and Red Shadow (1933) also won four races each at the NZ Cup meeting but not one win on each day. "We thought he might run fourth on the first day," Elaine said. "Bill usually drove him but this time he told Peter he could." And so Peter ended up driving George in all four of the wins at the meeting.
Gentle George's win on Cup Day topped off what had already been an exciting day for the Bagrie family, for earlier on Trusty Scot had won the big prize, the NZ Cup. The stallion was trained, driven and part-owned by Bill and Elaine's son-in-law Henderson Hunter, who had only been training a short time and had prepared Trusty Scot for the Cup at his in-laws property at Ohoka. The run of luck continued for both Gentle George and Trusty Scot on the second day of the meeting when Gentle George won the Cashmere Handicap and Trusty Scot won the Benson and Hedges Free-For-All.
The Bagrie's are currently breeding from five broodmares - Kinsella, Kindalla, Patronette, Roshelle and Georgelle. Kinsella who is now 28 years old was bred with Niatrix last year but she did not get in foal. She was bred to him again this season and it is not known yet is she in foal but because of her age, hopes are not high. She has been a wonderful broodmare though and left a number of good winners including Morpheus, Dalestar, Halfield Star, Hallfield Dream and Trinity.
Peter said that while they were "farmers first and foremost," his interest in horses has taken him to the United States three times working for Charlie Hunter and Brian Meale. He worked in Califoria and Chicago - at Sportsman's Park and Hawthorne. His first trip to the States was in 1972. That was in the days when horses were shipped regularly by boat. "I went on the last boat load that went," Peter said. The idea of a relaxing cruise with only a few horses to look after had instant appeal. "They thought they were going to have a leisurely trip," Elaine said. But once the trip was underway, those thoughts were soon shattered.
The trip took 22 days and the weather was rough. "We were as sick as dogs," Peter explained. But their illness was not the main problem. The horses were stabled during the trip in lightweight boxes located up on the deck and one morning, during a particularly bad storm, the grooms were told that they were not able to go up on deck too feed the horses because it was too rough. The command could not have suited them better bcause they were feeling too ill to move anyway, but they were only spared a short time. Not long afterwards they were given an urgent call to get up on deck immediately. They had two horses loose. "A big wave had smashed the boxes and left the horses starting in a heap of kindling," Peter said. The First Mate made a quick alteration of course in an attempt to "level things out" so the frightened horses out on the deck were able to be caught and put into shared quarters with the other horses until the ship's carpenter had completed replacement boxes. "We were lucky we didn't lose any over the edge," Peter said. Fortunately the rest of the trip was less eventful and all arrived at their destination safe and sound.
Credit: Shelly Caldwell writing in NZ Trot Calendar 4Feb86
Last season's top sire, the now defunct Scottish Command, left his second successive New Zealand Cup winner when Trusty Scot bested the favourite Sapling at the end of a relatively tame contest.
Trusty Scot, only regarded as an outside Cup chance when he resumed racing in the Ashburton Fying Stakes in October, firmed as one of the best prospects for last Tuesday's big event when he won at Ashburton, then followed it up with a win in the final lead-up Cup race, the Kaikoura Cup nine days before the Addington feature.
Some notable 'judges' had expressed doubts as to the patience and temperament of Trusty Scot's young driver, Henderson Hunter, who at 26, was the youngest driver in last Tuesday's field. But Henderson drove with all the skill and aplomb of a reinsman of many more years experience in landing home the Southland-bred entire a half length winner over Sapling. Trusty Scot made a brilliant beginning and led by three lengths after 100 metres, but Henderson then eased him to trail as Sapling sped round the field to lead at the end of 600 metres.
Henry Skinner looked set to land his first Cup winner as he dictated the terms entirely to his own satisfaction, but Trusty Scot pulled out from the trail at the turn, ranged up alongside 150 metres out and outstayed the pacemaker by half a length. Henderson, who races Trusty Scot in partnership with his father Adam, moved to Ohoka last winter to train at the property of his father-in-law, Bill Bagrie, and dedicated his time towards preparing the talented pacer for the Cup.
The finish of the Cup proved a triumph for New Zealand-bred stallions, as the runner-up, Sapling, is by the veteran sire Young Charles and the only other runner by a New Zealand sire, Lord Module, finished fifth. He is by Lordship.
As a spectacle, the race was relatively tame, only developing into a true staying test over the last 1600 metres, the first 1600 taking 2:10.2. The last 1600 took 2:02.6 with the last 800 metres in a startling 57.7 and the final 400 metres in 29.2. With such a fast pace being set only over the last 1600 metres, those trying to improve from the back were left with little chance, and virtually the first four on the home turn filled those placings at the finish.
Rocky Tryax, who settled three back on the rails and was tracked throughout by Wee Win, filled third a length and a half behind Sapling, with Wee Win battling into fourth half a neck back, one place further back than he finished in last year's Cup. Lord Module, attempting to become only the fourth four-year-old in the 75 year history of the event to win the Cup, was far from disgraced in finishing fifth. He stood on the mark after becoming restless in the No.1 barrier position and was six back on the rails when the field settled into position. He worked his way through the traffic on the turn without really getting a clear run and did well under the circumstances.
Belmer's Image made ground for sixth ahead of the North Islanders Bronze Trail and Rondel. Bronze Trail made ground after a slow start but Rondel enjoyed the run of the race and faded from the home turn. Little could be said of the remainder who were well and truly beaten.
Credit: Editor NZ Trotting Calendar