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Ian Starkey has been racing horses for over 50 years, but he enjoyed probably his best week in all that time earlier this month. It began when Wee Jill romped away with her maiden at the Methven meeting at 33-to-1, and ended when her half brother Awesome Imace got up to record his 11th win the Listed Ordeal Trotting Cup at Addington five days later.
Starkey has sold the latter to clients of co-trainer and driver Phillippa Wakelin, but he was always going to retain the Sundon mare Wee Jill for breeding, to continue a line which began with the purchase of her third dam Not Surprise at the National Yearling Sales in 1973. Starkey, now farming cattle at Cust after a lifetime as a builder, can recall his first horse back in 1956. "I was having a beer with Gavin Hampton, and he said he knew of a horse that was for sale and that I should go and buy it," recalls Starkey. "So I did and she had four starts for two wins and two thirds in Wellington, although we weren't trying very hard on the first day. I thought the game was easy after that," he added. That horse was called Wakeful, a daughter of the Springfield Globe horse Super Globe. Starkey would breed a few filly foals from Wakeful in the 60s but none amounted to anything.
Another useful performer for Starkey during that time was Ewtor - a name because "Everything Would Turn Out Right." He would provide Bryce Buchanan with his first winning drive at the time when he was working for Jack Carmichael. Starkey got "matey" with Buchanan through Ewtor and when Buchanan went south to train just out of Invercargill, Starkey sent him Not Surprise "to help him along." "I had no intention of buying anything that day (at the National Sales), and I was just standing there chatting to a fellow when this ugly looking thing (Not Surprise) came into the ring. I'd always liked long, skinny horses for some reason, rather than short, fat ones."
Not Surprise was a filly by the double-gaited performer Hodgen's Surprise, a pacer by the trotter Hodgen, who sired the great trotter No Response but mostly handy pacers such as Trevor Hodgen, Bluegum Surprise and Lady Hodgen. The breeder and vendors of Not Surprise had been Cliff and Joan Cummings of Lawrence, who within a few years would be very much to the fore at the Sales with the progeny of Sakuntala. "Mrs Cummings was always later giving me an earful about not having any condition on Not Surprise, but it never mattered what you did, she was always just a lean, long skinny bitch. As I said that's the way I like my horses for some reason, but these days I still seem to get a lot of short, fat ones, probably from breeding to Game Pride (though Not Surprise's daughter Daphs Pride)."
Not Surprise certainly had a pedigree of more than passing interest. She was the second foal from Daphleen, by Fallacy from Overdrive, by Whipster (by Quite Sure) from Lucky Sweet, by Lucky Jack from Correct, by Wrack from Precision, by St Swithin. Correct was a half-sister to the outstanding Logan Pointer broodmare Ayr, who produced top pacers and/or sires in Springfield Globe, Our Globe, Van Ayr and Cloudy Range. Correct produced Jack's Son (NZ Champion 3YO Stakes), while Overdrive was the NZ Oaks-winning dam of the great Australian pacer Lucky Creed. Lady Val was a sister to Overdrive who was the grandam of Dominion Handicap winner Armbro Lady, who was sold to America never to be heard of again, while Flakey Jake (12 NZ wins) and Tamra Nightingale (17 Aus wins) also belong to this branch of the family as does a smart young pacer in Captain Padero. Good mares Fern Glen and Hawera along with Maheer Lord also trace to Lucky Sweet, while also emanating from Daphleen is Johnny Be Cool (8 NZ wins, US1:49.8).
Not Surprise would win half a dozen races as a trotter over three or for seasons for Starkey and Buchanan, on each occasion on grass tracks and during the day. "She could be quite brilliant on the grass, and later I realised she was not so good at night, where she couldn't beat the same horses she had hammered during the day. That was probably because she simply liked the grass tracks, because they had a bit of give and somthing she could get her toes into."
The first foal from Not Surprise was Daphs Pride, who had five wins and numerous placings over three of four seasons from the stable of Frank Bennett, although Buchanan drove her in her last win at Ascot Park. Not Surprise left a winning brother a year later in Game Trail, but things went downhill from that point. An Alias Armbro filly had "an attitude problem" and Starkey doesn't tolerate them, while then he tried breeding a pacer by Smooth Fella, but the resulting filly in Rough only "belted a knee" and he has even less time for them. One more foal in a colt by Corsica Almahurst followed, but he had "no bottom", and Not Surprise died a few years ago at the age of 32 having left her fifth and last foal at the age of 18.
Starkey was breeding from Daphs Pride instead during the 90s and her first three foals raced, although the first in A Boy did not win in 17 attempts as a 7-year-old after finishing third at Westport on debut for Hampton. He "turned out to be a cheat" and did not change much when tried the same season by Pat O'Brien and Bernie Hackett. Awesome Lass, a daughter of the Speedy Crown horse Stakhanovite, was the second foal fron Daphs Pride and "she probably had a bit too much faith in her own ability". She qualified at her first attempt and then went "straight to the races" for trainer Jamie Keast, finishing a close fifth on debut at Addington. A few weeks later she won her second race at Addington by four lengths, but a week after that she was involved in a smash on the same course and was hurt. "She was always sore after that. We even gave her a year off, but she could never be worked much and was never the same. I decided to breed from her though because I liked her attitude - she hated other horses but she was great with humans."
The year after foaling Awesome Lass, Daphs Pride produced Chiola Sam to Chiola Hanover and Starkey is sure he has been the best horse from the family even allowing for Awesome Imace. He won four races in good time for Hampton, but "hurt his back getting carted sideways by a breaking horse and was never really the same afterwards." Chiola Sam managed another win at Rangiora before eventually being sold to America, where he trotted to a record of 1:57.
Daphs Pride had five more foals, all fillies, but only Hanger Pride (by Straphanger) amounted to anything, winning twice from Ian Cameron's stable before also being sold to America where she has taken a record of 1:59.8. "She had her good and bad days, but the rest of the foals had only bad days." Those other filly foals were by Pernod Eden, Chiola Hanover, Chiola Cola and Bryin Boyz.
Awesome Lass's first foal was a Chiola Cola filly in 2000 called Awesome Cola, and this is where Starkey struck up a racing association with Wakelin and her partner Stephen Noble. Starkey, 78, had known Wakelin for many years, even before she spent time in Australia, and had built her stables at Oxford. "I've been farming now for twenty years, but I had been a builder by trade up until about five years ago. I got too old to be swinging around roofs." Wakelin had taken a fancy to Awesome Cola in the paddock and leased her for stable clients. She qualified as an early 4-year-old, but then "didn't improve a yard. We thought she had a crook back, but it turned out she had cracked her pelvis at some stage and it had healed by itself, so how she qualified was amazing enough."
When that lease didn't work out, Starkey offered the same connections the lease of Awesome Lass's third foal and first colt - Awesome Imace. That consistent son of Brylin Boyz has now raced 44 times for his 11 wins and $129,000, after first winning the NZ Sires' Stakes as a 2-year-old at Addington over Galleons Assassin, Day Of Reckoning and Mountbatten. The following season he split Houdini Star and Mountbatten in the Sires' Stakes in Auckland before finishing third to him in the Great Northern Trotting Derby. He has won three races each season since, from 30 races in all, but as a now 6-year-old who is a grandson of Balanced Image, his best seasons are probably ahead of him.
In between those foals, Awesome Lass had a filly by Sundon in Sun Lass who had two races before being sold to Australia, where she won four of her first nine starts. Awesome Lass's fourth foal is the Sundon colt Sun Lad, a very smart 3-year-old a couple of seasons ago who won the Sires' Stakes in Auckland over Holiday Lover and King Charlie and who was only beaten a nose by Sprinbank Richard in the Harness Jewels at Ashburton. He has had a good spell since a light campaign as a 4-year-old last season where he won at the Amberley meeting in January. "He would have been back in work by now, except Philippa's track has been under water. Awesome Imace had done a bit before that happened, so he has been working around the roads in the meantime."
Wee Jill followed from Awesome Lass, and she is going to be the daughter that Starkey breeds from one day to carry on the line. "She might race at Addington (this Week), but I'm not sure how she'll go yet settling in a field if she has to - she has the Sundon streak. I was quite happy to see her in the open and then leading at Methven as I figured that would help her get around without making a mistake, but I wasn't sure whether she was forward enough to see it out."
Awesome Lass has since left two sisters to Awesome Imace. The first in 3-year-old Awesome I Am was bought by Wakelin's parents Ken and Barbara as a yearling, while they have also leased the 2-year-old Awesome That's Me but without a right of purchase as Starkey might like to breed from her as well. "I had a lot of people asking to buy Awesome I Am after Awesome Imace won the Sires' Stakes, so in the end I decided to put her in the Yearling Sales and let them fight over her. But a week before the nominations were due, Ken came to me with an offer and I accepted because I did want Philippa to train her." Awesome I Am raced seven times as a juvenile without making much impression, and Starkey would like to see more patience taken with Awesome That's Me.
Awesome Lass is now 16 and is only being bred every second season - she had a year off but is now back in foal to Sundon. That is pretty much it these days for Starkey, outside of a mare he was given a few years ago by Doug McCormick in Perfect Whiz because "he had too many." A racewinning mare by Gee Whiz II, whose first foal is Perfect Hold (8 NZ wins), Perfect Whiz has left a 2-year-old filly by Brylin Boyz called Needs Luck and is in foal to Muscleman because "I liked his grandam (Enthuse)." In the meantime though it will be the "short, fat one" in Wee Jill and her open class half-brother in Awesome Imace who will be keeping Starkey amused and reflecting on that day he took a fancy to the "long, skinny one."
Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 17Sep08
Three rugby mates have Steve Noble to thank for their win by Awesome Imace in the Group 2 $35,000 NRM Sires' Stakes 2-Year-Old Championship at Addington last Friday night. "Come and have a look at him, Steve said to us," recalled part-owner Mike Moore. "Front on, he looks just like Sir Castleton. After this, I believe everything Steve says now," he said.
|Phillippa Wakelin & Steve Noble.|
Still, it wasn't all plain sailing after a hiccup last week when he galloped at his previous start, behind Brite Speed, when third in the running. This was after two false starts, which left Noble and his training partner Phillippa Wakelin in two minds whether lining him up so soon after it was in the best interests of the horse. But Awesome Imace had a strong week. "He's so laid back, nothing fazes him," said Wakelin.
The journey for the pair was a pleasure, sitting behind the pacemaker and favourite, Mountbatten. "I knew he could outsprint them from there," she said. Galleons Assassin attacked with a bold run from the turn, and appeared to have the race in hand 100 metres out. But Awesome Imace came with the speed Wakelin knew he had and turned the tables quickly inside the final 50 metres.
"We just needed our luck to change," said Wakelin, who weaned the colt for breeder Ian Starkey, and Noble arranged the lease with a right of purchase for himself, Moore, Stephen Hill and Alistair McLay.
Wakelin has had a thorough background in harness racing, especially with trotters, starting with Erin Crawford, where she spent three years, followed by four years with Ian Cameron. She drove five winners as a junior driver, then went to Brisbane, winning 30 races while employed by Stuart Hunter. On her return, with Noble, she worked for Mike Berger, then did yearling preparation for Merv Neill, and before establishing their own stable at Oxford, spent five years at Wai-Eyre Farm. They have two racehorses in their team of 12, plus three nearly due at the workouts.
Awesome Imace is the first winner in New Zealand sired by the Balanced Image horse Brylin Boyz and is from Awesome Lass, a Straphanger mare who won once from seven starts and got hurt. He is the third foal, and the first two have qualified, and there are two by Sundon to follow. Starkey was on-hand for the win, and recalled racing the grandam Not Surprise, a Hodgen's Surprise mare who won seven races for Bryce Buchanan. Starkey raced a number of horses from Gavin Hampton's stable, including Chiola Sam, the winner of five, and Wakfield - his first winner - in 1956.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 18May05