Anyone thinking about life in the city only needs to talk to Kevin Townley. He is likely to champion the merits of a town and country lifestyle. Now confortably settled in suburban Christchurch, Townley travels each day to Ohoka - a 30 minute trip - where he has a team of eight. He formerly trained at Weedons, but is using the training property of Wayne Ross, who is also working the same number.
Townley has a racing team of one - Sundon's Luck - but six of the others are young trotters, and three of them will soon be tested to see if they have classic potential. It's a track Townley has been down many times before, and Sundon's Luck has been and done it. Now six, Sundon's Luck has been out of sorts since a stella season at three, when he won six races including two Group 1s and a Group 2, and his win in the Anthony Shearer/ Pink Batts Ordeal Trotting Cup at Addington last week indicated the change might be suiting him, too.
"He hasn't trotted like that since he was three," said Townley. "He could be getting back to that form; I'm hoping so," he said, after the gelding stole up inside hot favourite Sonofthedon and worried the win out of him. Lyell Creek carried his 11 years lightly, and was a gallant third, hinting at rich improvement to come.
Townley has not exactly had it easy training Sundon's Luck, after "he packed up racing at Auckland". When he returned to training at four, the horse was all at sea, and raced only five times before being set aside again. "The spell actually did nothing for him, when he came back in at five. He came back in like he went out," he said.
Townley wasn't working on "little niggles" alone. Bill Bishop, an authoritative Christchurch equine vet and part-owner of the horse with his wife Helen and Ben and Karen Calder, was also on the job. Sundon's Luck was well enough to race last season at five, and win three races, but Townley said he did it "under sufferance". "In the end we think it was a fetlock problem, and it looks to be cured," he said.
Townley, who says he has "no complaints" about his left hand that was badly crushed in an accident last season, will not be surprised if Sundon's Luck remains competitive at the highest level. "I'm not saying he's any better than any of the others, but he is a great little racehorse."
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 22Sep04
Two months ago, Kevin Townley didn't have a 3-year-old trotter. There was one in his stable called Sundon's Luck, but in no way was he reliable, and when Townley floated him home from Ashburton after the Hambletonian in February he knew he had some serious sorting out to do. "He had a gallop that day, just like he had done on debut at Addington," Townley recalled. "I was getting pretty worried at that stage, and remember thinking 'gee, I still don't have a 3-year-old trotter yet'."
Townley has compiled a super record with trotters over the years, especially in the younger age group ranks, but his hopes that Sundon's Luck would follow in the footsteps of such greats as Solar Fire and Sunning were diminishing day by day. It was a long-term plan that he had mapped out for Sundon's Luck ever since the horse had arrived on his property as a yearling, and he could see it was coming unstuck.
Bred by trotting stalwarts Trevor and Vera Allingham, Sudon's Luck went under the hammer at Karaka in the Autumn of 2000. Townley wasn't flying north for the Sales, but he was keen on the son of Sundon and Chiola's Luck all the same. "I thought he was the pick of the catalogue because of his breeding," Townley said. "Ben Calder (of Johnson's Oysters) was interested in buying a trotter at that stage too, so, knowing my vet Bill Bishop was going to go up for the Sales, I said to Ben...'why don't we just get Bill to look at Sundon's Luck for us, and save ourselves the trip'. "Bill loved him, and got him for $16,000."
Placed in the ownership of Calder, Bishop and their respective wives Karen and Helen, Sundon's Luck was soon in the care of his new trainer. It wasn't long before Townley had news for the foursome - some good, some bad. "He was up and running at two and had the ability, but not the brain." Townley said. "He just wasn't settled, and was very hyperactive. And he was too competitive; every time I put him alongside another horse he would go a hundred miles an hour trying to beat it, and fly to bits. All we could do was put him out for a good spell, and hope he would have the brain when he came back at three."
Sundon's Luck finally made it to the racetrack at the beginning of February this year. His trainer/driver took the necessary precautions by placing him on the unruly, but he galloped. Strike one. Then the 3-year-old went to Ashburton for the Hambletonian, and galloped again. Strike Two. Just when he thought he was going to strike out, Townley put bat on ball and hit a homer. Sundon's Luck sat in the one-one at Addington on March 8, and burst clear of his opposition to win with his ears pricked. Then a fortnight later at the same venue he gave leader Tony H a head start of some 20 metres, worked round to sit outside him for the last half, and ran him to a neck. And last Saturday night, in the event that meant more to Townley than any of them so far, Sundon's Luck jogged home to win the $50,000 Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Derby.
"Practice, practice and more practice," the Weedons horseman said, explaining how he turned Sundon's Luck around. I just kept changing things, and trying new things. Putting two poles on him has helped because that has got his steering perfect. But it is just a fluke that we got him right in time for all the big trots, so we are lucky in that respect."
Townley doesn't hide the fact that he thinks a lot of his latest winner. "He is very good," he said. "He has got better in every start since his first win, and on Saturday he went round the field on his own and led for more than the last lap. You don't see many do that. Solar Fire was a brilliant filly, but Sundon's Luck is different again because he is more of a stayer. That doesn't mean he hasn't got speed though, because that day at Ashburton he would have trotted his mile in well under two minutes once he finally got going. He has got a big motor. I have timed him to run his last quarter at Rangiora trials in 27 and a bit - and he never tires. What more could you ask for in a horse?"
The latest news that Townley has for Sundon's Luck's owners is to make travel arrangements. "Yes, we will have a go for the big money now. He will go to Auckland for the Trotters Championship and the Rosso Antico later this month, and then all going well we will head to Australia for the Holmfield, the Victorian Derby and the New South Wales Derby. I am still not ready to bring him off the unruly and line him up off the front yet. But the day I do, look out, because they won't see which way they went."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 04Apr02