Colin Baynes reckons he had half the Knapdale neighbour-hood at his place last Friday night. They crowded round his television set to watch Country Ways contest the Newstalk ZB 3YO Flying Stakes, and by nine o'clock they had plenty to cheer about after the Camtastic gelding downed the guns in his first Addington test.
Country Ways has got another test this Saturday night - the Smokefree NZ Derby - but this time his proud owner and trainer will be there in person to see him race. "I have never had a runner in the Derby we don't normally push our younger horses," Barnes says. "But I suppose if you are not in, you can't win."
This philosophical attitude stems from the fact the Baynes has, finally, got a 3-year-old good enough to be 'in' a race like the Derby. Clancy, Debbie's Boy, Gentle Miss and Sapper, who won the Supremacy Stakes, have all been good 3-year-olds that Baynes has owned and trained, but in fact the southern region has not been that happy a hunting ground for him. "We have had our views on how good Country Ways is all along, and on Friday he went out there and showed us what he could do with the absence of bad luck."
Baynes was referring to his pacer's two previous outings, at Invercargill and Winton, where he had finished second and fourth respectively. "It is not that he'd had bad luck, just that he had not had much good luck on those occasions," he said. "He was not disgraced the day he finished second, because he did a lot of work to loop the field and he was pushed around on a track which is not very big. He got beaten by a horse that had a better trip on the day and I was quite happy with his performance. "Then he finished fourth in the Supremacy Stakes last week, when they sprinted home in something like 56 seconds off the front. As Colin (De Filippi) put it, even if you make a yard on the leaders under those conditions you are doing well." This brought an end to the five-race winning streak Country Ways had achieved in the space of three months, and Baynes was actually pleased about it. "He'd had so little experience before winning those races. Even the best get beaten, so the sooner we got that out of the road the better."
Swaying Baynes and his training partner Robin Swain's decision to send Country Ways north was a phone call from the Club, mentioning that they were short on numbers. So Baynes himself rang Colin De Filippi, a man he had known for a long time and always respected, and asked if he would mind looking after a boarder for a couple of weeks. "Robin and I have got a team of our own to work; you can't run all over the country and still look after the ones at home," he said, adding that his talented pacer's condition and fitness is due entirely to Swain's care of and attention to the horse.
"Country Ways left here at 8.30am Tuesday morning and arrived at Colin and Julie's at 4.30pm that afternoon. We didn't know how he would go being away from home for the first time, but Colin rang us on Thursday saying he had settled in well and we were tickled pink." Regardless of the result this Saturday night, Country Ways will be turned out for a spell afterwards.
Victory in the NZ Derby would be another feather in the cap of his owner though, a man who has given more than his fair share to the sport. Now 79 and still "sound of wind and limb," Baynes spent 17 years on the Conference between the late 1970s and early 1990s and thoroughly enjoyed the administration side of harness racing. He doesn't miss a meeting close to home, and still gets in the cart to jog the team too. In short, he loves the game, and he admits it proudly. "I can remember back in the early thirties, rushing home from Brydone Primary School as fast as I could (in bare feet) to spread the newspaper out on the kitchen table and find out about the match racing between Harold Logan and Walla Walla. Harold Logan was New Zealand's champion at the time, and Walla Walla was the Aystralian champion. I was anxious to learn the result; Walla Walla won the first one, and Harold Logan won the next two."
As for Country Ways' chance in this weeks Derby, Baynes is remaining philosophical about that too. "The horse can't read the paper, so he doesn't know what he is up against - he goes out there and does what he has to. "He's a tough wee fella, and he is getting better every day."
FOOTNOTE: Country Ways is named after a tourist shop on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Streets in Christchurch, which is owned by Baynes and managed by his daughter Donna.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 11Apr01
Roman Gladiator had something to crow about after winning the Ferrymead Restaurant & Bars NZ Welcome stakes.
This was the race he should not have won. Because not only did he give hot favourite Lennon a start and a beating, he did it with a flat tyre wrapped round the rim. After starting from the second line, behind Bull Run, he improved three-wide down the back, hauling the damaged wheel that had been affected from as far out as the 1400m peg. Lennon lost ground on the corner, while he was trailing his stablmate Classy Cullen, and then sorted himself out to rally strongly in the straight. And just when it appeared he had done enough to win, Roman Gladiator came with a woosh down the outside to take it by a neck.
Roman Gladiator is raced by Amanda Swain and Marie Neil, of Sydney. They bought the Christian Cullen-Assisi yearling colt for $19,000, when they really shouldn't have done so at all. "Marie wanted us to buy a filly, so her husband Peter could race and then breed from it," said Robin Swain, Amanda's husband and Knapdale co-trainer of the 3-year-old with Colin Baynes. "I don't exactly know why we finished up buying a colt, except that I thought he had a head just like his father's. He had a wee curb at the back, but I knew that wouldn't worry him. I suppose I just liked the look of him," he said. For his education, Swain put Roman Gladiator in the cart most days and has seen him improve each time he's been in.
He was driven in the Welcome by Colin De Filippi, who will continue to care for him now that the owners have decided to make the late payment for the Sires' Stakes Series. He has a heat for that at Forbury Park on Thursday, and another week or so later at Addington. "It is not often we race 2-year-olds," said Swain, "and if we do it's usually in our home area. Country Ways was one we could have, but he hurt a stifle at that age," he said. Swain and Baynes have 10 in work, including By The Left, a 3-year-old by Fake Left that Swain maintains will go right through the grades. "I was hoping there would have been a race for him on the last night of the meeting up here, and I think he would have won it," he said.
De Filippi has already given the horse a stamp of quality. In a quick reflection immediately after the race, he said: "He could be the second-best 2-year-old I have driven, after Courage Under Fire."
Roman Gladiator is the eigth foal fron Assisi, the winner of 11 races including the Leonard Memorial at two. Her first foal was the good performer, Chiavari. Roman Gladiator was bred by Stephen Shanks and Maurice Scown.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 16Apr03