J S (Jack) Shaw, who died in Christchurch on Saturday aged 76 after ailing in health for several months, will long be remembered in NZ racing and trotting circles for many fine accomplishments. But probably his greatest feat of all was blazing the trail to America for NZ standardbreds with that grand trotter Vodka.
It could be rightly said that someone had to be first in this role, but Jack Shaw overcame severe adversity to get Vodka into winning form in the United States in 1956. I was there with him at that time, and I believe no other horseman from this part of the world could have surmounted the difficulties that beset him on that trip and proved his point by leading the way across the Pacific to the hundreds of standardbreds that have followed.
Had Jack Shaw and Vodka failed in their mission, there would almost certainly have been great reluctance on the part of any other owners and trainers to take or send horses to America. The crack pacer Caduceus may not have been tempted to New York for International competition in 1960, there might not have been sufficient American faith in NZ performances to prompt the purchase of the mighty Cardigan Bay in 1964. And the keen demand for our standardbred product that arose through the deeds of our topliners in the United States transforming NZ trotting from a battler's sport to a flourishing industry, might not have developed.
Jack Shaw was just the man for such a significant crusade. Already by 1956 his name was a household word in NZ racing circles. His accomplishments, first in trotting with a string of outstanding pacers and trotters headed by the long-time NZ record holder for a trotting mile, Worthy Queen(2:03 3-5), and then with numerous gallopers headed by the outstanding classics and cups winner Beaumaris, had set the seal to his fame. And when the brilliant trotter Vodka, a gift to Jack Shaw from Auckland's Mr Trotting, Bill Hoskins, capped a fine NZ record by winning from 102 yards at 13 furlongs in record time at Addington early in 1956 in his final appearance, the stage was set.
The NZ trotting fraternity as a whole had every confidence that the Shaw-Vodka combination would prove winning ambassadors in their historic venture into the American harness racing scene. But events were to prove that it was not going to be all that easy. Jack Shaw took Vodka to America by ship. It was a bad trip, and Vodka and his master both travelled poorly. They reached New York down in health and Vodka, his condition aggravated by severe corn trouble, could not trot a yard when Jack set him to training at Yonkers. From being a star visitor with glowing advance reports to live up to, Vodka, when he looked and performed so poorly in first appearances on the busy Yonkers training scene, was reduced to something of a joke amongst the heartless grooms and touts of the area who knew nothing of the troubles of the visitor.
Jack Shaw was a man of great independence and pride. He refused to seek sympathy from raceway officials or to accept help from American horsemen - insistent in his own mind that he would overcome all the problems. But Vodka was proving more than a worry even for Jack Shaw, costs were running high, eating into the finance Shaw was legally restricted to. In desperation, Jack transported Vodka to the less significant Vernon Downs track in upstate New York, took moderate private lodgings, lived virtually on coffee and hamburgers for weeks on end while he devoted his every waking moment to patching up Vodka sufficiently to win with him.
In his day a robust but extremely fit man with a background that included a career in wrestling and wrestling refereeing, Jack lost several stone in weight and, I am sure, aged himself considerably in this ordeal. Jack by this time had refused to accept financial assistance offered him by globetrotting NZer Noel Simpson. He still wanted to do the job completely on his own. Boarding with him for a few days at that time, I found that despite all his woes, Jack Shaw still retained his sense of humour. When I mistakenly set the fire alarm for the whole township of Vernon going, thinking that I was using a telephone in the household, he laughed until the tears came.
Finally, Vodka was as ready as any hands could have possibly got him under the circumstances for his American race debut. Typically slow from the barrier in his first start, Vodka, though not half his former self, made ground into fifth at the wire. Though relieved that Vodka had shown sufficient to suggest he would be able to at least win minor races, Jack was nevertheless bitterly disappointed that he hadn't won first-up with him.
The following week, however, the NZ combination made no mistake, coming from another slow start to win handsomely. And history was made. Almost crying with joy, Jack invited me into the box with him and the horse after cooling Vodka out. As I tried to squeeze past Vodka's rump the gelding lifted his off hind leg as if to kick at me. I froze. "Don't worry about him. He won't kick you. If he does I'll send him back to NZ," said Jack. And fortunately for me, that great confidence that Jack Shaw had in himself and his horse was right once again. Vodka didn't kick me.
He was to win several more races under Jack and then a few more under an American trainer, Earl Nelson, who had been very helpful after Jack had finally befriended him. And though, before he died a year or so later while still in active racing Vodka did not win a really big race in America, he had proved a NZ horse could succeed in the States.
I related some of this story some months later to Karl Scott, long-time editor of the NZ Trotting Calendar and a top authority on NZ trotting. Karl said at that time: "Jack Shaw is not a trainer, he's a scientist with horses." I couldn't agree more.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in NZ Trotting 14Jul73
J S(Jack)Shaw has been almost everything connected with racing and trotting. He has had through his hands some of the best horses of the three great contesting gaits - galloping, trotting and pacing - won races with saddle horses and jumpers, and had an incredible number of different experiences.
J S has been associated with horses since his youth and his first ride in a race was about 35 years ago on a horse called Bribery, one of the T G Fox team, for whom Jack was head lad. Years later he received his most thilling experience in a race at Wanganui. Driving Jimmy Richmond, Shaw faced a crisis when the rein broke, for he was running in the middle of a packed field. He climbed up on to the horse's back, gathered the rein and continued on to finish third.
Jack Shaw became a prominent trainer at Epsom in the twenties and among his most noted and strongest patrons at that time were Mr M J Moodabe and Mrs Sweetapple. Of the many topline horses through his hands during that period the greatest was Worthy Queen.
The late J R Corrigan, of Hawera, was a major breeder of trotters at the time and between days at the Hawera meeting each year used to sell large numbers of stock, which did much to build up trotting through the Island. Alex Corrigan, a well-knowm driver in his day, now a member of the Trotting Conference, was handling his father's horses back about 1930. Worthy Queen, by Worthy Bingen from Queen Chimes, was bought by a Hastings owner, but on the advice of a friend, her breeder, J R Corrigan leased her back. Alex Corrigan won a number of races with the mare, but she soon reached tough marks for the North and in 1931, when Jack Shaw moved from Epsom to Christchurch, the owner sent Worthy Queen to him. Later, when Mr Corrigan was ill, he sold his racing rights in Worthy Queen to the trainer.
She won many races, but ubdoubtedly her greatest performance was when she established a trotting record against time of 2.03 3/5. Perhaps if conditions had been ideal she would have trotted two minutes. The was a minor gale blowing and it was a remarkable effort. In a race she set up the record of 3.14 1/5 for a mile and a half, and this record, established in 1934, still stands.
The first horse Mr Shaw trained was whispering Willie, who at odd times won races for every trainer who had him, including J Bryce, J Wilson, G Murfitt and W Orange. A number of horses were bought in Australia for Mr Moodabe and trained by Jack, and included amongst them was Torpedo Huon, a rather handsome entire, who did well. Another horse he bought for Mr Moodabe, and perhaps the best pacer Shaw had, was Jewel Pointer, who won many races over all distances and under all conditions. He only cost £300. He once ran three firsts and three seconds within eight days, all in £1000 races, and starting at Auckland had to travel to Christchurch to complete the project.
Perhaps J S's favourite horse, judging from his conversation, is Native Prince. He was bred by Ben Shadbolt of Hawke's Bay, and sold to Chris Rokkjer, who took him to Australia and who, incidently, is still a keen follower of the light harness game. Peter Riddle, later to become famous as the owner of Shannon, bought him and a number of others to Auckland at the time the Aussies were winning everything at Epsom and Otahuhu, and sold him to Mrs Sweetapple. Native Prince won numerous races and worked his way through to New Zealand Cup class.
Gus Cameron sold a chestnut colt by Our Thorpe from the Grattan Abbey mare The Abbess in a consignment of draught horses, for 14gns to the Richmond brothers. Incidentally, the number of horses this breeder has sold must run into big numbers, and the story is told that he "keeps his own five studbooks in his head." The colt became known as Carmel and won races for Jack, who leased him. After being sold Carmel went into C S Donald's team and scored in the Auckland Cup, among other races.
Florrie Bingen, raced in partnership with Mrs Sweetapple, proved a grand bargain. Costing only £150 she won numerous races while under the Shaw mentorship. The greatest stayers through his hands among the trotters were Man O' War and Royal Silk. Mar O'War was in his care for 12 months after the brilliant champion had won two Auckland Cups. Taking Royal Silk over, that smart performer missed once and then won the big race at Dunedin, the Auckland Cup and two other races at Epsom, and the New Zealand Gold Cup at Wellington - in a row.
In 1930 he gave up horse training and he and the New Zealand champion wrestler, George Walker, opened a gym in Auckland. Jack Shaw returned to training the following year, shifting to New Brighton. He continued to be highly successful as a trainer of pacers and trotters until the end of the 1936 season.
When Shaw first went south he had Impromptu, who up to that time had shown useful form. Impromtu eventually beat Harold Logan in a Free-For-All and took a record of 3.13. Other noted horses he had at various times and stages of their careers were Koro Peter, the Petereta trotter Peter Dean, The Abbey, Peter Pirate a noted mudlark, Ironside for a time, The Squire, Ballin, Jewel Wood, Golden Eagle a neat trotter, Overate, Arachne, Fairyland and Great Change, while he drove many others.
In 1937, J S Shaw took a position as stipendiary steward to the New Zealand Trotting Conference, and held this office with distinction until he resigned in 1946. Jack Shaw then transferred his attention almost entirely to gallopers, although he followed both sports with keen interest, he established himself quickly, and among the winners he early turned out were the NZ Oaks winner Idle Jest, All Serene, Eulogize, the useful Peridot, and others.
The most eventful day in his long and varied career was at the 1948 Yearling Sales at Trentham. A colt by Beau Repaire from Mabel Rose was offered. Mabel Rose, being a half-sister to the NZ Derby winner Pensacola, Mrs Shaw, formerly Miss Sutherland, was attracted by the entrant in the ring, as her sister had raced Pensacola in partnership with Mr H Edgington. Early bidding for this colt soon stopped and Jack Shaw and William Dwyer were left to outbid each other. Such was not the case, however, and William Dwyer became the owner at 300 guineas. Using more than astute judgement, Jack went straight to the new owner and purchased the colt at a lesser figure than if he had kept bidding.
That colt then established himself as the hardiest top-class horse since the immortal Carbine and was known to the racing world as Beaumaris. He established a single season stake winning record. Among the mostr remarkable of Beaumaris' feats was his third as a three-year-old in the Auckland Cup and his success in the Wellington Cup. His duels with the flying filly Sweet Spray and the tough gelding Tudor Prince will be talked about when you and I are gone. He has set the name of Jack Shaw firmly in racing history as Carbine did Dan O'Brien, or Liberator Patsy Butler.
It is doubtful if any other trotter in the Dominion can match Vodka for speed but his ability to hold a position early has cost him races here. In America horses race to the start at top speed and under these conditions Vodka should shine. Mr Shaw will stable his star at the famous Roosevelt Raceway, 17 miles from New York, and Vodka should race towards the end of April. The season opens on April 1 and continues over 100 days until July, whilst at other New York tracks the curcuit continues until the end of November. The sea trip to the States takes about one month and Jack expects Vodka to be in racing trim six weeks after his arrival. Vodka will be competing once a week, mostly over a mile. The stakes are worth $6000 (roughly £1900). Fifty per cent goes to the winner, 25% to the second horse and 15% to third and 10% to fourth. Should Vodka strike form it is possible that the Americans will invite him to test their best in the American Trotting Championships, which are run over one mile and a quarter in July. America's best are invited to start and this test is the highlight of the American season. This distance would suit Vodka who proved his staying power in NZ.
Well known in Northern trotting circles, Mr W Hosking, of Waiuku, bred Vodka, but he was originally educated to pacing by young Pukekohe trainer J K Hughes. Vodka's early career was not much too enthuse over and he only started five times as a two-year-old, running one fourth. Next season he was converted to the trotting gait and gained immediate success, although at times losing all chances by starting in a pace. At four years Vodka showed real ability by beating the the good trotter Willonyx and later winning two races at Hutt Park. It is understood at this stage of Vodka's career that Mr Hosking gave the horse to Mr Shaw, who recorded one placing with him that season.
At five years Vodka won first up in the Addington Trotting Stakes and at the Cup meeting beat Mountain Range...the final win recorded that season was at the winter meeting when he beat Swanee River. At the Easter meeting he finished fourth but ran the two miles in 4.17 4/5 - a really smart time.
Now a six-year-old, Vodka won four races and was placed six times, earning £5170. his smart time of 3.26 2/5 after going under to Slipstream in the mile and five furlong Freyberg Handicap, was recorded early in the day, and later he won the Fergusson Handicap. Last season was Vodka's leanest so far as winning was concerned and he failed to head them. He registered seven placings however to pay for his keep, but even though he did not win he displayed remarkable speed from almost impossible positions. Over eight starts this season he has won one and been three times in the money. His latest racing was at the Auckland Cup meeting where hw started mostly from impossible marks.
Vodka is by Logan Derby from Cyone Girl, a winner at the pacing gait, by Tsana from Cyone - by Logan Pointer, tracing back to the imported Bell Bingen, ancestress of many winners, including Our Roger, winner of the last NZ Trotting Cup.
Vodka, incidentally, holds the New Zealand winning record for one mile and five furlongs of 3.27. He has trotted the mile and a half in 3.13 4/5, and two miles in 4.16.
Credit: NZ Hoof Beats Feb 1956
Vodka, winner of 11 races in the United States and holder of the NZ winning record for one mile and five furlongs, had to be destroyed recently at Saratoga Springs, USA. In a race there, Vodka suffered a badly shattered pastern.
When first campaigned in America by owner-trainer J S Shaw, Vodka won eight races, finished second twice, third once and fourth once in 17 starts. On the return of Mr Shaw to NZ, Vodka was leased to Earl Nelson, who won three more races with the Logan Derby gelding. Mr Shaw stated to the calendar that Nelson, who had grown very attached to the horse, was very upset over the loss.
Prior to the accident, Vodka had been working exceptionally well and it was thought he would win. Including his NZ winnings, Vodka has won over $34,000. Before being put into training this season in the USA, Vodka was taken to Canada, where it was thought he might not encounter so many difficulties, as that country is under the British flag. However, his career there was stopped before it ever started, as the powers that be refused to register Vodka. The reason given was that Vodka was not a standardbred. No horse is a standardbred over there unless it is completely American-bred. Vodka was registered in America as non-standard-bred.
In one race at Saratoga in which Vodka finished fifth after losing a big stretch of ground at the start, he was timed to trot the last six furlongs on a half-mile track in 1.29 1/5sec.
Vodka was a champion of scintillating brilliance when raced in the Dominion, and he made history when he crossed the Pacific Ocean to race in America. It was a gigantic undertaking and Jack Shaw did not fully realise what he had taken on till he was well on the way. A rough passage on the ship was experienced to start with and on arrival there, Vodka took some time to settle down in the new climate and different surroundings. Change of feed was also no small hurdle to surmount. However, Vodka, in the skilled hands of Shaw, eventually won out, but it was not without a grim struggle. Dollars were short and Vodka and his owner-trainer-driver were almost on their own in a strange land. Jack Shaw had previously been to the States to buy two stallions for two well-known NZ breeders and he was well received on that trip.
Vodka had always been very fast. When he was winning races in the North Island for his first trainer, J K Hughes, he already had amazing speed. He beat horses of all ages as a 3-year-old, winning four races that season. Vodka started out as a pacer - he finished fourth in the Manawatu Futurity Stakes, for 2-year-olds, to Red Slipper, Johnny Globe and Ohio and had several more starts as a pacer that season. Then he took time off from the racetrack while Hughes converted him to the trotting gait. He was an apt pupil.
At his third start as a 3-year-old he was a winner, and he took two more winning tricks in a row. He finished up that season on a tight line for a 3-year-old trotter, line 11, or marks of 3:33 for a mile and a half, 3:52 for a mile and five furlongs and 4:47 for two miles.
He opened his 4-year-old career by winning at his first start and he won two more races for Hughes that season before being sent south to Shaw, in whose colours he has raced since. As a young trotter Vodka had an ungainly action. At the outset he used to hit himself behind. Later he trotted cleanly and he did not touch himself anywhere, as his exceptional speed showed. "It used to take really half a mile before he got trotting," Shaw said. "Due to his early experience as a pacer he got confused at the start of his races and was liable to go away on the pace."
Vodka gradually overcame those disabilities and in his record-breaking winning run at Addington before leaving for America he was at full speed within a furlong; for the next half mile he put up the astonishing time of 58 2/5sec - a 1.56 4/5 mile rate. The 'hop, step and jump' method of locomotion once employed by Vodka in the early part of his races had been practically ironed out of his system by patience and careful study of his feet and shoeing and the improvement in his speed after he conquered his tendency to 'put down three and carry one' was phenomenal. It seemed certain that, given the opportunity, Vodka would have been the first two-minute trotter in NZ.
Mr Hoskings received several substantial offers for Vodka as a 3-year-old, one of £1500, but he would not sell him. J S Shaw asked him one day: "What are you going to do with him?" "When he runs out of the North Island classes I'm going to give him to you and you'll have a trotter who will take Worthy Queen's place, because some day he will be fast enough to break her record and will be the best two-mile trotter in the country as well," declared Mr Hosking.
In one race at Addington Shaw timed him the last mile and a quarter in 2:34 3-5, the last half mile in 1:00 4-5. On several occasions, after breaking at the start, he trotted the last mile and a half in 3:06 4/5 and 3:09, and on one notable occasion a middle mile in 2.00 2/5.
It is of interest to note that Vodka's pedigree was predominantly pacing. Both his sire, Logan Derby, and dam Cyone Girl, were pacers, and so were all four of his grand-parents, Globe Derby and Belle Logan (sire and dam of Logan Derby), and Tsana and Cyone (sire and dam of Cyone Girl). All too, were winners of the pacing gait. Vodka carried no fewer than three strains of the blood of Logan Pointer, a famous American-bred pacing sire who left very few trotters, although one of those was a champion in Trampfast. Vodka was by Logan Derby, a champion pacer by Globe Derby from Belle Logan, by Logan Pointer, and Vodka's dam, Cyone Girl, was got by Tsana, a little-known sire by another famous pacing sire in Jack Potts (who left only one trotting winner, Implacable), from Abyssinia, by Logan Pointer. Cyone Girl's dam Cyone, was also by Logan Pointer.
Cyone was out of Mavis Bingen, by Huia Dillon (Harold Dillon, imp-Grattanette, imp) from Belle Bingen(imp) by Bingen (famous American sire), from Bertha Belle(imp), the dam of champion pacers Great Bingen and Peter Bingen, and several other good winners, including the trotter Worthy Bingen, the sire of Worthy Queen, whose mile trotting record of 2.03 3/5 has now stood since 1934. Shaw trained and drove Worthy Queen.
'Irvington' writing in the NZ Trotting Calendar 1956
Vodka returned one of the finest exhibitions of trotting ever seen at Addington when he won the Holmes Handicap from the long mark of 102 yards and set a new world's winning record for one mile and five furlongs, lowering his own record by one second. He trotted one of his half-miles in 58.4 secs, probably the fastest for a trotter ever recorded in the Dominion.
Vodka began safely, and it was apparent passing the stands with a round to go that he had more than an average chance of winning. The crowd was quick to recognise this fact and he was given a good hand as he approached the showgrounds bend. The Logan Derby trotter moved forward at the three furlongs, and when the field straightened up for the run to the post he soon gathered up the leaders to win by a length and a half. The merit of his performance was fully appreciated by the crowd, who gave him and his driver, J S Shaw, a wonderful ovation on their return to the birdcage.
This was Vodka's final race appearance in New Zealand before leaving for America.
Vodka and Jack Shaw made light-harness history when they left for the United States at the end of February 1956, for this was the first occasion that a standardbred had been taken fron New Zealand to be raced in America.
Dave Cannan, in his book Unhoppled Heroes, notes that "There were no overnight flights to the states in those days. For Vodka and Shaw it was a 4000-mile sea voyage which lasted nearly five weeks and proved very arduous for both horse and owner."
Credit: 'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 17Sep583
DUAL GAITED TRAINERS