YEAR: 1894

Specification & Alf Keith

(NOTE:- This is part of an article appearing in Volume 11, Number 4 of the Harness Racing International Magazine entitled Alf Keith - Champion of the Colonies.)

...The crowning glory of Alf (Keith), Specification and indeed for the Australasian breeding and racing industry was Specification's time trial over four miles on 7th July 1894 at Lancaster Park with a 25 sovereign prize and the 10 guinea Mrs E C J Stevens Cup awaiting if the world record of 10 minutes 52 1/2 seconds set by Satellite in America in 1887 could be bettered.

The newspaper reports of the day say it all - "In spite of the fact that the track, on account of heavy rains recently, was slow, Keith's horse Specification managed to cover the distance of four miles in a time trial in 10 min 47 secs or 5 1/2 seconds faster than the existing world record. On pulling up Keith was lifted from the sulky and carried shoulder high to the grandstand where, after a short speech by Mr Connell (sec.), Mrs E J Stevens presented Keith with the Cup she had given. Keith responded to much cheers from the assembled. It is felt that despite the record the track at Lancaster Park is too small for the long striding Specification."

The Otago Witness report was far greater in depth, "The going was very slow, and I do think that the pieces of wood laid from the inside outwards 3 ft benefitted the time. The pieces of wood were no doubt meant to ensure the right distance being covered, but I feel certain that they were responsible for Specification breaking on two occasions. On the whole, however, Specification did not break much and his action all through was much admired by onlookers. During the first part of the journey he was brought along by Tonga, a pony trotter, who was ridden by a small boy at a good cantering pace until she was pretty well "puffed out". Specification was then brought home by a big chestnut horse, ridden by Billy Brown, and over the last two or three curcuits his pace was undoubtedly fast. Had his finishing up gait been maintained all through he would have cut the record more badly than he did. His performance was quite good enough, however, though I am pretty certain that Specification is equally quite good enough to do something better under better conditions of going. He is really a splendid trotter, and a good stayer. Keith received something of an ovation on coming in, being carried into the stand shoulder high, and presented with the Cup given by Mrs Stevens. The breaking of a world's record merited something uncommon, and it may be that Specification's trainer may be the recipient of similar honours in the future."

A month after the time trial Keith sold Specification to studmaster A G Holmes for an undisclosed amount and under his ownership the trotter had just two more starts at the Canterbury Park TC Queens Birthday meeting in 1895 (May 24) before embarking on a successful and influential stud career especially through his daughters, eight of which are listed in Classic Families as foundation mares. The star attraction of that octet was undoubtedly Problem, the ancestress of Maori Miss who has spawned Australasia's greatest modern day black type trotting dynasty...

Credit: John Peck writing in Harness Racing International Magazine July/August 2009


YEAR: 1881


At first glace it would seem out of place to list a horse among the great stud sires who had not sired more than 60 winners which is a commonplace figure today. But Berlin, a sire with such a record, has a special place in our breeding history. For one thing, he was the first trotting bred stallion ever to stand in this country, being imported in 1881. For another he became a major influence on our breeding development as can be seen as his stud career unfolds. His 60 winners came at a time when trotting was in it's infancy and his achievements pro rata would equal most leading sires who followed him. He produced two horses who could fairly be called champions and one other who came very close to that rating, and his daughters bred on well. There are not many top families who do not carry Berlin blood somewhere along the line.

Bred in 1870 Berlin was exported to Scotland before racing and he was sold to New Zealander Robert Wilkin as a ten year old. Mr Wilkin was a businessman of substantial reputation who had a fondness for acquiring the fastest buggy horses around to help him beat the opposition on Christchurch roads. To steal a march on his rivals and to generally improve the breed of utility horses Mr Wilkin brought out Berlin and stood him at his Fendalton Stud. In later years he imported a number of others and mares who were extremely successful and he is generally recognised as the pioneer trotting studmaster. Whether in fact Mr Wilkin originally intended his imported stock to be primarily producers of racehorses however is open to debate.

Berlin was well-bred by American standards. His sire Woodford Mambrino had an unusual career racing once at three and not appearing on the track again for eight years. In between times he stood at the stud and did not get many mares and he only produced about 100 known foals. Many of these became fine performers and one of his sons, Pancoast, was sold at auction in 1886 for $28,000 which was a record price for a sire at that time.

In NZ, with no opposition of course, Berlin became very popular for he was described as a handsome bay of balanced proportions. Indeed some breeders became just a bit ambitious in getting his stock on the market for it was noted at the time that several yearlings by Berlin had been sold at auction before his first progeny appeared. Encouraged by Berlin's success Mr Wilkin then made more purchases this time in America and nearly all were successful. The tragedy for us was however that he leased Vancleve to Australia for two years and so successful was he that he never got back to this country, though a number of his stock were imported here.

Berlin however was sent mares of all descriptions and pedigrees but soon a number were showing to advantage on the racetrack and his matings with Wilkin's imported mares produced particular success.

His first track star was Callista a mare from Southern Queen who was predominantly thoroughbred in blood. Ashburton owned, Callista gave regular thrashings to assorted fields in the late 1880s and early '90s. And was our first recordholder over two miles. He saddle time of 5:22 made in Christchurch on a day when she had already won a race was followed by a 5:36 time in harness which remained for some years. At one stage Callista was owned by Dan O'Brien of Carbine fame but she became inconsistent in her form and was taken to Australia where she was asked to concede starts of up to half a mile in a three mile race. She was ultimately disqualified in that country and legend has it that she then went to America. Although the more cynical considered that she may well have been scoring victories in the country meetings around Australia under an assumed name, for such things were not unusual at that time.

Another by Berlin was Kentucky a son of the imported Jeannie Tracey. A trotter, Kentucky was the champion of his year and his influence on our breeding can never be erased, if only for one of his daughters - Thelma, the greatest broodmare ever bred in NZ. Contractor (5 wins) was another top horse of the late '80s while Stonewall Jackson by Berlin from Pride Of Lincoln (dam of Thelma) was the Robalan of his era. He won ten races which was a record in his day and won a number of them from the stable of young Freeman Holmes who raced him on lease. It was not unusual for Stonewall Jackson, a big versitile pacer, to concede starts of nearly 20 seconds to his rivals in two mile races - the equivalent today of 200 metres.

Wilkin, the result of a mating of Berlin and the great Polly, ancestress of over 85 winners, was another recordholder of his day taking a mile time of 2:16. Other fine performers he sired were Fraulein, Shamrock, Young Berlin, Berlin Maid, Patchwork and General Tracey. Berlin was easily the leading sire of his day. His 60 winners were accumulated at a time when trotting meetings were not as common as they are today. In addition the programmes were often of five races and these included at least one pony event which restricted sires of the time in amassing impressive records. It is not known how many mares Berlin served before his death in 1896 but it can be fairly claimed that few of them ever saw the racetrack. They were used as buggy horses, their owners producing the three or five guinea service fee either at the Fendalton Stud or when Berlin was taken 'on tour'.

If Berlin made a big impression with his immediate offspring his feats as a broodmare sire were even more impressive. Fraulein (from the imported Woodburn Maid) won one race only but produced at stud the wonderful Fritz, the greatest trotter of his time, perhaps anywhere in the world. Australian and NZ crowds loved this game foolproof trotter who, in dozens of starts, broke his gait only once. His full-brother Franz was also a noted performer and later a successful sire. Puella, a full-sister to Fraulein was the dam of Belmont M and Almont two top performers in their time. Almont, who was also a successful sire, held the three mile record for many years when that was a popular distance. In fact if it comes to that he probably still does hold it. Brown Duchess was another daughter to breed on, and the family she established produced in recent years, the top pacer Leading Light. Patchwork became the dam of the well performed Needle Work.

Another great foundation mare by Berlin was Regina who was ancestress of Logan Chief, Native Chief, Grand Mogul, Walter Moore and Southern Smile amongst others. Regina is typical of many of the mares Berlin had to serve being of doubtful ancestry though thought to be thoroughbred. Minto claims Parisienne, Garcon Roux and Soangetaha among her descendants.

If Berlin has had considerable influence through his daughters (and we have only skimmed the surface here), he has had a wide influence through his sons also perhaps more so than most other sires to stand here. He had a good start of course. Being the first trotting bred stallion in the country it was natural that owners of his sons were keen to put them to stud and many of them held their own against the increasing number of imported stock. One of his best sons was Contractor who seems to be missing from registered sires lists. A good winner himself Contractor sired Specification who at Lancaster Park in 1894 lowered the world record for four miles covering the distance in 10:47 although there seem to be some argument over the time. Contractor was still racing at this stage. Specification himself was a successful sire in later years.

Prince Bismark, another unregistered stallion, sired Ruahine who in turn produced the Australasian pacing champion Dan Patch in the early years of this century, Dan Patch took a 2:09.4 mile time but unfortunately died early and had virtually no stud career.

So although Berlin may not be a name which springs to mind as a great sire there are any number of top horses which carry his blood in their veins. The old fellow mightn't have a lot going for him on paper in terms of winners and stakemoney but he was our first champion sire and considering many of his stock never saw a racetrack he can hold his head up with any of the great sires who followed him.

Credit: David McCarthy writting in NZ Trotguide 14Oct76


YEAR: 1951


In the early 'eighties, coursing was a very popular sport in Canterbury, and for some time it flourished at the old Plumpton grounds, situated near Hornby. Subsequently, race meetings were held on the same property, but they never took on with the public. This led to a change of venue to Sockburn, where a body known as the Plumpton Park Racing and Trotting Club carried on for some years, with varying success. After some years the racing element dropped out, and then was formed the Plumpton Park Trotting Club, now known as the Canterbury Park Trotting Club.

Though its history is only a short one, no body in the Dominion did more to bring light-harness racing up to its present high standard than the Canterbury Trotting Club. In the year of its inception, 1888, meetings were held at Lancaster Park, Lower Heathcote, New Brighton and Plumpton Park. At that period totalisator permits could be had almost for the asking, and, indeed, there were more meetings then than there are at the present time. All these convincing-grounds, with the exception of Lancaster Park, were some distance from the city and not easy to access. Present-day racegoers who complain of the tedious transport to meetings do not know how well provided for they are. In the 'eighties the only public vehicles plying to the New Brighton course, for example, were drags, buses and carriers' carts most of which had seen better days. Packed in like sardines, the good-natured sportsmen made light of their troubles, even though these frequently included a breakdown in the treacherous bit of road leading from the Bower Hotel to the trotting ground.

To bring the sport nearer home a number of enthusiasts got together early in 1888 and resolved to utilise the Addington Showgrounds as a racing headquarters. That area was particularly well adapted for the purpose, as a small grandstand was available, and little trouble was experienced in laying out a half-mile track. So the Canterbury Trotting Club came into existence, and held its inaugural meeting on April 9, 1888.

A glance through the names of its officials should be instructive to those who retain the old idea that trotting had little standing in those times. That genuine sportsman Mr W Boag figured as president, with Mr J Deans and Mr J C H Grigg as vice-presidents. Prominent among the stewards were such well known men as Hon J T Peacock, Messrs George King, H Chatteris, A W Money, J T Ford, S Garforth, J Fergusson, and W Henderson. Most of these gentlemen were keenly interested in the welfare of the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association, which owned the grounds. At that first meeting Mr George King acted as judge, and Mr F W Delamain as starter, and the handicapping was entrusted to Messrs A I Rattray and H Piper. Seven event constituted the day's bill-of-fare, and stakes of from 20 to 35, the total reaching only 160. What a difference the intervening years have made in prize money.

An auspicious start was made, for in the very first event the two handicappers had the satisfaction of seeing a dead-heat between J Baxter's Dexter and G Burke's Jane. As was customary, the dead-heat was run off later in the afternoon and Dexter made no race of it. The Akaroa-owned stallion Victor, driven by his owner, J Rodriques, scored an easy win in the three-mile saddle trot, from Oliff's Bluegown and W and C Kerr's Gipsy. The corresponding harness event, also run over three miles, went to E Young's The Rogue, who was followed home by W and C Kerr's Wait-a-While. It is estimated that over a thousand people were present at the gathering. Messrs Hobb's and Goodwin's totalisator handled 1484.

Bad weather mitigated against the Club's second venture, held a few months later, and as a result only about 400 patrons turned out, and 889 was the totalisator 'main.' Within the first year of its existence the new club held four meetings, which did much to establish it in popular favour. Its progressive officials were soon enabled to increase the stakes considerably, and eventually races confined to stallions and juveniles were instituted. So mixed were the competitors that enormous starts were necessary to bring the fields together. On one occasion Mr D Barnes's Richmond won the Association Grounds Cup from the 115sec mark, and such flyers as Victor and Young Irvington frequently were asked to concede up to 30sec in mile events.

The introduction of races for stallions in the early 'eighties did much to popularise the club's winter meetings. These brought out such well-known stallions as Specification, Brooklyn, Viking, Imperious, Electioneer, Kentucky, Wilkin, Berlin Abdallah, General Tracey and Emerson. Some years later the executive made another progressive movement by instituting a race for 2-year-olds, known as the Juvenile Stakes, with 200 attached to it. This was the first effort made by any club to introduce early speed, but results showed that it was a little in advance of the times. The first two of these races was won by Mr J A Buckland, with Valiant and The Heir, but it was quite apparent that few Canterbury trainers had sufficient knowledge to get their juveniles ready for 2-year-old racing.

After being in existence for 12 years the career of the Canterbury Trotting Club was brought to a conclusion in dramatic circumstances. Just before the present century opened, Lancaster Park Amateur Trotting Club decided to purchase a course at Addington, next door to the Showgrounds, and reconstituted itself as the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club. When it was pointed out to the Minister of Internal Affairs that the two clubs intended to race with only an iron fence between them, he stepped in and insisted on an amalgamation. The wisdom of this action, though it was resented by many at the time, has since become most apparent. Several of the Canterbury Trotting Club's officials were elected to similar positions with the new body, and any resentment originally engendered soon wore off. That the amalgamation was fully justified is evidenced by the phenomenal success that has attended the efforts of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club. Its present headquarters are easily the best appointed in the Southern Hemisphere, and on its track most of the Dominion's time records have been established. Some years ago the course had another change of ownership, as a result of a deal between the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and the Canterbury Park Trotting Club. Both these clubs now race on it, and are likely to do so for many a year.

Undoubtedly the biggest lift ever given trotting was the elimination of proprietary interests. Many of those who had the management of courses in the early days were thorough sportsmen, whose chief aim was the betterment of the sport. Unfortunately, others were not quite as scrupulous, and this, to some extent, may account for the decline of such clubs as those that raced originally at Plumpton Park, New Brighton and Lower Heathcote. Under proprietary conditions, stakes seldom amounted to much over a century, while it was not uncommon to find horses racing for 25 stakes. Naturally, this did not make for the cleanest racing, and many owners depended more on what could be made out of the totalisator than on the stake money. This unsatisfactory state of affairs gradually disappeared as a result of judicious legislation by the NZ Trotting Conference and the NZ Trotting Association, two bodies that must be given every credit for bringing the conduct of trotting up to its present high standard. In club management there has been a corresponding improvement, which is reflected in the conduct of all present-day meetings. Nowhere in the world has trotting made such swift advancement as in NZ during the past quarter of a century.

Credit: F C Thomas writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 28Mar51

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