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W P WALSH
W P Walsh is associated with 1950s Westport trotter, Durban Chief. But there was a lot more to Billy Walsh's career than that. He tells David McCarthy about some of the highlights of nearly 70 years with horses.
There was a family connection with racing when you were young?
My father, Claude, was a butcher in Westport and often trained a horse or two for a hobby, sometimes for other people. That is the way I have worked too, really. I took over the management of the butchery for Oxnams of Murchison from dad and later we took it over ourselves. Horses were a sideline, but I have had a tremendous amount of pleasure doing it that way.
Deliver the meat with horses?
Dad had but it was mostly bikes in my time. When petrol rationing came in after the war it started people coming to the shop instead. I remember dad having to get special coupons to go up the Buller Gorge every couple of weeks just to buy stock. We had up to 26 staff at one time, but now only wholesale. We were the first shop in Westport to sell pre-packed meat and it was a turning point for us.
We could see the supermarkets coming and were looking to hold our own. Stan Payne was an Englishman who had developed the prepak for Auckland firms and in Christchurch. We saw it with Jack Ferguson in Greymouth and took it on. Later we bought a supermarket and sold a lot of meat through that. It became a Fresh Choice and in the end we accepted an offer we couldn't refuse for it. We have only sold wholesale since then.
When did the racing come in?
My first winner was Sea Pirate at Westport(1952). Dad trained him. We had got him for £200. He had been a good horse as a youngster. I think he was placed in the Sapling Stakes. He won his first three starts that season but he had been useful before that. We had a good horse in King Bruce about the same time. He was raced by Jimmy McDonald from Ngakawau. He had broken him in and he was a good horse for us.
What was it like driving against the Canterbury reinsmen? You and your horses would not have had much practice before the meetings?
In those days there were a lot of trainers operating in Westport. Barney White was my best man when I married Gloria and still comes around for a chat. Len Pascoe was a great driver. Frank Watson from Reefton, he won six races one day there; Keith Powell - quite a few of us. We would have our own little trials on Sunday mornings. We held our own alright. I found the visiting drivers pretty fair. Fortunately, Maurice Holmes didn't come up this way much.
Other early winners?
Queen Jess won for us a Westport. She was another of Jimmy McDonald's horses. And I won one for George Shand one day at Blenheim which was a bit unexpected.
It was the second string. George was driving Sam Scott which Sam Woods owned. My horse, Bar None, was a brilliant beginner, but gee he could pull. Well, in this particular race there were two false starts but Bar None began like a bullet each time. Man, he pulled, but he was always clear of them.
I see one day when you were driving, Colin Berkett had a horse called Cabot which won a race and went out and won the next one. Do you remeber that?
Not offhand but I remember Leo Berkett winning successive races one day with one horse; one of them pacing and one of them trotting. I think it was with Toushay.
Durban Chief. He was a bit of a cult horse in his time. How did you become associated with him?
He was bred by Mrs Bill Craddock (wife of the West Coast cartage operator) and Bert Woodcock trained him. There were quite a few people with an interest in him. He was leased originally and then bought. I drove him in a lot of his work but it was dad who really set him on the road to fame.
They were trying to get him to pace and he was proving a bit of a handful. Dad watched him one day and said he thought the horse was wanting to trot and they should try them at that.
Had you driven at Addington much before him. Were you nervous?
I hadn't driven there before Durban Chief. You worry that you will do something wrong in a big race like that but I liked driving at Addington. All those good drivers. It made it easier in some ways.
He won two Dominion Handicaps. Did one stand out ahead of the other?
Well, he got the first one on a protest. Recruit was first past the post but he was in a gallop and was relegated to third. I think they put him up to second on appeal. The day of the appeal was one of my most memorable days in racing.
Maurice Holmes and I were giving evidence and we had to wait in a seperate room. We were there on our own for about an hour and I have never learned more in a shorter time about racing than on that day. A great man, Maurice. People liked him and when he was on a likely winner he got a few breaks from other drivers because of who he was.
The second Dominion?
It sounds like a skite, but it was easy. He was off 36 yards and everything went to plan. I think he won by eight lengths. He should have gone through unbeaten on all four days. He won three and ran second in the Worthy Queen Handicap and he should have won that. It was my fault. He set some great records too. Dictation held all the records then but Durban Chief matched them.
What became of him?
Noel Simpson leased him and he went to America. Before that I took him to Auckland and he won a race there leading up to the Rowe Cup. He won 32 races in America. He was the first New Zealand trotter to run in an International Series up there and measured up to the good ones. When he retired he used to pull a gig for an old couple who looked after him. He deserved it. He was a lovely old horse.
Easy to drive?
The thing with Durban Chief was that he never wanted to do anything wrong on or off the track. He was great to do anything with around the stable and once he was trotting right he was super smooth, no putting in short or long ones or doing something funny. He just wanted to do it right. In a 2600m race at Addington he would take a while to get fluent. Maybe by the time he got to the showgrounds bend he was right and that would be that. He had a wonderful sprint at the end of his races. The day he won the Dominion he just ran away from them and they were pretty good trotters about then. You could only wish they were all like him.
A horse to have a bet on maybe?
Yes, probably, but I had learned my lesson about punting before he came along.
You did a lot of freelance driving. It could not have all been plain sailing?
There was one time when a Canterbury trainer put me on at Westport. We did everything right and won and he was absolutely furious. He had not said anything beforehand about what he wanted. He wasn't happy when I brought it back but then went around town telling everyone I had "had a go" on my own while he had not backed it.
What could you do about that?
Well, I did talk to the stipe Len Betterfield and I said I thought it was a bit tough being talked about like that. Len had a lot of experience. He came back to me and said "Any trainer who has to ride a bike around Christchurch hasn't amounted to much" and we left it at that. I rated Butterfield far ahead of his predecessor.
You drove quite a lot for "Super" Shrives of Reefton. Super could be a bit fiery too?
Super could get wound up but we never had a cross word. I remember driving Steel Lady for him once at Nelson and he told me he had let the hopples out eight holes. I said that seemed a bit extreme but he said it would be alright. Well, she just couldn't find her gait and never paced well. The second day he took the hopples up six holes and she won. Repus Bob was a trotter I won a couple with him for Super too.
You drove, trained or owned other good ones?
I was always a seller and most of the good ones went early. Cedar Kiwi ran a first and a second in two starts and went to America. We had a full brother who was better but was a heartbreak. He was always sore and we spelled him more than once but he always went wrong. The Deputy we sold after he qualified and Johnny Tapp won a lot of races with him in Australia. On of the best horses we had was Hurry On which my father (Claude) raced with Jack Clayton. He won on Show Day at Addington(1964) and was a bit unlucky not to win on Cup Day as well. I drove Remlap three times for three wins. Johnny Gilbert won a Westport Cup. Faberge I won several races with for Brian Woodcock. It is not easy to remember them all now. Chesterfield which I drove for Ransley Reid, won a race at Addington and caused a stir at Omoto one day.
In what way?
Well, I went down there just to drive Chesterfield. I didn't find out until I got there that he was out and then I was offered the drive on Doctor Jim not long before the race. I went to see the stipes and there was a bit of talk but I was allowed to drive him and he won. Some punters were not impressed because those off course didn't know I was driving it.
Cecil Devine hired you one day?
Yes, that was for a mare he sent over called Daisy D'oro. I remember him telling me that when he first came to Westport (in the 1940s) at the old Mill Road track he slept the previous night in the grandstand. He went a long way from there. He told me to check out Daist D'oro with Bob Young on raceday because he had driven her. Bob didn't muck around. He just told me she was a "stinking little b...." and he was dead right there.
You also drove Golden Rule quite a lot?
Yes, but I wasn't on her when she won the Champion Stakes at Ashburton because that meeting clashed with Westport. My father had a racing share in her with Jack Reedy at that stage. I took her up north where she won the Masterton Cup. It's been a great family. She was a lovely mare to handle.
Yes, we sent him over to Denis Nyhan later which we did in those days with the better ones to cut the travelling down. He won the Timaru Cup for Denis and I am pretty sure he set a track record doing it.
I guess with your opportunities you never had a big tally of winners in a season?
I think 11 was the best and it wouldn't have been with that many drives, maybe 30 or 40. As I said it was a hobby rather than a business proposition for us. We'd buy a horse at the sales most years looking to sell on. Aveross Seelster we had some fun with. Craig Thornley and Jackie Burrows did a lot of the work with him. We sold him to Perth for very good money and I got a shock when my boys told me one night Aveross Seelster was arriving back in the morning.
What was the story?
My wife Gloria had died and I was a bit down. I took a long time to get over it. He hadn't done well in Perth. The boys tracked him down, bought him back, and he turned up at home to give me a bit of a lift I suppose.He went a big race for second up but didn't do much after that. He broke a leg out in the paddock one night.
Now the next generation is taking an interest?
Yes, one of my sons, Graeme, and his wife, Karina, have gone into breeding for the sales here. Actually the only horse I have in work now is a Christian Cullen filly they are retaining for breeding. They have done pretty well so far. It is not an easy business breeding to sell.
Christian Cullen. Where did he rate with you among the greatest you have seen?
Right up there. One of the really great ones. But Highland Fling has always been my favourite. I saw him race quite a few times. You never forget a horse that could do what he did.
You are now 80 and seem to be keeping well?
I had a brain bleed a while ago which kept me in hospital for a few weeks but it seems all right.
It hardly seems worthwhile asking if you have any regrets?
No way. I have met a lot of great people in trotting. A lot of great people. I still follow the game as closely as I always have. It's been an important part of my life.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 5 & 12Dec09
YEAR: 19581958 DOMINION HANDICAP
Few easier wins have been seen at Addington for some time than that of Durban Chief in the Dominion Handicap. Over the final stages he literally played with the rest of the field and was unextended in the run home to win by nine lengths.
He drifted slightly in the early stages and had increased his handicap of 36 yards, but he had no trouble in racing up handy at the half mile. He became the first horse on Saturday to win the Dominion Handicap in successive years and his time of 4:17 3-5 for the two-mile journey could have been a lot better if there had been anything in the race capable of making him go. The record for the race is 4:16 2-5, held by Dictation. Durban Chief was privately timed from post to post in 4:15. The first half mile was run in 66 1-5secs, six furlongs 1:38, mile 2:08, mile and a quarter 2:39 1-5, mile and a half 3:11 1-5 and last quarter 31 4-5.
Durban Chief was produced in grand order by his trainer, J R Woodcock, and was capably driven by W P Walsh who has been associated with Durban Chief from the beginning. Durban Chief's win on Saturday brought his stake winnings to £8515.
Credit: 'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 26Nov58
YEAR: 19571957 DOMINION HANDICAP
Only a five-year-old, Durban Chief returned a fine effort to win the Dominion Handicap, the premier event for trotters in New Zealand. His performance was marred to some extent however by two breaks during the running, but when balanced he showed his usual brilliance.
Bred at Westport by Mr W A Craddock, he is raced in partnership by Mrs M F Collins, Mr E Walsh and J R Woodcock, who trains him at Westport. Durban Chief was driven by W P Walsh, who has been associated with him in all his races.
One of the most brilliant displays of trotting seen at Addington for some time was returned by Recruit in the Dominion Handicap, and it was nothing short of a tragedy that he broke just short of the post when he had the race won. From 84yards Recruit began safely but soon became badly placed. He received a shocking run to the half mile and then had to race wide to make his run. His exhibition deserved a much better fate as he did not put a foot wrong until his lapse at the end.
PHOTO - There was an exciting finish to the Dominion Trotting Handicap when the brilliant Recruit(M Holmes) outer, came home in sensational style to cross the line narrowly ahead of Durban Chief(W Walsh) and Barravey(J Litten). Unfortunately for his supporters Recruit broke just short of the post and was relegated to third place for galloping across the line. This was one of the finest performances ever put up by Recruit and it was unfortunate that he lost the decision through breaking
Credit: 'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 20Nov57