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YEAR: 2009

JACK SMOLENSKI

In July last year, harness racing's "horseman's horseman", Jack Smolenski, 73, was struck down by a brain haemorrhage at Addington Raceway, just before he was to drive in a race, and, at one stage, he was given up for dead. He talks to David McCarthy.

Our Princess Royal's win at Methven (this month) would have been a tonic for you?
Yes, she had disappointed me at Motukarara. I had a good talk to young Sam (grandson Sam Smolenski)and he did everything right on the day.

He doesn't have a bad teacher.
He doesnt tell fibs. He is straight-up and so am I. After one of her races when I thought she might have done a bit too much, he said maybe she just wasn't good enough and I said "b....., you can't sprint twice in a race - at least with what I feed them - and you have to remember that. You can go to the front, but you can't sprint again to fight them off and still come home fast." He is doing well, he can be very patient. You have to be careful with fillies. They can go off quickly if they have to do a bit too much in a race when you expect they might improve.

How hard is it not being able to go out and do it yourself?
Bloody terrible. I miss it badly. I am still hoping to get back into the cart, even if it is not raceday.

Did you have any warning of your illness?
Funnily enough, I had had a headache the day before. It was unusual, because I hardly ever got headaches. I took the horse (Xativa) to Addington, but started to feel crook not long before the race. Barry and Sue Morris were with me and they got some asprin. I was still off-colour, but determined to drive. Sue said in the end "you are not driving". I collapsed not long after that. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be here now.

Dying on the track would have been awful.
I think in my time three drivers died out there. I was driving in a race at Ashburton one day when I saw one of them collapse and die, and I thought what a terrible way to go. It could easily have happened to me.

You went very close to death anyway. Did you know much about it?
I was in and out and then there was the operation and there was a family meeting. I was sort of aware what had happened, but not really with it.

You seem fairly mobile in your scooter?
I have had my moments. I had a few falls out of the first one, which had bigger wheels. One was going too fast and then I would reach over to pick something up and over I would go. It was always on my left side and hip, which was the worst. This one has smaller wheels and is more stable.

What therapy do you still have?
(Daughter) Joanne takes me swimming twice a week. She is a tough taskmaster too. Gives me plenty of orders and makes sure I am doing it properly. It is about half an hour each time. It helps. The water is nice and warm, too.

What sort of swimmer were you?
I could dog-paddle a width of the old tepid baths, and I think I won a race dog-paddling a width when I was a kid at school. I couldn't swim at all.

You go back a long way in trotting Jack, and you had a great career. It all started with Tom Gunning at Temuka?
I went there in school holidays and I started working there on Christmas Day, 1949. My auntie, Nellie, was married to Tom Gunning. She used to take me to the races when I was a kid and she raced some top horses herself. One of them was Gay Heritage. I wasn't too popular with Tom over him.

How come?
I had been there a while and had only jogged or walked horses. I hadn't done anything with them at speed. I walked them so much it's a wonder my legs weren't worn down to my knees. That and lugging big water buckets for 30 horses at a time. Anyway, this morning Tom was getting Gay Heritage ready for the Sapling Stakes (June) and he got me to drive the galloping pacemaker.

There was drama?
In those days they put sawdust on the track so it could be used in the winter. Anyway I set off in front of Gay Heritage. The pacemaker picked up the sawdust on his hoof, it compacted, and then it flew off into my face. It went down my throat and Tom was yelling at me to keep the pace even. When we pulled up he was abusing me - Tom could go off at times - while I was just coughing and spluttering trying to get sawdust out of my system. Gay Heritage turned out a very good horse.

Leicester Tatterson was there then and told a few stories about you. Any comment?
I had a beer with him one day and told him when my turn came I would tell a few of my own. One of those I remember was one hot day when an owner who had a pub in Timaru came and had two bottles of beer in a paper bag for the staff. Somebody reckoned I was giving them cheek - I didn't think I was - and rubbed my face in the dirt.

You weren't standing for that?
I got a stone and threw it at the beer. I hit bottle plumb and because it was so warm, froth spurted everywhere. I just started running. They caught me eventually. We used to give the horses this awful smelling stuff as a kidney treatment after a race or work and I got some of that in the mouth. I am sure it was Tatt actually. It smelt horrible and tasted worse. I can still see that froth from the beer and the looks on their faces.

You got your revenge?
One day we had to take some feed up to a horse on the top of the hill. We put it in a sulky, Leicester hopped on and made me pull it up the hill. When we were coming down he was urging me to go faster and faster. In the end I hit a knee or something, but anyway I went down, dropped the shafts and they jammed into the ground. I looked up and saw Leicester sailing through the air. He didn't see the joke. He got me back.

How?
We had a good trotter called Will Cary and four of us went out one night to catch it. We only had a lead and the others said I should hop on his back and ride him back. I didn't want to do that because my tailbone used to give me hell from too much riding. I had just got on when Tatt slapped the horse over the arse and off he went. I was heading straight for a hedge at top speed when I bailed out.

Much later came your New Zealand Cup winner Arapaho. Peaking a horse for a big race like that on the day, is it luck, skill, or something you can learn?
It's mostly experience. On Cup Day with Arapaho I didn't just set the horse to be at his peak, but myself, too. I really worked to make sure everything was right for both of us. I think that's important.

You added the Auckland Cup?
We went to the front, which didn't really suit him, but Young Quinn was in front and I knew he wouldn't want to be there and would let me go. Arapaho was a great stayer. Down the back I threw in a half in about 57 to take some of the sprint out of him, and it worked out. He couldn't catch me.

-o0o-
Part 2 The Press 1 Jan 2010

Jack, you started training from Reg Cutin's place, got into the limelight driving Rocky Star for Ivan Schwamm and then struck the training jackpot from your own place in Templeton. What was the key to that sensational team which gave you the record premierships in the 1970s?
I worked them on a heat system. it was not too different from what we did at Devine's, but I had my own way of it. It was not like the interval training, which came later, with horses going flat out and resting in between. I would work them over a mile and a quarter (2000m) at a 2:30 rate. There were no big sprints home. They seemed to love it. We had a great run. But after a few big seasons it didn't work as well.

Why was that?
I came round to thinking that those earlier horses had been in other stables and had done the groundwork before I got them. They thrived on the heat system and I stuck to it. But I had to go back to standard training hoppled work with horses which hadn't had a lot of experience, and buildup. I worked the two-year-olds over mile heats but sort of on the same system. One of my best fillies, Seaswift Franco, was an example of what I mean.

How so?
I got her up for the filly races that season (1991) but in the really big ones she didn't finish off like I would have liked. I thought enough of her to set her for the Great Northern Derby. Not many fillies I have trained would take the colts on (Mel's Boy and Nardin's Byrd had both won the Derby previously for the stable) but I thought she was good enough. Anyway the day before I put her on the plane tp Auckland I worked her the heats and then sprinted from the 800m. She ran that in 58 and I told the boys there wasn't a horse around which would beat her that week. As it happened she got wiped out in the Derby and never had a chance. But that was how I stepped it up sometimes with the good ones later on to give them an edge.

You won the Messenger with OK Royal a few years later?
There was a story in that one. Passing lanes were just coming in and I had been against them down here and pretty strong about it. Anyway they had one at Alexandra Park. When I was doing my preliminary I had a look at the pasing lane and thought, gee that's wide enough for two horses. In the race I got to be three back on the rail which was not the best place to be but I was confident I could get a run, that lane was so wide. Sure enough the horse trailing in front of us took the lane and I was able to squeeze up inside and win it. I heard some bloke say 'he won't be able to show his face at Addington now he's won the Messenger in a passing lane'. I never became a great fan of them but you just have to adapt.

Mel's Boy was a horse which maybe never lived up to all his early promise?
He was a good horse but he had some odd habits. The worst one was that he would some days just pull up on the track and refuse to work. You couldn't budge him. You don't often strike one that determined.

You were quite a long time with Cecil Devine. Was that in the 1950s when Thunder, False Step and all those top horses were there?
Yes. I did two stints with Cecil covering a lot of those years. You mentioned Raft before. I remember Cecil setting up a punt on him in a maiden and he asked me if I wanted to come in with him

I bet you didn't say 'no'?
I drove him when he qualified at Rangiora. Cecil wanted him to qualify but did not want him to win but I think he did anyway. He told me when I came back that when the right day came he was going to have a good go on Raft and did I want to be in? Of course I said 'yes'. I drove him at Motukarara and he finished down the track. Cecil was a bit critical that I let him do it all a bit too easy. Anyway he was going to Orari one day not long after and he told me today was the day and how much did I want on? I said 10 each way. To tell you how much that was I was getting 10 a week as stable foreman.

A happy ending?
A bit of drama. First the float was late getting away - I think Jim Bell was driving it - which always put Cecil on edge. Marie and I had not long been married and risking two weeks' wages on a horse was not Marie's idea of fun. She was glued to the radio because you could only just hear the race. Raft missed away but he won. Then the dividend came over as 2/5/-. It had seemed a lot of risk for that. I pointed out to Cecil the next day he had been paying 17 at Motukarara but he didn't say anything. There was less racing then and you had to make the most of your chances.

Was your training, particularly of young horses, modelled on his?
Not with youngsters. The trainer I tried to follow there was George Noble. He was a great trainer but especially with young horses. He used to work them over a mile and in heats. His young horses were always well educated. They'd stand up, they'd step and they could take a position. With older horses I suppose Devine's methods were where I started but even he changed. I always thought that if he had trained Lord Module like he trained False Step, Lord Module's career would have been a lot different.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 19Dec2009

 

YEAR: 2007

Pompallier & Jack Smolenski win from Some Direction
The late scratching of Play On through injury before he went on to the track and a punctured tyre Allegro Agitato had to pull for 2000 metres may have been factors in the final domination Pompallier had in the Group 1 $75,000 Fred Shaw & Garry Thompson NZ Trotting Championship at Addington.

Then again, the manner in which Pompallier won and ran the mobile 2600m in 3:17.7, could have made an argument for him winning in any event. Certainly he was impressive, as he was winning the Dominion Handicap in 2005 in the hands of Colin De Filippi. Trainer Richard Brosnan came and watched that time, but he didn't last week, sending the horse to Jack Smolenski and checking on his progress and supervising his training every second day. It was possibly a chat of things in general because Smolenski, now 73, has been round a few good horses in his time, and his record in the big-time is more than bedtime reading.

Pompallier was sent south after running second to Braig on Auckland Cup Night. Brosnan thought he was near his best again, and told Smolenski that. "Richard said he was getting back to where he was, and he felt good in the work he did for me," he said.

Smolenski drove him with confidence, sending him on a stayer's run from the 1200m that took him alongside pacemaker Cracker Nova at the 700m. He pressed on, gradually at first, and then with a clear lead as he turned in. The chasers were not chasing well at this stage. Some Direction was holding her place, but Allegro Agitato and Cracker Nova were battling, and Idle Wishes was finding the others out with a stout, late run that would take her into fourth. Pompallier's 3:17.7 and mile rate of 2:02.3 was still well short of Lyell Creek's NZ record of 3:14.3. Pompallier is now back home, another 9-year-old with a feature trot to his credit this season.

He gave Sundon the race trifecta, a result the great sire also achieved two races later in the NZ Trotting Derby.

A champion driver, and still one of the best, Smolenski has driven more top trotters than trained. With Al Mundy, who won his first race for C G Haugh and six for 'Ginger' Bourne, Smolenski won the Ordeal Cup from Mighty Dollar and Black Frost and three other races. He recalled driving Game Paul when he was favourite for the Dominion Handicap, and thought he was unlucky running second to Tussle with Melvander in an Inter-Dominion Grand Final. He did well with Johnny Fling, and finished second in a Dominion Handicap with Rosie O'Grady. His call-up for more of the Easter race specials at Addington will continue this week when he handles Gimme A Break in the Easter Cup. This is a big ask for the young horse, especially when ageless warriors like Sly Flyin show no sign of leaving the front line. Put Jack Smolenski in that category, too.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 4Apr07

 

YEAR: 2003

Pullover Brown & Anthony Butt
2003 WAYNE FRANCIS MEMORIAL NZ OAKS

The 2003 Wayne Francis Memorial NZ Oaks will be remembered for more reasons than the win by Pullover Brown. Foremost will be the dramatic failure of the hot favourite Champagne Princess. Next will be the astonishingly quick time Pullover Brown took to win the race; her 3:11.8 clipping more than a second off the New Zealand record of 3:13 held by Elect To Live.

Add to that the fact Geoff Small had four of the 14 starters in the race; Alta Serena was relegated from third for causing interference to Unrehearsed and Lady Toddy; Anthony Butt continued to bag May's biggies, and Mayor Heather set the race alight when driver Jo Herbert refused the chance of a trail behind Champagne Princess. This was where the race director gave up and left the players to run it themselves.

Jack Smolenski had worked Champagne Princess smoothly through the pack, and after 600 metres only Mayor Heather stood between a hard run in the open and a controlling one in front. As to be expected, Smolenski pressed on. But he was soon surprised, then alarmed, to find that Herbert was not thinking the way Smolenski thought she should have. When he got to the mile peg, after running hard for 400 metres, Smolenski took hold of Champagne Princess, giving the impression of dropping into the trail while there was still time to do so. But this was not an option Smolenski considered. "I didn't know much about the other horse, except it was trained somewhere in the North Island, and I didn't want to run the risk of getting in there," he said. Champagne Princess sat parked, where she pulled hard.

Butt was head of the chasing pack, and he settled Pullover Brown behind Mayor Heather until moving off the marker line at the 500 metres. Champagne Princess was disappearing quicker than a dropped stone on the corner, where Alta Serena was causing trouble to Unrehearsed and consequent interference to one or two others. Mayor Heather also left the stage pretty quickly in the straight, and that's where Pullover Brown pulled away to win by more than two lengths.

While it was all going Pullover Brown's way, the running of the race was not entirely favourable to her stablemate Classical. Going the speed they were meant late gaps and spaces for the back runners, and Classical and Coburg both came generously into the finish in this manner. Classical was four-deep on the markers, and cut a healthy chunk out of Pullover Brown's margin inside the final 200 metres.

Pullover Brown is raced by a syndicate of five headed by Chris McLeod, who had not been to Addington before, nor Chrischurch for that matter. With a group of friends, he leased Dinavinetto from Steve and Anne Phillips, and raced her for a win and six placings from 43 starts out of the Shane Hayes stable. She was then returned to the Phillips for breeding, who put her in foal to Armbro Operative. "I was actually quite taken with Dinavinetto, and then I spotted a weanling filly by Armbro Operative being offered at an all age sale up here," said Mcleod. "We bought her for $2,500. We didn't have a trainer for her, but I had my eye on Geoff Small because I knew he was so good with young horses. I just phoned him, but he didn't know me," he said.

Anne had originally bought Dinavinetto, by Fitch II from the Mercedes mare Precious Dina, at Ted Hooper's Dispersal Sale, and they still have her but perhaps not for long. "We have an Iraklis filly and one by D M Dilinger from the mare, so we have the breed. We have offered Dinavinetto, in foal to Armbro Operative, to the syndicate, so she's there if they want her," she said. Phillips was in Christchurch for the week, caring for her father Des Grice who has been in ill-health, and extended her stay when Pullover Brown made the field for the Oaks.

Along with Operation Dynamite and Armbro Innocence, Pullover Brown has carried the banner for Armbro Operative, which is good news for buyers who were able to buy his stock at deflated prices at the recent PGG yearling sales.

Small, who has made a meal of winning big races at Addington over the last 12 months - with Elsu and Classical - said that he believed that the Armbro Operatives had a preference to sitting on the pace. "Most of the Armbro Operatives I've seen seem to like it that way," he said.


Credit: Mike Grainger writing in NZHR Weekly

 

YEAR: 1998

WAIPOUNAMU

Waipounamu, winner of 17 races trotting in the 1970s, has been put down at the age of 29.

"The winters were getting harder on him with his bad arthritis," Bill Sutherland, a son of Waipounamu's late owner Gordon Sutherland, said. Waipounamu had been running at Riverdale, where Gordon Sutherland farmed.

"He (Waipounamu) was a bit of a character. 'Old Jack', as we called him, was still jumping the odd gate to get into a better paddock until a couple of years ago." The jumping habit was a characteristic of Waipounamu when he was in the Duntroon stable of the late Stewart Sutherland, a brother of Gordon.

The Aksarben-Tataus gelding, bred by Stewart, was 11 when he recorded his final win, the 1980 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup with Jack Smolenski the driver. Inter-Dominion winners Hano Direct and No Response were among the beaten division.

Waipounamu had his first win as a 4-year-old at the 50th jubilee meeting of the Wyndham Trotting Club in March, 1973. He won each season he raced, except as a 9-year-old. He was retired in 1980 with a record of 203 starts for 17 wins and 73 placings for $72,075 in stakes.

His other good wins were the NZ National Trot at Alexandra Park, Ordeal Cup at Addington and the Banks Peninsula Cup. He ran second to Ritch Hill in the 1978 Rowe Cup in Auckland and he filled a similar placing behind Maori's Idol in a heat on the Inter-Dominion at Moonee Valley in 1978.

Credit: NZ HRWeekly 17Jun98

 

YEAR: 1992

Giovanetto beats Master Musician & Blossom Lady
1992 MONSANTO FREE-FOR-ALL

"I only wish it had been the Cup," was driver Jack Smolenski's comment following Giovanetto's impressive win in the Monsanto Free-For-All. The 4-year-old Fitch II entire gained some compensation, having beaten all but Blossom Lady in the NZ Cup on the course 11 days earlier. Smolenski had experienced more bad luck just two races earlier when Rosie O'Grady failed by a nose to overhaul Directorship in the Dominion Handicap.

With the field reduced to seven runners following the late withdrawals of Remote's Dream and Anvil Lad, Giovanetto's chances were made somewhat easier coming in to six behind the mobile. He made the most of this and after beginning like a bullet, was eased to trail Blossom Lady with 1700m to run. With Master Musician moving forward to challenge the leader at the 800, it seemed the favoured trio would battle out the finish and so it proved.

Master Musician quickly headed Blossom Lady in the run home, but, not to be denied, Giovanetto, the least favoured of the three, stormed home along the fence to win by a length in 3:18.2."He felt good tonight ans I was able to make use of his gate speed to get to the front. I thought if I backed off a bit in the lead, Blossom Lady would challenge me early, and we got a good run through in the straight," Smolenski said. Runner-up Master Musician was not disgraced, turning in his best effort at the meeting, while third placed Blossom Lady "had her chance" according to driver Anthony Butt.



Credit: Greg Heller writing in HR Weekly 25Nov92

 

YEAR: 1993

JOHN OSBORNE

The death occured last week of John Osborne, a former committeeman of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and a prominent South Island breeder and owner.

Mr Osborne was particularly prominent in the 70s, sharing the ownership with the late Maurice Vermeulen and Jack Smolenski in the high-class mare, Royal Belmer. Trained by Smolenski, who was a partner in all his horses, Royal Belmer won 12 races including the 1973 Standardbred Breeders Stakes. Royal Belmer left Sovereign, who won the 1978 NZ Derby. Others he raced were Harvest Gold (9 wins), Imperial Guest (Golden Slipper Stakes), Regal Guest, who won two heats of the DB series, and Regent Guest.

Mr Osborne and Smolenski were partners for more than 25 years. "We never had a cross word. I left the breeding to him, and he left the training to me. He was a very good owner," said Smolenski. "His big disappointment was losing a colt foal this season by Butler B G from New Guest," he said.

Aged 61, Mr Osborne was involved in the fashion business. He had a stroke two weeks ago, and died suddenly in Christchurch last Tuesday. At the time of his death, Mr Osborne was breeding from 10 mares, and had numerous yearlings, 2-year-olds and older horses with Smolenski.

Credit: NZ HRWeekly 15Dec93

 

YEAR: 1981

Time's Up races away from Up Tempo
1981 NZ OAKS

RNZAF pilot Bill Lamb could be at Addington, he was tied up with flying exercises somewhere over the North Island. But no matter how high in the sky he might have been, he wouldn't have been on the same plane his mother Dora and sister Mrs Judy Taylor were on after the running of the New Zealand Oaks. They were on "cloud nine".

For they had just seen their brilliant filly Time's Up run away with the classic from some of the best in the country. And in record time too. The daughter of Don Baker and See You Later scampered over the 2600 metres in 3:22.1, well inside the 3:23.9 Armalight ran in the race last year and beating the national time for a filly of 3:23.1. that time is the second national record Time's Up has set now. Four starts back she ran 4:19 for 3200 metres when winning at Rangiora, a top performance. But winning is nothing new for this filly. the Oaks victory was her eleventh in a career that has netted her connections near enough to $40,000.

So it wasn't wishful thinking on the part of Mrs Lamb when earlier in the season she told Jack Smolenski: "We are going to win the Oaks this time." While Smolenski, who drove the filly, didn't reject the idea out of hand, he did apparently sound a note of caution. After all, he pointed out, he had never won an Oaks before although, as he recalled he'd got horses like Gina Marie and Royal Belmer into the money over the years. But Mrs Lamb was still confident. Time's Up had been top of her age and sex at the end of her initial season. There was no reason why she shouldn't carry on.

The wins haven't come as frequently this term as they did last time. The Oaks was only her second in nine starts for the season although she has been in the money every other time. The previous time out she was just beaten by Yvette Bromac in the final of the DB Flying Fillies' series at Alexandra Park. The margin then was only half a head. In that race, Smolenski said, he might have gone to the lead a little early and Time's Up could have run out of steam. In the Oaks, however, she took off rounding the final turn and "sprinted home well" to leave the others well behind at the line.

After galloping off the mark, but settling quickly, Time's Up soon got a cover on the outer with Smolenski content enough to take advantage of the "lucky" run. Patsy Marie shot into the lead from the outset and set a strong pace with Up Tempo nicely in the trail for Jim Curtin, hot favourite Take Care in the open and Twilight Mist behind her. Smolenski kept Time's Up behind Twilight Mist until just the right moment. Once into the straight the last time, Patsy Marie veered quite markedly away from the fence and Curtin was quick to take advantage of the gap. Up Tempo shot to the lead but couldn't hold off the strong challenge Smolenski and his filly lodged in the run home.

Time's Up finished a length and a half in front of the runner-up with Southland filly Risdon Lea running on well for third after sitting out the race four and five back on the fence. Patsy Marie put in another gutsy performance to hang on to fourth ahead of Verona, outsider Jody Kowhai and the favourite Take Care who was wide early and then kept in the open.

The Oaks win gave Smolenski a sparkling driving treble for the season: earlier he won the New Zealand Derby with South Canterbury colt Amaze and the NZ Welcome Stakes with Mel's Boy.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar

 

YEAR: 1981

Ces Devine, Jack Smolenski & Lord Module
GREAT RACES: LORD MODULE 1981 ALLAN MATSON FFA

Now that we have entered the realms of our 'living memory', the very first occasion that always springs to mind as a 'greatest event' is Lord Module's 1981 Allan Matson. It was a great race featuring a number of great horses like a lot of others, but it was a spectacle combined with the recent history and the emotions which flowed which made it all the more special.

I was a rising 21-year-old cadet with the then 'NZ Trotting Calendar' in November, 1981, having been brought on board the HRW's predecessor a year or two earlier by editor Tony Williams, based solely on unabashed enthusiasm - couldn't even type let alone write a story. Reading up the old Calendars at the time to refresh the memory, it is obvious by the time the 1981 Cup Meeting came round that my main responsibilities each week had still only evolved into banging out the weekend's race results all day Monday on our trusty old portable typewriter, sorting out the NZ-bred winners in America and being 'trusted' with the intro, and 'working' at the Addington races, where my primary objective was to ensure I made the stretch to the old tote 10 times a night and in time to get Tony's investments placed, which was all very exciting given each one was more than my weekly wage. The memory banks recede with time, but I will never, ever forget the night of November 21, 1981.

Sitting in the open Press Box in the old Member's Stand and on an angle to the public grandstand, which in those days was pretty full for events such as the last night of the Cup Meeting, the sight of the stand moving like a slow moving landside was unbelievable. The people were coming to greet, cheer and clap their idol, and they crammed around the birdcage for the nearest and best possible vantage point. It was enough to make grown men cry, and some did.

To appreciate and understand what led to this night of unbridled enthusiasm and passion and an unforgettably magic moment in time, one had to live through the career of Lord Module, one which for the most part seemed like one sensational hair-raising performance or controversial abject failure after another.

In 1976, the racing days of Canterbury's favourite (standardbred) son Robalan were over, and the people needed a new champion. Lord Module wasn't long in coming, displaying exceptional talent and potential as a 2-year-old for a by now veteran and semi-retired but legendary horseman in Ces Devine, a man who did not suffer fools lightly let alone owners and slow horses. He suffered Lord Module though, even when more often than not that season he would run the favourite and do a stretch at the start, mobiles being still a rarity at Addington, rather than the norm. But his class was well and truly confirmed when he romped away in record time with the NZ Juvenile Championship at Alexandra Park at season's end, accounting for the boom northern youngster Testing Times (10 wins from 12 starts going in) and other top colts in Glide Time, Redcraze, Main Star and Motu Prince.

He was back bigger and bolder at three, but no better behaved, and waywardness would cost him dearly in both the New Zealand and Great Northern Derbys. Devine was not afraid to start him against tough and older intermediate grade pacers if it suited the schedule though, and his eight wins that season included a 'c5-c6' mobile at Addington over the good mares Ruling River and Bronze Queen and the 'c7-c9' Barton Memorial at Forbury Park, where he started favourite against pretty much an open class field and bolted in by six lengths over stable-mate Sun Seeker (handled by son-in-law Kevin Williams) and Miss Pert.

Not much changed at four either, a season he began in open class. Lord Module started favourite in each of his first eight races that year - except for the NZ Cup where he blew the start - and failed to win any of them for one reason or another. He started to get his act together in the second half of the season with three straight wins and a game third from 30m behind in the Forbury 4YO Championship to frontmarker Graikos, giving cause for a rise in optimism going into the 1979 Inter-Dominions at Addington.

That optimism crashed to Ground Zero on the first night though when he was up to his old tricks again and tailed the field home bar one even more tardy Australian in Gemini Boy. Faced with a 'must win' situation on the second night, Lord Module again conceded ground and settled well behind favourite Markovina (15m), but the 3200m helped and after tracking the NZ-bred entire up and into line six-wide, and as many lengths from the leaders, Lord Module scorched the outside fence and got up to down Belmer's Image in the last stride. A sound second to the unbeaten heat winner Wee Win on the third night had him comfortably into the Final, but Lord Module had had enough of the heroics for now and in an Inter-Dominion which was supposed to serve as redemption for the 'one that got away' with False Step, Devine's thoughts instead turned to what would be his last NZ Cup drive that year.

Lord Module would be overshadowed in the spring by a redhot Roydon Scott - on the comeback trail after going amiss the previous January - and was also the centre of much mirth at the National Meeting in August. Roydon Scott had beaten him fairly and squarely in the Louisson, but when the field emerged from a blanket of fog less than 100 metres from the finish in the National Handicap, Lord Module had Roydon Scott in a box as Sunseeker won uncontested to qualify for the Cup. Roydon Scott had gone amiss again by the time Lord Module was runner-up at Ashburton to Bad Luck and Oamaru to Watbro, but Devine was just foxing and fine-tuning his V8 to have it ready to explode at the Cup Meeting.

And explode it did, at least at the start in the minds of punters, who sent him out a $3.55 favourite. While only winning once at Forbury Park in his seven lead-up races, Lord Module had been second or third in the other six and had been rewarded for his good behaviour by being taken off the unruly list. This however resulted in him drawing the awkward barrier one in the Cup, and as if to signal that Lord Module figured big occasions equated to failure and disappointment, he stood motionless as he tape flew and watched the rest of the field disembark. He had however made up his lost 50 metres by the time Bad Luck reached the winning post the first time and Devine immediately latched onto Sapling's back for an early cart into the race.

What happened soon after would become the stuff of folklore. Sapling took over the 'death seat' occupied by Sun Seeker, and Lord Module managed to slot into the one-one in an incident which forced his stablemate down onto Greg Robinson, who galloped and put Rondel out of the race. Pushed back from the half by the three-wide train as Sapling also tired and came back on him, Lord Module showed up at the furlong and careered away for a brilliant and magnificent four-and-a-half-length win in a truly-run 4:09.

Gavan Hamilton, who was a 22-year-old participant in all this and had a good view behind his father Ron's horse, the third-placed Trevira, wrote to vote for this race as one of the greatest, and offered his thoughts on what transpired. "I was talking to Henry (Skinner with Sapling) later and he said 'I looked around and saw Lord Module coming and I thought this was good. Then I looked around again to see where he'd got to and he was on my back, and I thought how the hell did that happen.' Soon after we had finished, Max (Robinson with Greg Robinson) drove over to Ces and screamed 'you are going to lose that' and so on. Max was normally a very placid sort of fellow and Wolfie was none to happy either. Then I was called into the room about getting cut off (by Lord Module) at the furlong. I had taken hold for a stride but that's all, I didn't think it had cost me second. But if I had been second, it would have been tempting to say 'what about the earlier incident'."

There was an enquiry into the infamous incident about 2100 metre from home, but after receiving conflicting evidence and viewing an inconclusive video, the announcement that the placings would stand came about 20 minutes later much to the delight of all and sundry. Fair to say, the Stipes knew they stood to be lynched by an angry mob at best if they had taken the race off Lord Module, or more to the point, Devine.

Hamilton, these days working for a fertilisator company while keeping his hand in with the odd horse, was as much in awe of Lord Module that day as anyone. "I was four-wide coming to the turn outside Del's Dream and Lord Module was inside me, fair bolting and climbing all over Denis Nyhan (Del's Dream). Denis turned to me and said 'who is that' and I said it's 'Tassie'. He said keep him there as long as you can and you might win. Being just a lad with a chance to win the Cup, I thought I would go for it and put a winning break on him. Well no sooner had I done that and he was out and around me and gone in two strides, and I thought, my God what a horse, and I didn't even know he had done a stretch at the start."

Three days later, Lord Module jogged the opening mile of the Free-For-All in 1:57.4 and won easing down by four lengths over Trevira, missing Robalan's world record by .1 of a second, and the Allan Matson was likewise a walk in the park. The Pan Am Mile and the NZ record for a race of 1:56.2 soon followed - where he loafed home in 30.2 with nobody to push him - as he did in the New Year Mile over speedster Locarno and new Auckland sensation Delightful Lady.

The 1:55 barrier then fell in an epic time-trial at Addington in far from even good conditions. The event had been postponed a week due to the weather, and from 8.30pm until after the last race following day-long rain, but over 6000 ardent admirers braved the bitter conditions and Lord Module didn't disappoint in powering home in 1:54.9 when most figured 1:57 would be tough.

Turning back an offer of $600,000 from Del Miller which would have resulted in the resurrection of the International Series in New York with a flat "not for sale at any price - I'm having too much fun," Devine next headed off for a tilt at th Auckland Cup, and Lord Module headed for the downward spiral to his career which would land him on the night of the 1981 Allan Matson, with only one further win behind him - a mile at Washdyke over light-weights Philippa Frost and The Raider the previous February from 14 races in his 6-year-old season.

He had developed a reputation as a complete rogue, and it mattered little that the painful quarter cracks which had troubled him on and off for much of his career had reduced his mental capacity to that of an errant 3-year-old with a tooth ache. He had been stood down from even starting in the spring and failed special trials which would have allowed him to take his place in the Cup. Yet another sullen display had seen him fail to participate at all in the NZ Free-For-All, in a week when the spotlight shone brightly on Armalight, Lord Module had been reduced to the butt of cruel jibes and jokes by all but his most fanatical followers.

Come the Allan Matson, and the 'bully' was that if Lord Module produced another act of petulance and Devine didn't then retire him, the Stipes would. Enough was enough - the end was nigh.

It was therefore hearts in mouths stuff as the mobile began to move away, and heads in hands when Lord Module pig-rooted and momentarily it seemed 'here we go again'- the end had come with another inglorious display. But out of desperation, Jack Smolenski went for the whip, and Lord Module lept into action and was almost unbelievably in his rightful place as the start was reached, and the crowd roared for the first time. Settling handy only to be pushed back in the running, Lord Module was last on the fence with a lap to go as Armalight and Gammalite - under the bat but unable to cross - took them along at break-neck speed, closely attende by Bonnie's Chance and Hands Down.

All the while the crowd rumbled with feverish excitement. Still last at the 300m, Lord Module began to make his move and when he showed up six-wide at the furlong, Reon Murtha screamed "and here's Lord Module, and oh, he is just mowing them down!" And the crowd erupted. There was a secondary eruption when a new world record was announced, and a third when Lord Module finally arrived back at the birdcage after some delay - he had kept going at high speed some way past the finish and Smolenski had only been able to bring him to a standstill and turn around in the backstraight.

Even Devine was visibly shaken, and down at the track the incessant and frenetic reaction that swept along everyone meant that it was impossible to hear someone only a few feet away. Lord Module returned to a hero's welcome and old-timers agreed that the only receptions to compare were the aftermath of Johnny Globe's NZ Cup almost half a century earlier, and the retirement of the immortal Harold Logan in the late 30s. All else was forgotten in the delerium and ecstasy - no abuse this time, just admiration and awe.

Not known that night was that it would in fact be Lord Module's last race. The quarter cracks would deteriorate beyond repair in the ensuing months, and Devine announced his retirement to stud a few months later. That would not be the start of another fairytale story, but as the end to a spectacular racing career, what a way to go!


Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 5Jul06

 

YEAR: 1981

Jack Grant & Diarac parade at Addington
JACK GRANT

Show Day at Addington 1939...Jack Grant recalls it vividly. "I peeped over the fence and saw a wee cream horse. I suppose I took an interest in horses from that day." The horse was Icevus and he'd just won the free-for-all. But for Jack Grant, the side-shows on his side of the fence were more interesting at the time.

However, that 'wee cream horse' must have started something. About a year later, the same lad stuck his head through one of the local horse trainer's fences. Someone passed him a broom and told him to start cleaning. "I got a shilling that day and I've had a broom in my hand since," Grant, now 50, said last week. It was hard for a young man in the racing game in those days, but Grant 'stuck with it'. It wasn't too long before he was working with men like Bob Young and Maurice McTigue and horses like Aerial Scott, Victory Globe, Plunder Bar and Tactician.

In the 50s he started working for Derek Jones and through the sixties they formed one of the best training partnerships in the country. They parted company after 22 years in 1973 after 'never having a real argument' in all that time. Marriage and a nice, small property down the road from Jones was the inducment to leave. Breaking in and gaiting horses have been his living since. It wasn't bad going right from the start. Such was his reputation that a lot of Canterbury trainers were quick to make use of his services. "Jack Smolenski was especially good. He sent a lot of horses to me, horses like Columnist, Gina Marie, Lord Fernando." But just recently Grant returned to the training fray.

Chancalot's win at the recent Rangiora meeting saw him once again figure as a winning trainer. It had been eight years since he last saw his colours first past the post. The 14 odd horses around the Grant stables these days are a far cry from those he's been used to. Through the fifties and sixties he was associated, in one way or another, with just about every top horse in the country. The Grant story is a long one and full of good horses.

Born in Christchurch and raised near Addington, the headquarters of NZ trotting in those early years, it is not surprising that Grant took an interest in horses. So many top horses and horsemen were 'just down the road'. But it was far from easy for a young man just starting out. After all those menial little tasks around the stables, "it was a privilege to do fast work." But those early years gave him a solid grounding and it stood to him.

Grant first worked for Jim Young, learning to ride horses before heading off to school. There were about 18 yards waiting to be cleaned when he got home. "There were so many professionals in those days. It was so hard for a young fellow to get a go on raceday," Grant recalled. After the war Grant found himself in the stable of Bob Young and sitting behind horses like Auckland Cup winner Victory Globe and top class trotters like Aerial Scott and Gay Belwin. He then worked for Maurice McTigue, handling 'a lot of good horses," including Tactician. Maurice was a very astute horseman. I learned a lot off him. We used to do a lot of travelling in those days, quite often taking teams to Auckland," said Grant.

It was in those early years he achieved what he considers his first milestone. Driving Trueco at Forbury Park, Grant was suspended after guiding him to win by the length of the straight. I was the first probationer to be put out, you know. I only pushed a horse out, but they didn't see it quite the same way," he said.

A friendship with a youthful Derek Jones - "we'd both done a bit of boxing" - had begun by then and in the early fifties Grant started work with the Templeton horseman. It was a highly successful association. In 1965 the pair went into partnership. During the sixties Jones and Grant prepared numerous winners and they headed the trainers' premiership in the 1965-66 and 1969-70 seasons. "We took about nine horses through to Cup class," Grant recalled. He reeled them off easily - Trueco, Smokeaway, Doctor Dan, Disband, Lochgair, Snowline, Leading Light, Diarac and Boy Louw. There were also the fine trotters Our Own and Light View. Diarac, who won the last race at the Amberley track before it closed down, was one of Grant's own horses. He also won the first race on Timaru's clay track with Kimbell Duke.

If you ask Jack Grant about the best horse he ever sat behind, he'll probably say Cardigan Bay. "I paraded him at Chertsey one day. Even had his colours on." If you ask him about the best horse he's ever seen, he'll probably say Cardigan Bay again, or perhaps Highland Fling. "They were freaks." But the whole games different now. "Horses lasted longer in the old days. The public got to know them and they idolised them," said Grant who has seen every NZ Cup since 1944. "Every horse has his day and nothing's going to beat them on that day. I haven't seen a horse who could have beaten Lord Module the day he won his Cup."

Grant's seen a lot of good horsemen in his time as well. "There were no better trainer-drivers than men like Jack Pringle and Ces Donald. They were real professionals. Derek's a good horseman for that matter. He has a nice easy way of working horses and gets on with any type." And then he remembered another prominent horseman who had given him some advice he had never forgotten: "Always take time to talk to people around you when you are going up - that way you'll have someone to talk to in those times you're going down again."

The big stables and the travelling are all behind Grant now. Breaking in and gaiting and playing around with his own horses on his 11 acre property in Prebbleton is enough. He is breeding from the Hi Lo's Forbes mare Hi Madam, a half sister to the useful Crow Bar, and has a 2-year-old filly by Armbro Del out of her. A yearling by Honest Master from her is another going through his paces at present. Most of the others in the team are just being broken in. Chancalot is the only one sporting his colours on the track these days. "He has been a bit of a handful and he still has a bit to learn," said Grant of the Armbro Hurricane 5-year-old.

The horse is going to have to be a bit more than just a handful to get the better of him and his experience though. Jack Grant is still one of the most respected men in his business.

-o0o-

Article by Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 10Mar04

Jack Grant, who died last week at the age of 73, formed a successful training partnership at Templeton with Derek Jones. They headed the trainers' premiership twice - in 1965/66 with 37 wins and in 1969/70 with 38 wins.

Grant's best horse was Diarac, a rangy son of Morano and Concerto who won 12 races over four seasons, though he was sparingly raced. Grant drove him often, and won the Ashburton Flying Stakes from Selwyn Hanover and Stella Frost and four other races. Jones drove him to beat Meadow Bank and Holy Hal in the Hannon Memorial, and handled him when he beat Curragh Dan and Seafield Countess when he was on the verge of Cup class. Doug Watts drove him in his one NZ Cup start. Grant also won four races with Kimbell Duke, a nuggety son of Hancove bred by Jack McDonald, and drove Ardleigh to win a 2:14 trot at Alexandra Park.

In recent years, he trained on a small scale at Prebbleton, winning races with Besse Scott, Sheer Distinction - his latest winner - and OK Skippi, and he bred regularly from the Hi Lo's Forbes mare Hi Madam, who was a half-sister to the partnership's big winner, Crow Bar.

Grant's love for horses and racing began when he was at Addington Primary School. It meant an early start for he 7-year-old, cooling out Jim 'Pop' Young's horses before school started, and helping feed-up on the way home. He stayed with Young until they had a row. His great friend Maurice Flaws recalls that Grant was sacked after he broke a yard broom over 'Pop's' head. "What happened," said Maurice, "was that Jack was sitting down doing up a wheel. Kevin Murray, who was also working there, was poking the borax at Jack, and then Kevin threw a punch. Jack lifted a wheel and Kevin put his fist though the spokes, hurt his hand, and then ran off to tell 'Pop'. Somehow Jack hit him on the head. He got sacked over that."

Jim's son Bob, a legendary horseman, was sad to see him go. "Bob always insisted that Jack went away with the horses on the long trips," recalled Maurice. "He cared for horses like Aerial Scott, Victory Globe, Single Task and Gay Belwin, and you knew he would be totally dedicated to them. He was also strapper for Croughton when he won the NZ Derby," he said.

His other passion at this age was boxing, and he was good at it. Jones says he had 80 fights and fought the best of them in the light and welter-weight divisions, and was runner-up in a bout for a NZ title. "He won Canterbury titles," said Maurice. "He was not quite tall enough, but won when he could get in close. Wally Ireland said he could never recall Jack taking a step backwards, and that was Jack in life - he took everthing on the chin."

From Young's, Grant went to work for Maurice McTigue, when the team included Tactician, Ghenghis Khan and Kubla Khan. They had a great association, and in later years Grant trained a horse for McTigue, obviously forgiven when told to leave after throwing one of the McTigue kids into the family swimmimng pool. Grant then joined Derek Jones, and later became a training partner. "He was with me for twenty-two years and was a good servant. He helped make horses like Disband, Powerful Light, Smokeaway and Doctor Dan," he said.

Erin Crawford, a member of the HRNZ Executive, considers Grant gave him a thorough grounding in the industry during his time working for the partners. "He was very dedicated, and he was a traditionalist. He loved talking about history and the old timers. Old 'Donald' did this and old 'so and so' did that. He never took a day off, and he was mad keen on rugby and gangsters and he enjoyed a big fat cigar. The wild west was another favourite, and a Colt 45 hung on a wall in his home."

From the money he got selling Diarac, Grant purchased a property in Prebbleton, and later on trained a small team, and with Andy Tilson did some breaking in and gaiting. His last horse was Sheer Distinction, who won a race on the first day at Waterlea in January, and followed that up by running a shocker on the second. "I know what was wrong with him," he told Maurice..."they expected too much of him."

"That was the knowledge the man had," said Maurice.

Grant was given a private funeral at his home last week.



Credit: Frank Marrion writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 9June81

 

YEAR: 1980

Amaze & trainer Scobie Harley
1980 NZ DERBY

"Who wants a tatty rug anyway...and what's $15,000 between friends?" Christchurch owner Brian Register joked after the New Zealand Derby. And well he might have asked. For from as far out as 800 metres from home, there was only one horse in it and it wasn't Mr Register's El Regale.

It was tough South Canterbury colt Amaze who recorded a phenominal performance to win the $35,000 Derby by three and a half lengths from El Regale and Young Pride third, just ahead of Vita Man. The winner's share of the purse was $22,750; the runner-up got more than $15,000 less. But from every angle, Amaze earned every cent for his owners, Mr and Mrs Jim Connolly and owner/ trainer Scobie Harley, all from South Canterbury.

Amaze, by Out To Win from an Easter Cup winner in Torrent, lost a lot of ground at the start and was still well back among the stragglers with a round to go. Driver Jack Smolenski took off with the tough colt soon after and, even though very wide at times, pressed on relentlessly. The pair cruised past pacemaker Lomondu Host halfway down the back straight and they set sail for the judge. On the home turn Smolenski had a couple of quick looks over his shoulder to see where the others were, but he had nothing to fear. He was on his own. He was slowing a little near the post, but that was hardly surprising. Even after all his trouble at the start and sight seeing on the way, he still cut out the 2600 metres in 3:21.7, the fastest since Motu Prince's record 3:21.1 in 1977.

Amaze was not originally down to contest the Derby but his connections thought sufficiently of his chances after two earlier good runs at the carnival to make the $1,500 late entry payment last week. It was money well spent. Smolenski was especially impressed with the run. "I didn't really give him a show early on but once he got going, he really went. I didn't want to go to the lead but he was pulling when Lomondu Host gave it away so I let him go." Smolenski said he knew the horse was a good one, especially after a run earlier in the season at Waikouaiti when he finished fifth after being checked at least three times.

Amaze, the win favourite, ran wide turning for home, "but I knew then I was well glear of the rest and out of trouble," Smolenski said. Second favourite Captain Padero, in the hands of northern reinsman Peter Wolfenden, cost his supporters dearly when he started to fade when perfectly placed 800 metres out and eventually finished last. Wolfenden could not explain the run. "And horses can't tell you what the trouble is, either, can they?" he said.

Runner-up El Regale came off the rails with about a mile to go but was then pushed wide. He came on well in the straight to take second, but had no chanc with the winner. Young Pride's was a good performance for third after breaking stride a couple of times in the running while Southern colt Vita Man put in a tremendous run for his fourth after getting a long way back earlier in the race. Melton Monarch made a strong run along th rails after being checked at the start to take fifth off the well-supported Lock Rae.

Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar

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