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PEOPLE

 

YEAR: 2010

DOUG MANGOS

Doug Mangos, who started life in Buller, became a prominent figure in Canterbury and New Zealand harness racing over many years, chiefly through his long association with the famous George Noble stable at Roydon Lodge, Yaldhurst. He talks to David McCarthy.

I suppose with a name like yours you must have spent some time in Lyell. That is where the Mangos name came from?
I was there until I was seven. There are actually about three main branches of the Mangos family in the country, one of them from Timaru and they are distant relations. My parents were storekeepers and moved to Inangahua when I was just a youngster.

Where did the horses start?
There was a fellow at Inanguhua, Plugger(W E) Taylor who had the butcher's shop and had a few horses. I remember Battle Flight was one. I used to do a bit with them, lead them into the birdcage and that sort of stuff. The local publican bought a horse called Elation for one and sixpence about that time and won four races with it. I was 14 when I came over to Christchurch. I wasn't doing a lot at school - I didn't go often enough for that - and in the end they thought I was better off out of it. I went to Roydon Lodge soon after that. (Wife) Eileen had a brother working there and he got me a job.

You stayed a long time?
Nearly 35 years. It was actually the only job I ever had, working for George Noble. I loved every day of it. Wouldn't swap a day.

But you must have thought of going out on your own for bigger rewards?
No, I didn't, at least not seriously. With the travelling we did to Auckland I looked at those trips as three paid holidays a year for a start. No, I was quite happy and George was such a great horseman and boss you never got tired of learning from listening to him. He liked good listeners and I think he thought I was one.

You seem to have finished up all right anyway?
After I left Noble's I used to race a few, usually of my own, and look to sell them. We've done alright over the years. One of the first was a nice trotter called Isa Rangi which we raced with Bill Prendeville. She was pretty good. We beat Ilsa Voss twice. Anyway we agreed her price was $15,000. Then Les Purdon rang up and wanted to buy her. I was a bit cheeky, because I knew Les well, and reckoned we couldn't sell under $25,000. "I don't know about that but I could do $20,000," Les said. Anyway we got the 25 which was a big bonus. We bought this house with what we got from Isa Rangi. It won a few in America.

Was it hard work at Roydon Lodge?
We started at 6 o'clock and got 3 a week. There were 15 horses in full work then but it wasn't as simple as that. The boss used to double heat them all the time so actually it was just like working 30.

Double heat. What was that?
We would work them, not fast, over 2000m, bring them back, take the carts off and rub them down, then later on go out and work another heat brushing home the last bit. It made for a long day.

Was it long before you got a raceday drive?
A couple or three years I suppose. It was good to get a drive. Every one was a week's wages so the competition was keen. I drove Highland Air to win at Forbury Park when he qualified for the New Zealand Cup. I had run a second in a probationary race with Wha' Hae. But my first drive at Addington was on Royal Minstrel which had dead-heated in the New Zealand Derby (with Single Medoro in 1954). He all but fell going into the back straight. It wasn't a great start but we made up for it over the years.

You must have been a very young bloke then when you had your first New Zealand Cup drive?
Yes, on La Mignon the year Lookaway won (1957). She ran third. I think the first three were all by Light Brigade. The boss drove Highland Air (it was the first year of Cup runners for Roy McKenzie after his father's death). There was quite a go after the race.

What can you tell?
We got a nice run and got home well. I was quite pleased with myself. The next thing the chief stipe, Fred Beer, was calling me into the room and there was talk about us being put out.

What was that about?
They reckoned I had checked Roy Butterick on Roy Grattan and Beer gave me a speech. He said to me,"This is a very good race with a big stake that people spend a long time getting ready for. Every horse should have an equal chance of winning this race. I don't think you gave Mr Butterick an equal chance."

How did you get out of that?
I just said,"Well, I don't think Mr Butterick has done too badly out of it". Beer, an arrogant bloke, said pretty sharply,"What do you mean by that Mangos?" So I told him.

Which was?
Soon after the start General Sandy shot away to the front and Lookaway, which could be tricky at the start - Maurice Holmes could be a genius at getting them away - came up but Bob Young on General Sandy wasn't giving it away. Roy Butterick was in the trail and I heard Maurice call to him, "There's 500 for you to pull back". Butterick did and Lookaway got the run of the race. They just walked around and sprinted home and you couldn't have beaten him. The Cup was worth 7500 but 500 was a good payday in those days. I said that nobody was doing anything about that, while I didn't even know what I was supposed to have done.

What did Beer say to that?
"You can go now, Mangos," was all he said.

-o0o-

The Press 23Jan10

Roydon Lodge had some great horses over the years and you got the chance to drive a lot of them. Which ones do you remember most?
We had some terrific seasons, but we had some bad ones, too. I remember one season we only won one race with 15 horses, which was right out of character. It is hard to remember all the good ones. Sounds silly, but there were a lot of them. Roydon Roux was one I had a bit of luck with in Australia.

Roydon Roux? She was a champion young horse which had a sad end.
I think she won seven as a two-year-old and, at three, she won the Great Northern Derby for me, beating Bachelor Star and Van Glory. It was then that we took her to Autralia. She was out of La Mignon and so was Garcon Roux.

What happened there?
She won the Wraith Memorial Series, which was a big go then in Sydney. She was hot favourite in a leadup, but knuckled over at the start and I had to drive her back. She ran second. When the final came around, the winner of the leadup had drawn in and was the favourite. Before the race, I was taken into the stipes' room. They wanted to know how I was going to drive her.

And?
"The best I can." I said, but they wanteed to know more than that, so I said I would try to get to the lead and, if I couldn't, I would sit outside the leader and I'd beat him anyway. They seemed happy with that. I sat her out and she just bolted in and broke a record. I wasn't too popular on the lap of honour. A few empty cans came my way and they booed. Funny thing was that though she had won all those races, they dodn't count for handicapping and she wasn't actually eligible to run at Harold Park in the classes.

The news was not so good after that?
She broke a pastern bone; just shattered it, running around that little showgrounds track in Melbourne. She couldn't be saved.

Garcon Roux had a big reputation?
The old boss (Noble)thought he was one of the very best. I drove him in a time trial at Bankstown in Sydney and there was a bit of drama. When we started off, there was some bloke crouched under the inside rail taking a photo and the horse balked. He went his furlong(200m) in 16 seconds and ran the mile in 2:01.2. That was some performance.

Jay Ar was one of your favourites, I suppose?
He won a trial at Ashburton one day and even the old boss was amazed at the time. "He couldn't have done that," he kept saying. I can't remember now just what the time was, because the trial was over six furlongs(1200m), which was very unusual, even then. Whatever it was, it was a record.

He dead-heated in an InterDominion Final, of course.
I didn't drive him in that series - the boss did - but I won a lot of races with him, especially in Auckland. He just got beaten in the Auckland Cup by Lordship just before the Interdominion. He was a bit of a nervy horse whe he got out on the track...he wasn't quite as good from a stand because of that. But, gee, he was good. He was in a 3200m free-for-all one day and Garcon D'or had drawn out and we had drawn in. The boss said to me,"You might as well lead till the other one comes around." Jar Ar was off and gone. We haven't seen the other horse yet.

Wasn't there a story over his low heart score?
Taking heart scores had just come in here and a few were very keen on them. The experts seemed to think a horse had to have a high heart score to produce top runs in the best company and Jay Ar was a bit below average. But there's a few stories about those early scores.

Such as?
A lot of the top trainers were sceptical of them. The boss was one of them. Allen McKay came down from Wellington and did the heart scores over quite a few years. When he first came, we were under instructions not to identify the horses, and we mixed them up a bit in the queue. One horse came out at 123 and they were all excited about it. The next time he came, he kept asking when Jay Ar was coming, and when we told him, he couldn't believe his read, which was about 100 then. I think he thought he was the 123 one, originally. Jay Ar won about $100,000 and the horse which was 123 won a small race somewhere in the Central Districts. It was all quite experimental here then and scores could vary a lot. This one showed that judging a horse just on its heart score was a ticket to trouble.

Samantha was another good one you drove?
Yes, I won a Wellington Cup with her - she won two of them - and beat Lordship just. I learnt a big lesson from George over that.

Which was?
Well, I won the race and when I got home everyone was very happy and the boss congratulated me on my drive. A couple of days later, though, I got a call to go up to the house. When I got there, George, who had a special way of telling you things, started talking about the Wellington Cup and how Samantha was the best-gaited horse in the race. It was just as well, he said, otherwise she wouldn't have beaten Lordship.

What was that about?
Well, there was no video or anything in those days. But during the week, in the paper, they published a photo of the finish. I had my left hand high in the air holding the reins and I was weilding the whip with the other one. George wasn't impressed. He didn't think he could go on putting me on top horses if I was going to throw everything at them like that. I knew without him actually saying it that I was getting a good dressing down. I never forgot it. There was no more of that.

You didn't do so much driving later on, but it wasn't because of things like that?
The main reason was that John(George Noble's son) decided to work full time with the horses. In those earlier years, John was a mechanic in town and wasn't able to drive them much of the time. When he came into it, naturally, I was going to miss out, but it didn't persuade me to leave. I was quite happy.

-o0o-

The Press 6Feb2010

General Frost was a brilliant young horse you drove?
Gee, he was good. He won the first Juvenile Championship in Auckland. It was a great effort because he was hopeless right-handed. We had a problem about what to do going into the race.

What did you do?
The old boss (George Noble) gave me unusual instructions. He said not to drive the horse around final bends no matter where he was. He wanted me to just let him find his own way; that even if he lost a lot of ground he would still be too good. Well, he lost a good bit of ground on the bends all right but he picked them up and dropped them in the straight. Won easy. He had incredible speed, General Frost. It was a shame he went in the wind. They couldn't do anything about it.

You had a lot of big moments at Alexandra Park?
I won my biggest trophy there - the one I value the most. it is the only one I have really kept. I was the leading driver at the 1968 Interdominion Championship at Auckland. I actually tied with Peter Wolfenden and Kevin Newnam(Sydney) so I was in pretty good company. They decided there would be a toss and George stood in for me. I reckoned I had always had a bit of luck with the toss and George did the right thing. It was an odd man out toss. The first two came up heads all round and then one head and two tails. It was quite an honour when you consider the opposition.

Julie Hanover. I think Andrew Cunningham and their wives raced her. Did you handle her much?
I should have won an Auckland Cup with her. A really top mare. She was usually foolproof but that night she missed away. She ran fourth to Allakasam. John (Noble) usually drove he but he was on a holiday. However, I still blamed myself. It was a terrific effort. She raced for Martin Tannenbaum who organised all the international races at Yonkers at the time when she went up to America. She raced well there and left some good stock. Vista Abbey was another one and I won with Arania (New Zealand's first mare to beat two minutes in a race) off 36 yards up in Auckland on day. She was phenomenal when she was right.

You drove quite a few outside horses at that time too. I hadn't realised you handled Holy Hal. He had been a terrific young horse?
He was older when I first came across him. They had brought him up from Southland for the Auckland Cup. They said he could break down at any time and Kenny Balloch wanted to come up and drive him in the cup so,"Would I be happy to drive him in the lead-ups under those conditions?" I knew he was a smart horse and leapt at the chance. They were hard-case blokes those Southlanders.

How?
They came to me after we'd done the final feeds one night and asked if I minded giving him an extra feed before I left. I said,"why, you have given him his tea? Yes, they said but they wanted to give him a bit of his breakfast in case they were late in the morning! I think they were going out for a big night. Anyway, the horse dodn't mind.

He had had problems as I remember it. What was his form like then?
Sensational. He was a moral beaten in the Auckland Cup. I couldn't believe it. He won both nights I drove him and I thought he was a good thing in the cup.

What happened?
They had reintroduced lap times. Every time they came round Holy Hal was not just in front but well clear. He was six lengths in front one round. He still ran third. I could have cried.

Did you get another chance with him?
Yes, and we proved a point. We had a chat about the Cambridge Flying Mile and I was to drive him in that. They didn't like it when he drew out but I told them he would still win. Sure enough, outside draw and all, he bolted in. Many people never realised how good Haly Hal was.

Did your success at Alexandra Park bring many extra drives?
Yes, quite a few. One of the more unusual was Merv Dean whose wife, Audrey, owned Cardigan Bay. Merv ran a billiard saloon. He was a big guy and y the standards of those days a huge punter but a really top bloke with it. He started flying me up to Auckland just to drive one horse and it was a lucrative operation for a while there. One time I drove down here during the day and caught the plane to Auckland to drive one for him. Merv met me at the airport and gave me five hundred and he had the colours for me to put on on the way. The horse won. It was Great Return which won a few down here. He gave me another five hundred after that and paid all the expenses. We had a great strike rate for a while there.

You probably liked a bet youself. Any huge collects?
I learned after a while it was quite hard. A lot of people have learned that. I did put 100 each way on La Mignan as a four year old. She had been working so well and she won. I remember going to Forbury one night with Ohio which George trained. It was pouring early in the night and Jimmy Walsh had a horse in earlier in the nightthat we knew loved it like that and it won. The rain stopped and the track improved so it wouldn't bother Ohio with his problem, and he won.

Ohio. He was a top horse?
He would had been but he was tubed. Horses that couldn't breathe properly then, they opened up a breathing passage through the chest - they called it tubing - and put a stopper in it which they took out for the race. It was not uncommon then though I think he might have been one of the last allowed to race. The trouble was you had to be very careful on the wet grit and sand tracks because of the danger of the tube getting blocked and the poor buggers would run out of breath. The boss tried ever sort of gauze over the tube to make sure it was kept clear but we weren't going to risk any tragedies and he had to be retired because of it.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 16Jan2010



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