Frank Oliver is concerned that the Trotting Conference has seen fit to permit stallions to serve an additional 25 mares each season.
The successful Hilderthorpe (14 kilometres north of Oamaru) owner-trainer and breeder of the past 36 years is adamant that stallions are serving too many mares (125 is now the maximum permitted). Weak foals not suitable for racing are the result. Oliver, 73, is opposed to artificial insemination on similar grounds. He argues that a large number of mares can be served from the one cover, with a resultant loss of vitality among the foals.
Oliver has a rising 2-year-old in work, Mighty Guy, whom he considers "as good as I have bred." The gelding was obtained from a natural service of Nardin's Byrd on Rain Cloud. Oliver is breeding from four other mares. Three of them, Clutha Gold, Strip and May West, are in foal to Nardin's Byrd. The other, Bindy, has been stinted to Huirapa (Bachelor Hanover-Atanui) who stands at Methven. Clutha Gold and May West are both unraced daughters of Rain Cloud and both are by Majestic Chance.
Their brother Kawarau Gold, won 10 races for Oliver, including the NZ Kindergarten and Oamaru Juvenile Stakes in the 1972-3 season. Kawarau Gold went on to win in the United States. His half-brother, Lumber Box, has also won there in 1:58.
Bindy, a Newport Chief mare, like Rain Cloud, claiming Elaine Travis as her grandam, has produced Bayi who has a best time of 1:59.6 set at Blue Bonnets in Montreal. Fab, a half-brother to Bindy, amassed $121,000 in stakes and has taken a record of 1:59.4. Fab, now 13, won at Rockingham Park late last year. Fab won 10 races for Oliver, including the 1973 National Handicap at Addington, before being sold to the United States. Fab (by Hundred Proof) and Bindy (by Newport Chief)are both out of Gala Girl, who also produced the speedy Boyfriend, Mighty Chief, the grand trotter, and the good pacing winner Selwyn Hanover. All were bred by Oliver.
Mighty Chief, who was sold for 190gns at the National Yearling Sale, amassed $36,445 in stakes from 20 wins and 25 placings. The My Chief gelding numbered the 1965 Dominion Handicap and the NZ Trotting Free-For-All among his wins. Selwyn Hanover, who was also sold as a youngster by Oliver, won nine races, including the 1968 Queen's Birthday Stakes at Ashburton on promotion. Maida Million, who was relegated to second for causing interference in the run home, later became the greatest stakes-winning mare bred in NZ, with $323,048. She is at stud in the United States. Bramble Hall, who finished third that day, amassed $215,809 and raced to an advanced age in America.
The Queen's Birthday Stakes was among seven races Boyfriend won when trained and driven by Oliver. Six of his wins were gained as a 3-year-old during the 1969-70 season when the Bachelor Hanover gelding set NZ records for one of his age of 2:49.8 (11 furlongs, mobile start), 3:10 (12 furlongs, standing start) and 3:25.2 (13 furlongs, stand). Boyfriend did not hit the high spots overseas, but advanced his earnings to $99,392. Oliver renewed his acquaintence with Boyfriend during a visit to the United States in 1973 when the gelding's form had slumped. Oliver suggested his hopples be lengthened and the horse won at his next start.
Gala Girl, who was named broodmare of the year in 1970, died a year later as a 17-year-old of complications while foaling in June to a clandestine mating with a seven-month-old colt. She had won the inaugural NZ Golden Slipper Stakes at Waimate in 1956. Gala Girl (by Red Emperor) was one of eight foals Oliver bred from Elaine Travis. The best of them was Pala Royal, who won 10 races in the 1950s. Pala Royal, a Dillon Hall gelding, was particularly adept in heavy footing at Forbury Park, the track them being clay. Two of Elaine Travis's foals died and one, Puzzled, was unraced. Another of her progeny was Band Queen, who won the Waikouaiti Cup in 1959. Oliver bought Elaine Travis for £100 in 1943, mainly for her breeding potential. A daughter of Travis Axworthy and Alice Grey, by Balboa the noted thoroughbred sire, she was an 8-year-old and her best effort in 22 starts over 4 seasons of racing was a second in a saddle event for pacers at Beaumont.
Oliver, then rabbitting at Patearoa, kept her in training, and he won first up with her at Wyndham on New Year's Day, 1944, when Frank was having his first race drive. Oliver shifted to Oamaru soon afterwards and Elaine Travis won him three more races, the last at the age of 10. The shift to Hilderthorpe, where he operates from a 110 acre property, was made later. Oliver has met success with other than his own horses. He took over Admire in the 1965-66 season for Gordon Aitcheson and Fred Ferris and got the gelding back to winning form after an absence of two years. Admire won the 1966 Kurow Cup at Oamaru and caused a boilover when he won the Hannon Memorial on the course the next year.
"It is always a game of luck. Try to breed from the best horses," said Oliver when asked what advice he would give prospective owners or breeders.
Credit: Taylor Strong writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 10Jun80
Inchbonnie is not known as a source of many familiar racing names. Did you have a family connection to start you off?
No, in fact my mother was a bit horrified about me doing too much with horses. I graduated through the usual steps of walking, getting a pony, then getting a horse.
Well I used to go down to Jim Walsh's stables at Omoto and cadge a few rides, but I soon realised I was the wrong build for a jockey, which had been my dream. I used to help out at Owen Quinlan's trotting stables and then I got my first trotter, Emmett Grattan. The local priest, Father Daly, named him, but he was useless. The first drive, we ran a long last at Omoto. Another fellow who had horses there then was Jim Stewart, who had a brewery. The original one was over in Cobden and they wanted the land for the bridge and the road, so they built him a new one. He had trained Silver Ring when it was one of the best horses in the country. He got him after the original owner was murdered at the Racecourse Hotel. He was tied up with the man's wife's family.
Where to from there?
I used to get chaff over in Canterbury and got to know Jack Litten well. He said he had a horse for me, but when a stablegirl took me down to look at it, it had a huge knee and didn't look any good to me. Then Mrs Litten rang to say it was at Aylesbury and about to get on the train. It was too late to say no again. Fortunately, the horse which arrived looked nothing like the horse I saw in the paddock. I never worked that out.
How good was this one?
It had been tried up north and was no good there. When Jim Steel, a local owner, heard about it he told Jack Litten "that bludger will never win a race - in fact, I will bet you a case of whiskey she doesn't. She was called Helen Patch my first winner.
Did Jack get the whiskey?
That was a laugh. It never arrived over and after a while Jack asked Jim Steel if it was ever coming. Jim told him he had given the case to Allan Holmes to deliver after a race meeting over there. Allan didn't mind a whiskey. Jack never saw any of it.
And Helen Patch?
She won at Westport off 36 yards. She started eight times in 10 days and she was only once unplaced. I sold her to a dairy farmer, Mr Moynihan. He bred a galloper by Prince Mahal, a stallion I stood at Inchbonnie, called Prince Bobby and he mated her to Helen Patch. the result was Our Helen the dam of Kata Hoiho.
When did you start standing thoroughbred stallions?
I was always interested and I saw Red Jester advertised in the racing calendar for a two-year lease and took him on.
He was a good racehorse and sire?
Yes he did a good job. But he was a mongrel of a horse to handle while breeding. He basically didn't like serving mares. He would come out of the stall all business and then drop his head and start eating grass. He left some very good horses though like Wester and others. I will say one thing for him. When he was on the job, he got them in foal first time.
Joe Robinson from Kumara was at a sale of Dinny O'Connor's at Templeton one day and bought a three-quarter sister to Phar Lap called Enticing. Joe wanted me to serve it with Red Jester and then send her on to him. But Dinny rang me up and asked if the mare was at my place. He said there was no point in trying to breed from her. She hadn't had a foal in years. Veterinary experts had been over her and she couldn't breed again. Joe said to go ahead anyway and old Red Jester got her in foal first pop.
There were veterinary surgeons around then who were not properly qualified but were allowed to operate as vets. Anyway, one of them had told me that with some mares which couldn't get in foal a trick was to gallop them around the paddock until they were sweating up and then serve them. Leo Crimmins was with me then and did it with old Enticing. It wasn't pretty to watch but it worked. Then you wouldn't believe it she got into a drain and died. They cut the foal out, but it died too.
What sort of mares did a horse like Red Jester get?
You would be surprised how many mares from good families were on the Coast. The owners didn't do much research on them. Those horses George Walton took up from the Coast when he shifted, and out came horses like Commanding and Castlerae. I had a funny experience with a mare with a bit of breeding called Fickle Jade?
George Lockington of Reefton owned her and sent her to Red Jester. We were travelling through Reefton on one of those really hot days they can have and stopped for an ice-cream. George came up and insisted we look at this filly. Well, you should have seen it. It was in a spare section and they were feeding it bread. George's brother was a baker. It was a yearling but it looked like a weanling. Looked a hopeless case. You never know in racing. She grew up to be Reefton Gold and won eight races.
What became of the mare?
That was another story. She was well-bred but George's daughter used to ride her around and he wouldn't sell her. Then his daughter came over to boarding school in Christchurch and he told me he would sell her but he wanted $100. I paid that pretty quick but I had trouble passing her on to Jack Litten. At that time he was bringing Aristoi into the country and was collecting mares.
Did he take this one?
I told Jack I had a good mare for him which I had bought for $100 but he said he wasn't interested in $100 mares. He wanted $5000 to $6000 mares. I convinced him she was worth a go and after a chapter of incidents he got one foal he sold for $80,000 and another for $70,000 to Hong Kong, so he didn't do badly.
I was over in Christchurch then and Jack had a free service to We Don't Know that he wanted to use, but I thought she should go down south to Kurdistan. I put her on a truck down there but then there was a dust-up because Kurdistan already had a full book and they were going to send her back. Jack and Bill Hazlett were mates and they got it sorted but Jack was still going on about We Don't Know. It was the Kurdistan he sold for big money and, of course, We Don't Know was a flop.
You also stood Prince Mahal at stud at Inchbonnie?
Yes we had him two seasons. He dropped dead one day. He had been quite a good racehorse, especially in the wet at Trentham. He was foaled here but his dam was served in England and we got him for £250. He left quite a few useful horse but nothing outstanding. About then I had a Knights Romance mare called Gay Defender I bought for £5 out of Jim Walsh's stable and I lined her up at Omoto one day. The jockey came up to me after the race and said: "Kevin, do yourself a favour. Never put a bridle on this mare again." Eric Johnson bought a daughter of her off me and bred some good horses, including Khush Mahal.
Any trotting stallions there?
Yes, I had Allegiance. I bought him from Vic Leeming. He was closely related to Unite and had ability, but he broke down before he could race. That was the problem with his stock too. Some of them could run but they were unsound. Bay Prince was a good one for us.
Was there any money in standing stallions over there?
No, not a lot. But we never had a bad debt all the time we did it. I remember an old bloke came up to me one day and said: "Mr Ryder, I want to breed my mare to Red Jester but I haven't got the money. If you serve her with him I will pay you when I can." Well, it took about 12 months with £10 here and £5 there (the fee was £65) but he paid in full.
Was transport a problem?
Down in South Westland they used to complain about the travelling costs, so I built a truck and trailer especially to carry seven or eight mares and I would pick them up for nothing. One day a police car stopped me and said I was breaking the law. You were not supposed to compete with the railways then. I went to a lawyer and her told me as long as I was not charging I was not breaking the law. Sure enough, the next time I leave home there is a cop car stopping me telling me I was going to be charged. I showed him the lawyer's letter. He never bothered me again.
Then you moved to Christchurch?
Yes. I worked with Jack Litten and then Clarrie Rhodes, and then I did a bit of training and then got into buying horses and taking them to America to train them up and sell them.
David McCarthy interview: The Press 30June2009
Just before we move from the West Coast what about Master Conclusion?
I got him when we were in the North Island on holiday. He cost me $100. He'd done a bit up north but he didn't show me anything for a while. He came to it all of a sudden. He ran second twice in one day at Reefton, then he won twice in one day at Kumara just a few days later. It was 2000m the first time and 1400m the second. That would be pretty rare. That was on the Saturday and he missed at Hokitika two days later. The next month he ran third on the first day at Hokitika and beat Totara Lad on the second day. I started him again later in the day anf he ran third. He then ran two placings at Westport still running out his nominations. Then there was a bolt from the blue.
Horty Lorigan the stipendiary steward in Wellington who was doing the curcuit, rang and told me he had scratched Master Conclusion at Greymouth. He said he had been out of hack classes at Westport he reckoned. Then a racecourse inspector came down. He interrogated me as if I was in a prisoner of war camp and told me I would probably get 12 months disqualification over the whole business.
Tommy Dudley (Totara Flat) had the Turf Registers. The horse was in them as winning two races for Eric Ropiha, but the bloke who sold it to me had mentioned that the horse had been disqualified from one of the wins. Apparently a part-owner still held a jockey licence which was illegal. Sure enough when I looked in the errors and alterations in the Register from the previous year there was the disqualification. It still showed as a win in the results.
And the Racing Conference didn't know?
The whole thing was a disgrace. When I contacted the Conference Secretary (1961) to point out the error he refused to even speak to me. "You are going to be charged and I cannot talk to you," he said. When they found out they had not even checked their own records properly there wasn't any apology at all, even though the horse had been denied a start in a race for which he was eligible.
That put you off gallopers?
Not really. I had another useful horse called Haast which won races running out nominations. He broke a track record at Hokitika. I remember when he finally got into open class and he was going to drop to the minimum weight I said to Frank Skelton that he would be hard to beat now. Frank said: "Kevin, that horse does not have the class to run in open company no matter what weight he has got. Highweights are his go." He was right. I set him up for a highweight at Riccarton. He was three lengths clear and well down the straight when he broke down.
When did you move to Canterbury?
Late in 1963. I was looking at standing thoroughbred stallions but on closer inspection it wasn't such a good idea. We bought a place in Clarkville. It had a long road frontage. A bloke came along and wanted to buy a piece of it to grow strawberries and was prepared to pay £500 an acre. Too good to turn down. Then another one arrived wanting to buy a block. In the end we sold the lot in blocks. We were in Kaiapoi for a while, had some land in Tai Tapu and then went to Ryans Road where we put down a track but we finally settled in Templeton. The only thing on the property was the house. We built all the rest. We loved it there. I set up public training for a couple of years. But I didn't suit training for other people. I couldn't believe some of the things they can do.
That was when America became the focus?
I went to America as a groom on a horse plane with a few other blokes and had a good look round there. The plan was to buy horses in Australia and New Zealand, take them up there and trial or race them to sell. You could only stay six months on a visa. We didn't have a winter for five years after that. We would go up in Autumn here and be back in November.
Did it start well?
Yes and no. We were at Montecello the first year. If you didn't qualify an older horse in two tries they were banned for life so you had to be careful. We took five horses up on the first trip and sold them all. An early good one for us was Johnny Fling. He won a race at Blenheim and we bought him for $1500. A guy I met up there was Eve Barejuon who operated out of Montreal. He offered to take Johnny Fling and said he would pay me the $20,000 I wanted when the horse had won $30,000. I agreed and he was as good as his word. Actually the horse won over $150,000 all up. It was not all good but next year we went to Saratoga and things went well there.
What was the best of the early horses?
Boyfriend. He was a good horse here and I rang Frank Oliver just to see if he might be for sale. He said he would sell him but he wanted big money. I waited with baited breath and Frank said he would not take less than $10,000. I was expecting $40,000. We sold him to some owners of Herve Filion's and he was the best horse at the Brandywine track one year. We got the $40,000 for him up there. We sold one to Jimmy Dancer for $10,000 we had bought here for $2000. Stanley Dancer came over and went over this horse for an hour. You'd think it was a $10m horse. He turned out all right too.
Herve Filion was the famous driver them. How did you find him?
Yes, he won 10 or 11,000 races. His brother Gille we knew pretty well. He had a wooden leg but was a good driver. Herve invited us over for dinner one night. He was a funny little bloke. He couldn't sit still, always had to be doing something or giving instructions to his wife.
Other deals you remember?
Brown Bazil was a funny horse. I bought him in West Australia from Trevor Warwick and he was a free-for-all horse there. But when I got him up to America he couldn't run a mile in 2:10. I was baffled. There was nothing wrong with him. In the end I risked him in a qualifier. He went straight to the front and won in 2:03. When I lined him up in a race he did the same and I got $20,000 for him. He just couldn't work time at home on his own.
Did you race many?
I got quite keen on it at one stage and had to remind myself what the plan was. We really only raced them until we could get the price we set but the racing up there was tempting when you were winning.
Your son, Chris is now a leading trainer there. How did that come about?
The family travelled up with us often to the States. All the boys have done well with horses. Chris came to it a different way. He was always a worker. He did some unusual things. He was a woman's hairdresser for a while. He was always keen on the horses though. He used to go on the hunts here and once rode around the steeple course at Riccarton. It wasn't a race but the manager gave him the ok to try it.
Was it through you he got going in New Jersey?
No, not really. His wife, Nicola, worked for Ernst and Young and was posted to New York for two years. He was helping out a couple on their lifestyle block. They owned 17 sandwich bars in New York but were not into racing. Chris got his hands on one horse to train at Freehold part time for $3000 and the couple put up $1000 to be partners. Chris won enough races with the horse to get to the Meadowlands and it all went from there.
Some readers may not realise how well he has done?
He has won a lot of big races. McArdle won millions and of course is doing well at stud here. Art Major, the leading sire in America now was another of his big winners. He has reached the top and the competition is tough. But he owns a block of land in Templeton so maybe one day he will be back.
How did you find racing in America?
I was most impressed. Very professional, everything ran on time and by the rules. Our racing here at the time was Mickey Mouse by comparison. They could bend the little rules for you. As I said if you trialled a horse twice and it didn't qualify the horse was out for ever. I let a potential owner's driver handle a horse they were going to buy in a qualifier and he murdered it. The stewards insisted to me it had been checked so that trial didn't count. The only checks had come from the driver.
But some of the deals must have been difficult?
They could be tough. I remember once we had a horse going so well it was a $100,000 sale. It was a big deal. The vet failed the horse on sidebones which were little growths which never bothered any horse. The buyer wrote out the cheque anyway. Johnny Chapman, a leading horseman, was doing the deal. We were up in Prince Edward Island where harness racing is strong having a look around when Bev rang and said the cheque had bounced. Strangely the guy who wrote the cheque was with me there. When I told him he just said: "I wondered when you were going to ask me about that cheque." We didn't get all the money but we got most of it. Guys like Stanley Dancer only dealt in bank cheques buying and selling.
David McCarthy interview: The Press 7July09
You had a number of top horses in later years and one of the best was Tempest Tiger. How did you come by her?
George Beal had her up at Kaiapoi and for sale. I trialled her at $8000. There was a lot I liked but one or two question marks. I decided to have a thinkabout it. A couple of days later I made an offer, but found I wa only third in line! Luck went my way.
An American was first in line to trial her. He didn't like chestnuts and wouldn't have been interested if he had known what colour she was. Then Paul Davies had a client interested but he didn't like her either so she came to us.
I remember her breaking a New Zealand record when she qualified, which was sensational then. Did she surprise you?
I knew she was pretty good but we couldn't get starts with her. It was ridiculously tough getting a start in those days. Even after she broke a record qualifying she was eliminated from a Timaru meeting. Jack (Smolenski)drove her that day and from then on, which was bad luck for my son Gavan.
He was supposed to drive her in the trial but couldn't make it in time. Once Jack had done what he did I could hardly change again. Gavan was not that happy for a while (another of Kevin's sons, Peter, later married Jack's daughter, Joanne).
She was by Tiger Wave and probably the best of them?
She was up to the very best and of course she won the Messenger with Jack in the cart - the first mare to do it. She held the mile record for a mare at 1:58.5. She really only had one full season. Funnily enough I had another Tiger Wave filly at the same time that was pretty smart called Tiger Maid. Both of them were out of Tempest Hanover mares and it started a stampede.
Tempest Hanover was a well-bred horse and popular early on but he wasn't very successful. When breeders saw the cross with Tiger Wave, Tempest Hanover mares from all over the country went to him. One float operator told me he carted 40 of them from Southland alone the next season. I kept track of most of them and I don't think any of them won a race.
What happened to Tempest Tiger?
She was never fully sound and she broke down behind. The first foal I bred from her was the worst horse I ever trained, but later I got Franco Tiger, who was the best horse I ever trained.
You didn't breed him?
No, I had sold the mare in foal to El Patron to Wayne Francis in one of those Spreydon Lodge syndicates. One day Wayne rang me up and he said he had two horses he wanted me to take on trial for a month at $10,000 each to buy or send them back. I used to prefer to keep horses a few days and fully assess them. One was Tempest Tiger's foal. I quite liked him as a horse but he didn't do much and he had obviously been a problem to someone. Because he was her foal I gave him a bit more time than I might have otherwise. Wayne was in China at the time so I sent the other one home and then decided to take a chance on this one. Sentiment really, I suppose. I regretted it the next day.
He was lame. I thought, "I have just blown 10 grand", but he came right. When I changed his gear and shoeing and put him in company he really blossomed in his training and he won five races for me. I sold him well to Australia and he was a sensation in Australia - he won a Miracle Mile and was Grand Circuit Champion. He won over $1m. Until a few years ago he used to lead the Miracle Mile field out each year.
What about other sales to Australia?
There was some funny ones. Paka Punch was one. A chap I knew brought him along for me to trial, telling me it was pretty good. I don't think I ever had a horse who hung like him. Lisa Daly was working with us then. When you got him around a bend on our (800m) track you headed straight to the outside to line him up for the next one. But he ran a half in 57.4 for me like that. I had a feeling about him and bought him for $6000. A pole and a pricker and some shoeing changes worked wonders. He always hung a bit but after we sold him for $50,000 to West Australia he won races on a 600m track at Fremantle there and was also highly successful in town.
What were your criteria buying horses?
I bought a few youngsters out of the paddock, but I was never a big fan of yearling sales. I did buy Lady's Rule out of the ring for Robert Dunn, who won an Oaks with her, but the figures tell me there are a lot of traps in sale buying. I always trialled the older horses on my 800m track, which tells you a lot about their gait. You tried to work out what they might win in Australia or America to put a value on them. People have some weird ways of valuing their horse. But there is a lot of guesswork with some of them. You could get a feeling about a horse, especially one you thought you could sort out.
Other Australian sales?
Cloudy Range was a good one. I had a client in Tasmania who wanted a Noodlum colt. I took a while to get around to it and in the end I put an ad in the Trotting Calendar. I was staggered at the response. I had no idea there were so many Noodlums around. Even Freeman Holmes (who co-owned Noodlum) had eight or nine colts in a paddock he rang me about. There were some others which were a bit different.
I went to see one lady who had a horse for sale over Dunsandel way. I didn't like it at all. It hadn't been well done, and was an average type at best. When I asked her what she wanted she told me the price was $120,000! I hardly knew what to say. I thought to myself it would be a dear horse at $5000. We bought Cloudy Range from Reg Stockdale on his looks and he turned out tops.
There were a lot of good ones we don't have the space to talk about.
By my count a few years ago six Derby and six Oaks winners. Horses like Via Vista, Tac Warrior, Smooth Dave, Tempo Cavalla and Gliding Princess were a few. I sold a few gallopers too. One of them, McAlfie, gave Kingston Town a fright one day in Perth.
You wrote an entertaining autobiography, 'From Go To Whoa'. What brought that about?
Well really it was Alan Dunn who caused it. I was laid up one time and so was he and he was around one day and told me he was going to fill in his time by writing a book. After he had gone, Bev said, "Why don't you write a book?" So I did and it didn't take that long, but the real work started after that.
Well, getting it printed, which we sorted out, but when I took it around the shops I got a mixed reception. I was lucky at Whitcoulls. The chief buyer was out for lunch and her deputy told me they weren't interested in that sort of book. As I was leaving the boss came back, flicked through the book, and offered to stock some. It sold for $19.95 and the cost was around $12 so it wasn't a trip to a fortune. I used to carry a few boxes of them in the boot and wherever I was I would stop at bookshops and offer them some.
You were also a bit of a stirrer about things in administration.
I think I joined the Owners and Trainers back in the 1930s and was president at one time. I spent years trying to get the industry represented on the Harness Executive and it came, but much later. I had a few run-ins with officialdom. As I have said, the executives in those days were a law unto themselves.
You seem to be wearing well.
I am 86 and have my moments. A funny thing...one of the worst injuries I got was jumping over a fence at Inchbonnie one day. I did the knee and when I looked down the foot was at an awful angle. I told Bev to grab hold of the foot, pull it and twist it. She said, "I'm not doing that," but she did in the end. I have never had any trouble with that knee since.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 23 June 2009