YEAR: 1931


Silver de Oro and Ciro carried the bulk of the investments for the New Zealand Derby Stakes. There was a delay at the start, and several of the runners were unsettled with the result that Gold Paper, Avernus and Silver de Oro did not leave the mark correctly.

Ciro led out from Tempest, Eureka Boy, Gold Paper and Mauser. When a quarter of a mile had been covered Gold Paper was in charge from Eureka Boy, Ciro, and Tempest, a long way back being Silver de Oro. With little less than half a mile to go Ciro set off after Gold Paper, and had his measure at the straight entrance, Tempest and Silver de Oro being next.

Nothing had a chance with Ciro in the straight, and Tempest finished best of the others to be within a length of Ciro at the post. Gold Paper was four lengths further back, and next to finish were Eureka Boy, Silver de Oro, Mauser, and Avernus.

The winner recorded a striking performance, and it would have taken an exceptionally good one to have beaten him on the day. The race was marred by the fact of Silver de Oro's not moving off, and there would have been a great contest between these two, as Silver de Oro showed a fine burst of speed to gather the field again after she had tangled and mixed her gait for a furlong. Gold Paper has an abundance of speed, but as yet is not a great stayer. He was asked for an early effort, which left him without any great dash at the finish. Eureka Boy ran a fair race. Mauser was solid without showing much speed, and Avernus lost too much at the start to have a chance afterwards.

Credit: THE PRESS 13 Nov 1931


YEAR: 1955

Harry Hicoll

Mr H F Nicoll, who died in Christchurch on Monday, retired from the presidency of the NZ Trotting Conference in 1947 after holding the office for an uninterrupted period of 25 years. He enjoyed the confidence of his Executive and the clubs and was responsible for many of the reforms that raised the administration of the sport to a high level. Mr Nicoll was in his 90th year.

An Englishman by birth, Mr Nicoll was for five years on the staff of the Bank of England before coming to NZ, where he joined the staff of the Bank of NZ in Christchurch. He was there until the early 80s, when he was promoted to the position of accountant in the Ashburton office. He was afterwards acting-manager for a term, and resigned to commence business as a frozen meat exporter, taking his two brothers Messrs E F and L A Nicoll into partnership, with headquarters in Ashburton.

During World War I Mr Nicoll was chairman of the Ashburton County Efficiency Board and Belgian Relief Fund. He was also chairman of the Ashburton County Wheatgrower's Board, chairman of the United Wheatgrowers' Association, a director of the Wheat Marketing Agency, and a member of the Wheat Committee. He was also a member of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, and chairman of their Finance Committee.

Mr Nicoll's interst and active participation in sport covered a wide range. He played on the wing for the Pilgrim's Association Football Club while employed in England, and was a member of the Bank of England Company of the Civil Service Volunteers. In the early days he was secretary of the Christchurch Regatta Club, and also captained the Canterbury Rowing Club until his departure from Christchurch. He rowed No.3 in the Canterbury Senior Four, which won the Christchurch Regatta in 1887 and 1888, and in Wellington in 1889. This team also won the four-oared championship at Wanganui in 1889. Mr Nicoll rowed No.3 in the first NZ four to visit Australia, which finished second to Victoria, with New South Wales third and Tasmania fourth.

For nearly 50 years Mr Nicoll was president of the Ashburton Trotting Club. He was for many years a member of the NZ Trotting Association, and for a term was vice-president. Mr Nicoll was the originator of the motion to secure more days' racing for trotting, which was taken up by the Massey Government, and passed by the House. He was also instrumental in carrying the rule through the NZ Trotting Conference which made the standing start compulsory in all races, and was mainly responsible for the institution of the present handicapping system, which was one of the greatest progressive moves in the history of the sport. Recently he was primarily responsible for the introduction of the control of trotting meetings by stipendiary stewards. His work in the classic field will always rank as one of his outstanding achievements. The Ashburton Club, which sponsored three of NZ's leading classic races, the NZ Sapling Stakes, NZ Champion Stakes and NZ Futurity Stakes besides the All-Aged Stakes and other feature events, has been an acknowledged leader in this sphere of racing.

Mr Nicoll was president of the Ashburton County Racing Club from 1926 to 1950. Mr Nicoll raced both gallopers and trotters. In later years he confined his attention to the light-harness horse, and from Durbar Lodge came some great pacers and trotters, among them classic winners in Childe Pointer, Latona, Nantwich, Wrackler, Arethusa, Lady Swithin, Manhattan and Ciro. At Durbar Lodge also were bred the champion Indianapolis, winner of three NZ Cups, and another classic winner in Tempest. Mr Nicoll's outstanding successes in a lengthy list were with Durbar in the NZ Cup of 1908 and with Wrackler in the same race in 1930. Mr Nicoll imported Wrack, who was leading sire of NZ for several seasons.

Mr Nicoll raced some fine gallopers, among them Cross Battery, who won many races, including a Great Easter Handicap and Ashburton Cup; Sea King, winner of some 20 races; Ascalaphus, a winner of the Invercargill and Gore Cups; and Idasa, winner of the Geraldine Cup and other races. Mr Nicoll took Cross Battery and Sea King to Australia in 1907. Sea King ran second in a highweight handicap at Randwick, and Cross Battery ran third in the Sydney Cup.

On his completion of 21 years service as president of the Conference, Mr Nicoll was the guest of the trotting clubs of NZ at a complimentary dinner in Christchurch on August 6, 1943. Among the glowing tributes paid to the guest was that of Mr A G Henderson, then editor of the 'Star-Sun' who wrote: "Mr Nicoll has been a wise, tactful and courageous leader. Perhaps during the evening some speaker will recall that amongst the men who laid so securely the foundations of the modern sport, there was one striking group of big men. All standing well over six feet - Prime Canterbury - who showed enterprise, faith and determination and who backed their belief that trotting could and should be as popular a sport as galloping. Canterbury owes it's leadership in trotting in no small measure to these men, Mr Nicoll himself, Mr Jim Williams, Mr Frank Graham, Mr C M Ollivier and Mr J C Clarkson. They and those associated with them, held that good prize money would bring good horses and that a rigid code of conduct and good management of race meetings would win the support of the public. I have watched the progress of the sport with a critical eye since 1896 and know how thoroughly Mr Nicoll has deserved the thanks and praise of all good and true lovers of trotting."

On his retirement in 1947 Mr Nicoll was again honoured by trotting clubs at a dinner in Christchurch. The chairman of the evening, Mr A L Matson, who succeeded Mr Nicoll as president of the Conference, said: "Mr Nicoll is one of the Dominion's outstanding personalities. As a chairman and president he always exhibited that spark of genius. I have often accepted his judgement even though I thought he was wrong; but he never erred. His control of meetings has shown him to be a master. He has a quick brain, and his control has been an inspiration." Mr Matson said 1947 was jubilee year of the Trotting Conference and for half of the time of the Conference's existence Mr Nicoll had been president. There had been five presidents before him. The energy, tact and manner in which he carried out his duties as president were an inspiration to all chairmen throughout the Dominion.

Reference to Mr Nicoll as the "Caesar of trotting in NZ" was made by Mr J B Thompson, president of the old NZ Trotting Association, who said that whenever Mr Nicoll had any ideas that would be of benefit to trotting, he always carried them through to their consummation.

Because of his unique position in trotting, some people thought that Mr Nicoll had invented the sport, said Mr C S Thomas, then president of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club. This was not so. Trotting was in progress 2000 years ago, and there was an account of a trotting race in Homer's Iliad.

Mr E A Lee, president of the New Brighton Trotting Club, and a member of the board of the NZ Trotting Association, said that too often we reserved all the nice things we had to say about people until they were not there to enjoy them. "We should not regret Mr Nicoll's retirement," he said. "Rather we should regard it as promotion. His work will stand as a monument for generations. His dominating thought has always been the welfare of trotting."

"Trotting has occupied a considerable portion of my life," said Mr Nicoll in reply. "This parting will leave a gap it will be impossible to fill. I have enjoyed many valued friendships, and I feel proud of the good feeling that exists in every part of the Dominion where trotting fourishes. It was in 1905 that I was first persuaded to become an administrator of trotting. I was elected president of the Ashburton Trotting Club at a time when the club was 80 in debt, when it had no assets, and just after its secretary had departed suddenly. I could see what great possibilities there were in trotting, and I am grateful to say my confidence in the sport has been bourne out with great abundance." Mr Nicoll referred to the trainers of his horses in past years, the late A Pringle and D Warren, and concluded by expressing his love for trotting and the pride he felt in its advancement.

Mr Nicoll was married in 1889 to Anna Julianna Case, the daughter of Julien Case, the American consul in Japan. They had two sons, Messrs A J Nicoll and G H Nicoll, both of Ashburton, and two daughters, Mrs D V Donaldson and Mrs Le Clerc Latter, both of Christchurch. His wife died in 1935. In 1937 he married Helen J T Riddiford, the widow of Mr F E Riddiford, of Masterton. He is survived by his wife and his two sons and two daughters.


'Ribbonwood' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 20Apr55

Some years ago, in an interview with the Calendar, the late Mr H F Nicoll recalled how he had first become acquainted with Andy Pringle, who was later to become Mr Nicoll's private trainer and remain so for many years. Pringle according to old-timers who saw his many feats of horsemanship, will always rank as one of the finest reinsmen, particularly on a saddle trotter, ever seen in this country. Pringle was leading horseman of the Dominion in the 1914-5,1916-7 and 1917-8 seasons.

"When first I became interested in the trotting sport, about 1902, Pringle was training at Gore and I heard of his reputation as a very skilled horseman," said Mr Nicoll. "In 1904 my mare Dora was engaged at Geraldine and I asked Andy to ride her. She did not win but Andy's riding so impressed me that I made him an offer to train for me privately. When he accepted I laid out a track on my Mitcham Road farm at Ashburton and he came to live there.

"Andy at once made his value apparent, and never did I at any time have cause to other than value his services. The first meeting attended after his engagement by me was in 1905, when the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club's August meeting was held on the Riccarton racecourse. He won three races: with Victor Huon over two miles in 5.19, with Verity over a mile and a half in 3.47, and with Durbar over two miles in 4.55.

"Pringle was probably the best all-round horseman of his day; it was rarely that he took my horses to a meeting without winning one or more races. His integrity was an intrinsic part of his nature. I remember one occasion at Addington in 1906. He was riding Dora and I said to him: 'What will win?' He replied 'Alliance, will you put a fiver on for me?' I said: 'Very well, but remember, I'm backing Dora.' In the straight Alliance and Dora came away from the field and in a ding-dong finish Pringle, by a brillant piece of riding, just managed to win with Dora, who paid 10 4s. Alliance paid 10s for second.

"Pringle was always in great demand by other owners to ride and drive their horses, and for many years there was rarely a race run, when he was present, in which he was not engaged. The sport lost an admirable exponent when he retired. I have nothing but happy memories of my association with him," concluded Mr Nicoll.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 13Apr55


YEAR: 1989


The much-respected and distinguished Chertsey horseman Jack Behrns died recently. Aged 84, Behrns had spent the last five years living at Rolleston with his son, Tom.

He had an interest in harness racing until he died, racing the trotter Evander Morn. "I told him, while he was in hospital that I would take Evander Morn to Blenheim, and I took him a wee radio so he could listen in. He died before then, but I carried on and raced the mare just as we had planned," Tom said.

Jack Behrns was in the elite of horsemen. He trained some of the great horses of the century, notably Indianapolis, Wrackler and Cardinal King, and some very good ones, such as Peggotty, Why Bill, Doctor Kyle, Space Cadet, Byebye Bill and Waitaki Elect.

Behrns was born in Rakaia, starting his working life in the Post Office before coming under the wing of 'Scotty' Bryce. From there he went to Durbar Lodge, and on the death of Don Warren became private trainer for H F Nicoll. He trained Indianapolis - later to win three successive New Zealand Cups - for his first win, and converted the 1930 NZ Cup winner Wrackler to win the 1932 Dominion Handicap from Huon Voyage and Olive Nelson. In April 1931, he won the NZ Derby with Ciro, and then on Nicoll's death, he started training for Reg Butterick, one horse being Peggotty, by Wrack from a Nelson Bingen mare Butterick had bought for just four guineas. Behrns trained her for seven successive races, and at 9 she won the 1941 Dominion Handicap.

He was private trainer for Percy Watson after that; Alladin and Inglewood were two good horses he trained in the 1950s, and Cardinal King was the stable star in the 60s. The trotter Doctor Kyle won 12, Space Cadet included the New Brighton Cup among his 9 wins; Why Bill won 12; Waitaki Elect won seven as a 3-year-old, including the two mile Hororata Cup from Dutch Courage, and Bye Bye Bill won five after standing at stud in Australia and joining Behrns when he was eight.

Jack is survived by two daughters and three sons, all trainers, Tom, Irvin and Robbie.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 14Feb89


YEAR: 1998

Maurice Holmes 1909-1998

It was appropriate that Maurice Holmes OBE made headlines when he died last week. He was pictured on the front page of "The Press" in Christchurch with a short story that said goodbye to one of harness racing's all-time greats. A true champion, a driver of supreme ability, honoured by the Queen, twice voted NZ's Racing Personality of the Year, the first harness horseman to drive 1000 winners...a famous Canterbury boy; the tribute was no less than he deserved.

He went, in fact, closer to 2000, with a total of 1666 - a staggering number considering the opportunities when Maurice started out were half what they are now - and his biggest score of 93 came in his very last season, when he was 65, still in peak form and a competitor to fear. He died aged 89, at his Christchurch suburban home where he lived with his wife Elsa, who predeceased him five days earlier, and Paul, his son and loyal companion.

His record in many aspects is beyond compare. He was champion driver on 19 occasions, winning the premiership for the first time when he was 20. Few classics went past his reach, and some of them he won many times. The New Zealand Derby was one of them. He won this blue ribbon feature 12 times, with Wrackler, Arethusa, Circo, Aldershot, Imperial Jade, Scottish Lady, Free Fight, Congo Song, Royal Minstrel, Tobacco Road, Student Prince and Willie Win.

Student Prince was trained by Reg Stockdale, who spent nine years with Holmes when he trained such wonderful horses as Vedette, Chamfer, Globe Direct, Te Maru, Attack, Tactics, Lauder Hall, Walnut Hall, Scottish Hall and First Victory. "He was terrific to work with," said Stockdale. "We never had a cross word, and I didn't take a day off in nine years, only because I didn't want to. He said he learnt everything from his father. Free told him to drive for third. The idea was you would come with the last run and you would end up winning."

Stockdale was still with Holmes when he moved stables, from Russley Road to Yaldhurst, and the great horses continued until the end of the 50s...Lookaway, Dancing Years, Finestra, Robert Dillon, Recruit, Ruth Again, Super Royal, Black Douglas, Loyal Cis and Papatawa. Recalling how meticulous Maurice was, he said: "One day after we had worked the horses, Maurice raked the yard and drive and had it spot on. Then a man came in, driving an old truck, on to Maurice's neat and manicured yard. He said he was selling apples. Well, he went out quicker than he came in, and never sold an apple."

Stockdale who used Holmes to drive his good horses such as Bramble Hall, Jilaire, Blue Prince and Stewart Hanover, said he always drove to save ground and won many races at Addington "sitting on the fence." He could sum up a horse quickly. You would be training one for six months, and he'd drive it once round the track and tell you more than what you would know yourself. "He was a real Professional...never smoked and didn't drink, and no visitors were allowed the night before raceday...that was always an early night."

Stackdale said he knew when to hit a horse and when not to, and was good at pushing out during a race. "I remember being in a race at Ashburton when Maurice looked across at the guy outside him and asked how he was going. The fellow said 'by the time I looked round to tell him I was three wide.'"

Maurice was a modest man, with a dry sense of humour and a quick wit. Stockdale relates this story: "A fellow engaged Maurice to drive a horse he had driven many times himself without running a place. When he brought the horse into the birdcage, he proceeded to tell Maurice how he thought the horse should be driven, and as he walked away, said 'You know Morrie, she has never been hit.' To which Maurice replied, 'Well, she hasn't got long to wait.'" On another occasion, when an owner thanked him for a winning drive, Maurice replied: "We fed our rooster on thanks and it died."

In later years, Maurice raced many horses in partnership with Bernie Wilks. When old age started to finish better, Paul was able to drive his father to work his horses, and take him to trials and race meetings. "I know this was of great comfort to him," said Stockdale.

The other eulogy at his funeral, attended by many harness racing notables including Peter Wolfenden, Roy Purdon and Jim Smith, was given by Derek Jones who with Soangetaha was one of the last overtaken when Maurice brought Vedette wheeling out of the pack, dangerously late, to win the 1951 Inter-Dominion Grand Final. Jones, who said he wouldn't have been surprised to read in the paper one day that Maurice had died and the funeral had been held, thanked the family for giving the racing fraternity the chance to pay their respects. 'You had to be out on the track to appreciate his uncanny ability. He was fearless, he had hands like a BBC pianist and an electric brain. He had a super sense of pace, anticipation beyond description and his stance in the sulky was balanced perfection. "If you gave him the reins he would ask you what the horse does wrong, and say he would find out the rest on the way."

Jones said Maurice was never one for ceremony, and when asked to say a few words after winning a big race would invariably reply: "I think I've done my part. Thanks." "The day he drove his 1000th winner was an exception. He gave a wonderful speech. He could rise to the occasion when it was demanded," said Jones. He also acknowledged his remarkable gift of being able to get horses away safely from a standing start. "This is illustrated by the number of Derbys he won. They were in the old days, over a mile and a half, where the start at Addington was on the bend going out of the front straight. He always managed to get round that corner better than most," he said.

Canterbury trainer Bob Negus was one of many who turned to Maurice when the big money was up. He used him to win the 1955 New Zealand Oaks with Glint. "He gave tremendous advice," said Negus. "I was hard up in those days and I told him I had the chance to sell her. Maurice asked how much. He said to take the money would be the wrong thing to do, best for you to hold on to her. I mean, he could have bought her himself. That advice was worth thousands to me, but then he did that many times," he said. Negus said Maurice approached every drive with the same level of commitment, whether it was a Cup horse or a maiden. "It was so important to him, to get the best out of it. He always made suggestions to improve the performance of a horse in a very kind way. You had to listen very carefully to what he was telling you, and what he said would always be right."

According to Freeman Holmes, Maurice told him many times Vedette was the best horse he handled. "And I would say that his drive to win the Grand Final with Vedette was the best I have seen. He was three or four back on the fence. Soangetaha had gone clear, but Maurice got through that last bit and won. He would say you can't go through gaps if they are not there, but this was a really superb drive. He won seven races with Noodlum in his last season when there looked to be a chance that he could drive 100 winners, and he rated Noodlum the best young horse he drove. The thing with Maurice is that he could be in midfield, or further back, and he would know where everyone was. You never really knew when he would attack," he said.

Morrie was very much 'the maestro' from the time he started. His first win was at Addington in August 1925, riding Bonny Logan to win the one-mile Lightning Handicap, for saddle horses, by three lengths. He was 16, and he was 17 when he won the 1926 Auckland Cup with Talaro. At 20, he was New Zealand's champion driver.

One of eight children - four boys and four girls - Maurice was born into a family of racing blood as pure as it gets. He father Free won the 1888 New Zealand Cup on Manton, turned to harness racing and won the 1919 New Zealand Cup with the American import Trix Pointer, and in 1936, at the age of 65, won the Inter-Dominion Grand Final in Perth with Evicus.

In his first season of driving, the 1925-26 season, Maurice drove five winners, and 30 the first season he topped the premiership. The first of his three New Zealand Cup winners was Wrackler and the same day Maurice won the New Zealand Derby with his stablemate and younger sister, Arethusa. Wrackler was the first foal fron Trix Pointer, and two seasons later won the Dominion Handicap off 60 yards when trained as a trotter by Jack Behrns.

In the 40s, Maurice turned to training, and in the 1949-50 season, topped the premiership. He won the NZ Cup again in 1950 with Chamfer, a horse who had to be covered for one, short, sharp sprint. No-one could do this as well as Maurice. In the same year, Vedette joined the stable. Formerly trained by Jack Litten, Vedette was especially prepared for the Addington Inter-Dominions, and earned favouritism with a handsome win in his third heat, over two miles. From all accounts, the Final was a cracker, and Maurice had to be the great architect he was during the race to find space with a horse in hand. His third NZ Cup came in 1957 with Lookaway, a 4-year-old bred and raced by his brother-in-law, Clarry Rhodes.

Besides the Cup and the Derby, Maurice won the Auckland Cup (Talaro and Robin Dundee), the Great Northern Derby (Wrackler, Chamfer, Tutta Tryax), Rowe Cup (Recruit -twice, Ordeal), New Zealand Oaks (Glint, Petro Star, Earl Marie), Dominion Handicap (Recruit, Wrackler, Fair Isle), NZ Free-For-All (Harold Logan, Vedette, Lookaway, Robin Dundee), NZ Trotting Stakes (Acclamation, Alight, Court Out, Winterlight, Spark Gap), NZ Golden Slipper Stakes (Adroit, Rossini, Fidelio), Miracle Mile (Wag), and Sapling Stakes (Arethusa, Slavonic, Tobacco Road).

His last day at the office was at Alexandra Park on July 20, 1974. From eight drives, he won four of them, including his final one with the trotter Transmitter Sound. The Club marked the occasion by taking Maurice on a lap of the track in an open tourer, and drivers gave him a whips-held-high guard of honour.

In retirement, at an age when many had flagged it away, Maurice still maintained an active interest in harness racing, training his last winner when he was 80, and he had Apollo at the races when he was 86.

He was associated with wonderful horses that many of us did not see. He may well have had his last headline in the paper, but in old photographs, on the list of past winners, in the gallery of fame, Maurice Holmes will be a name that will last forever.

We thank you Morrie. As a horseman, you were someone special.


NZ Trotguide 25Jul74

A man who has been at the top of his profession over a span of 44 years has had his last drive. He is Maurice Holmes whose accomplishments as a horseman have made him a household name in NZ.

Holmes is by far the most successful reinsman in the history of trotting in this country dating back to the 1860s. He has driven 1666 winners and amassed $2,054,555 in stake money over the last 49 years. His skill has earned him the title 'Maestro' - a word usually reserved for an eminent conductor, composer or teacher of music. Maurice Holmes is considered to be in a class of his own.

Holmes has topped the national drivers' premiership 17 times and he is currently leading the list with a record number of wins before he retires from race driving under the Rules of Trotting. He has driven 93 winners since August, 1973 bettering his record total of last season. Holmes set the previous single season records of 67(1954/5) and 52(1949/50). His 52 wins in the 1949/50 season eclipsed the record set 16 years previously by the late Fred Smith who drove 51 winners in the 1933/34 season. Holmes also drove 67 winners in the 1959/60 season.

Holmes has driven the winners of practically every major race in NZ and trained winners of two Inter-Dominion Grand Finals, the premier light harness event in Australia & NZ. He trained and drove Pot Luck to win the Inter-Dominion Final at Addington in 1938 and was also successful at the Christchurch course with Vedette in the 1951 final. Oldtimers still rave about Holmes extracting Vedette from a seemingly hopeless position a furlong (200 metres) short of the winning post. It was described by one trotting fan: "Vedette, by some freak of fortune, virtually threaded his way through the eye of a needle and them sprouted wings."

Holmes has driven the winner of NZ's top handicap harness race, the NZ Cup on three occasions. The first was with Wrackler in 1930 at the age of 21. He also trained his two other winners, Chamfer(1950) and Lookaway(1957). Holmes has established a record without parallel in a single race in NZ by driving 12 winners of the NZ Derby - Wrackler(1928), Arethusa(1930), Ciro(1931), Aldershot(1938), Imperial Jade(1939), Scottish Lady(1942), Free Fight(1946), Congo Song(1947), Royal Minstrel(1954), Tobacco Road(1957), Student Prince(1960) and Willie Win(1972). He also trained Aldershot, Imperial Jade, Scottish Lady, Free Fight and Tobacco Road.

Holmes has also been in the top bracket as a trainer, heading the national premiership in the 1949/50 season with 30 wins. Other important wins for him as a trainer included the NZ Free-For-All with Vedette and Lookaway, NZ Sapling Stakes with Arethusa and Tobacco Road and NZ Golden Slipper Stakes with Adroit, Rossini and Fidelio. He bred and raced the last two in partnership. Holmes has also had success in Australia as a trainer-driver with Tobacco Road as a 3-year-old.

The announcement that Holmes will drive a horse immediately invites special attention from trotting fans and in many cases sends them rushing to bet on that particular horse. Holmes's ability as a reinsman was summed up by the noted trotting writer Karl Scott (now retired) in the November, 1960 edition of the NZ Trotting Calendar: "Maurice Holmes is an 'out and out' natural" and his knack of anticipating the moves of other drivers and horses in races borders on the uncanny. Horses race kindly for him, even notoriously hard pullers. Holmes is not keen on the use of hand grips on reins and this is sufficient testimony to his ability to handle the hardest puller with confidence. It is noticeable that if horses are inclined to want to make their own rules by tear-away tactics, Maurice is ofter seen allowing them to have their own way for a short while but they generally finish nicely tucked in behind something else and racing the way they should."
He is also a master at educating and gaiting young horses and invariably has a 2-year-old to the fore in the early part of the season.

The name Holmes has been associated with Trotting on a highly successful basis since the early days of the sport in NZ. Maurice is son of Free, affectionately known as the "Grand Old Man" of trotting. Free rode gallopers on the flat, over hurdles and steeples and was a trainer and owner of thoroughbreds. Free rode his first winner at Ashburton at the age of 12 about 1883 as a five-stone lad. His wins as a jockey included the 1888 NZ Cup on Manton; 1894 Grand National Hurdles on Liberator and a Great Northern Steeple on the same horse. His training successes including an Auckland Cup and he had Vascoe, leading stake earner in the 1903/4 season. Free had great success in the sister sport. He trained and drove Evicus, the grand champion at the inaugral Inter-Dominion at Perth in 1936, drove the 1919 NZ Cup winner, Trix Pointer and won the 1935 Auckland Cup with Graham Direct.

Maurice is the second son of Free, who also had four daughters, one of whom is married to Mr C L Rhodes, who has major holdings in the standardbred industry. Maurice's brothers, Freeman (eldest), and Allan also made their marks as horsemen while another, Walter was the right-hand man for his father. Freeman figured as the owner-trainer-driver of the 1953 NZ Cup winner, Adorian and trained Graham Direct for his 1935 Auckland Cup win. He trained and drove two NZ Derby winners - Bonny Bridge(1943) and Daphne de Oro(1927) and four NZ Sapling Stake winners - Richore(1926), Sonoma Child(1928), Captain Morant(1942) and Forward(1951).

Allan Holmes is best remembered for Gold Bar, who put up great exhibitions of speed and ran his rivals off their feet in the 1945 NZ Cup. He also drove Harold Logan in his second NZ Cup win from 60 yards in 1932. Today a third generation of Holmes's is continuing the family tradition for top horsemanship with Freeman L, Graham, Kevin and Colin, nephews of Maurice. Graham has driven the classic winner, Buccaneer(1953 NZ Sapling Stakes) and developed the Cup class pacer Co Pilot. Kevin, who also drove a NZ Derby winner Leroy(1968), is a prominent trainer at Cambridge and Colin has also had success. Freeman L figures as the trainer and part-owner of this year's star 2-year-old Noodlum and the fine 4-year-old trotter Edis Nova.

Maurice Holmes attended Riccarton Primary School. He began driving work at the age of 11 and was full time in the stable at high school age. Maurice was soon licenced as a reinsman but for a short time had his licence revoked on the grounds that he was too young. He had his first engagement in a race at Ashburton on Boxing Day, 1923. The horse Energetic, fell so it could be said that he started his career at ground level. Holmes maintained his association with Energetic's trainer G H Murfitt of Rangiora. Murfitt, the oldest licenced trainer in NZ was on hand when a presentation was made to Holmes by the Ashburton Club last month to mark his retirement. Holmes drove Life Bouy for Mr Murfitt that day but was unplaced.

Holmes had his first placing behind Wonder Why who finished third from 60 yards in the Governor's Handicap at Addington on November 14, 1924. He had his first win on Bonny Logan in a saddle event at Addington on August 17, 1925 at the age of 16. A description of the race in a Christchurch newspaper the following day read: "The winner was well and patiently handled by the young horseman, Maurice Holmes, whose first win it was. With the good judgement and coolness he showed, he will be heard of later." Maurice was considered a top rider whe saddle races were in vogue. His first win in a sulky event was behind Talaro at Auckland on December 23, 1926. Five days later he gained his first 'big' win with Talaro in the Auckland Cup. A free-lance driver in the early days of his career, Holmes first topped the drivers' premiership in the 1930/31 season with 35 wins and repeated the feat the following season.

He took up training in the depression years of the early 30s. It was a case of making a living with driving fees dropping from 3 to 1 and the chance of only five drives a week. Holmes retired from public training in 1959 though he still prepares a few horses for himself. He trained Strauss, a winner at Addington earlier this season and has about 450 wins on his record as a trainer.

Holmes achieved the $1 million mark in stake earnings when he reined Damian to success in the Le Lievre Handicap at the NZ Metropolitan meeting on November 21, 1959. He achieved $2 million when Waipounamu ran second in the Spreydon Handicap at Addington on March 30, 1974. Holmes hoisted his 1000th winning drive behind Rustic Lad, in the Final Handicap, last race of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club's Cup Day programme on November 8, 1960. His reply at the presentation to the thousands of fans who had been on tenderhooks: "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. It would have suited me much better five races ago." He was referring to the NZ Cup in which he was beaten into third place with Lookaway. Holmes gained win number 1500 at Oamaru on October 23, 1972, when Macamba won the Cecil Hore Memorial Handicap.

Holmes cut down on travelling much further afield than Canterbury in the late 1960s after topping the drivers premiership for five consecutive seasons between 1961/2 and 1965/66 with totals of 54-50-60-45-48. Consequently his tallies dropped away though he still remained high on the national list each season. Last season(1972/73), urged on by his wife, Elsa, and 17-year-old son, Paul, Maurice revisited some of his old haunts in quest of the record. His brilliance as a reinsman did the rest. He drove a winner on 54 of the 62 days or nights he had an engagement and piloted at least one winner on 24 consecutive days or nights between December 23, 1972 and March 24, 1973.

To emphasise his skill he landed five winners - Wag, Robin's Sister, Armbro Jodie, Strauss and Great Time at the NZ Metropolitan meeting on March 7, 1973. Holmes had twice previously driven five winners on one programme at Forbury Park. He was successful with Jenny Dillon, Walnut Jimmy, Te Maru (twice) and Lady Inchape on October 13, 1951 when he also gained seconds with First Victor and Scottish Nurse. The other occasion was on February 5, 1955, when he piloted Recruit, Trueco, Belle Renarde, Sure Phoebe and Secure.

At the presentation to Holmes when he drove his 68th winner for 1972/3 - Grizzly Bear at Addington on April 7, 1973 - thus eclipsing his old record of 67, NZ Trotting Conference President, Dick Rolfe, said: "The Holmes family have shaped the destinies of NZ trotting and 1973 will go down as Maurice Holmes' finest year."

Another feat for Holmes was to train and drive the winners of both divisions of a race. The event was the Waiwera Handicap won by County Clare and Valola at the Banks Peninsula Racing Club's meeting on March 2, 1946. Holmes won the only other light harness event on that programme with County Clare.

Maurice has a remarkably clean record as race driver. He had his first suspension for 18 years when given a one day penalty for causing interference at the Morrinsville meeting an April 2, 1974. The previous time he was outed for a month when found guilty of causing interference as the driver of Super Royal which finished second to Loyal Cis in the Author Dillon Handicap at Addington on November 8, 1956.

Among his big wins in 1972/3 were the $16,500 Stars Travel Miracle Mile with Wag (who set a national record of 1:57 2-5); NZ Derby (Willie Win); Champagne Mile Final (Tonton Macoute); Bridgens Memorial and Stewards Free-For-All (Jason McCord).

It is fitting that Maurice should be associated this season with Noodlum (trained by his nephew, Freeman) as the colt rewrote the record book for a 2-year-old by winning 12 races and $23,162.50. Freeman drove Noodlum to win five of his first eight starts then offered the drive to Maurice to help in his quest to top the drivers' premiership in his last season. Maurice obliged by piloting Noodlum to seven straight wins including the triple crown of 2-year-old racing - the NZ Sapling Stakes, Juvenile Championship and Welcome Stakes.

Maurice has had his share of spills; enough to rule him out when he volunteered for the Second World War. At 65 years of age, Holmes is driving with the acumen of men many years his junior. His nerve has never wavered. Another remarkable feat he has achieved in his final season, is driving a winner at 18 of the 20 tracks where he has attended his last meeting. This he proved at Alexandra Park last Saturday in his final day of driving when he drove four winners, two seconds and a third. It was a remarkable achievement and showed him to be the 'Maestro' to the end.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 15Jul98

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