YEAR: 2006

Derek Jones MMNZ
Derek Jones was a man with a magnetizing personality. His sincerity, lightning wit, kindness, generosity, fairness, and above all, an easy-going charm, made him everyone's friend. Like a valuable commodity, Derek collected them from near and far, but especially within harness racing where he was renowned throughout the world.

He was a superior horseman who trained more than 1000 winners, an entertaining raconteur and speaker, eulogist, part-time barber, and one who never lacked stamina when social activities demanded it. He was a spark at any gathering: no-one left his company without a smile. In short, he had qualities that cut a man above the rest. His death, last Friday at the age of 79, after complications following heart surgery three days earlier, was unexpected.

In the dust cover of his biography 'Win Without Boasting', author Don Wright introduced it by saying: "A master horseman, devoted industry servant, family patriarch, humorist, and a friend to all, especially those in less fortunate circumstances. Those qualities and characteristics sum up the life of Derek Jones MMNZ. A respected citizen, his consideration for others and ability to make friends is legendary. His mirth, humour and generosity towards all, including his staff, young horsemen and rivals have endeared him to many from all walks of life and stamped as a pillar of the industry. The famous Templeton trainer/driver is patriarch of a harness racing family that continues to exert a profound influence."

As an administrator, he was President of the New Zealand Trotting Trainers' and Driver' Association, and served in the same capacity for the Banks Peninsula Trotting Club. He was a trustee of the Addington Harness Racing Hall of Fame, honoured with a special award from the NZ Trotting Hall of Fame, and he gained recognition outside harness racing for the work he did inside with his NZ Order of Merit award six years ago.

He was also a tireless campaigner for achieving a fee for drivers. "When I started, a trainer didn't get paid if he drove a horse he trained. But you got paid if you drove a horse for someone else. It was ludicrous."

Derek's remarkable record as a trainer and a driver have been overshadowed in recent years by talented family members profiting from his actions in standing aside. Son Peter said winning the New Zealand Cup for his father with Hands Down was a bigger thrill than when he trained Borana to win it. "I wanted the win with Hands Down to be a bigger thrill for my parents than me. It was a way of paying them back for all they had done for me."

Derek's grandson Anthony Butt was given favourable opportunities to establish himself, and in his first season of driving won the national junior drivers, title. Butt recalled a remark that was so typical of his grandfather..."I remember being in the drivers' room after Blossom Lady ran fifth in her first NZ Cup, and feeling so disappointed about it, but Derek came into the room and said 'at least it saves us from having a party'. I felt a bit better after that." His brother Roddy was also a former national junior driving champion, and Tim, another grandson, trained recent champions Take A Moment and Lyell Creek, plus top liners Sonofthedon, Happy Asset, Mister D G and Foreal. Other trainers who 'did their time' with Derek and became successful were Nigel McGrath, Erin Crawford, Stephen Doody, Kelvin Harrison, Ray Sharpe and Andrew Stuart.

Training in partnership with Jack Grant, Derek headed the Training Premiership twice, in 1965 and 1969. Grant, who was with Derek for 24 years and stable foreman before becoming a training partner, said: "They were the best years of my life. If anyone should have driven 1000 winners" - he drove 814 - "it should have been Derek, but he stood down for Peter and then for Anthony."

Top trainers Max Miller and Tommy Behrns can vouch for his generosity and kindness. Miller said: "He was a special sort of fellow. I had Jacquinot Bay who was a good horse, and I wanted to race him in sprints and take him to Hutt Park. It didn't suit the owner who wanted to race him in the Cup, so he got Derek to train him. He ran third in the Hannon but didn't do much else. When he was sold, soon after, Derek sent the commission to me. I wouldn't expect many others to do that."

Behrns said he was the most caring guy in the game, "and we are not talking about racing here. I'm referring to the times he spent seeing the elderly and infirmed. Time after time you would see him leaving the trials and take off to visit someone in a home or the hospital. There wouldn't be a month that went by without him coming to see dad (Jack), and for the last five years he was housebound and didn't get many visitors. He meant the world to dad. He'd done it all his life."

Derek was born in Christchurch in 1926 and became a hardresser "long enough for me to get sick of it". He started his driving career at Methven in 1946, aged 19, and drove his first winner - Quite Clever - in a division race at Riccarton two months later. Soon after, he moved north, winning races with Silent Knight and Culture, two smart horses trained by Dan Fraser.

His first horse of great class was Soangetaha, who arrived while he was still a young man. A son of Light Brigade, Soangetaha was one of three horses brought south by Derek in 1949 following an air crash that claimed the life of Andy Ryland. Culture and Barrier Reef were the others. Soangetaha won 15 races including two Auckland Cups, two heats of the Inter-Dominion and was runner-up in the Grand Final. "He was a superb horse. They talk about Harold Logan, but I never had a horse that could begin as quick." The year after Soangetaha was beaten in the Grand Final, he won the Dominion Handicap with Barrier Reef, always regarded by Derek as the fastest trotter he has driven. Many good horses followed, including Trueco, Dismiss, Somerset Lad, Slick Chick, Cheta, Lochgair, Dispense, Snowline, Dupreez, Our Own, Diarac, Doctor Dan, Ardleigh, Smokeaway and Disband.

Derek had great affection for Disband, a U Scott mare renowned for her notoriously bad manners at the start. "She would never begin," he said. "The first time she got a mobile she had too much class for them."

At the end of the 60s and start of the 70s, Leading Light, Light View and Topeka were stable stars, followed by Premiership, Hands Down and Blossom Lady. Hands Down won a NZ Cup, three Easter Cups, four Louisson Handicaps and a NZ Free-For-All. Derek drove him in most of his trackwork, but Peter handled him on raceday.

As great as the good ones were, Derek thought Blossom Lady was the best of them. "Ability-wise, she had to be the best I had." He said when she was at her peak that he had to "murder her in training. The harder you were on her, the better she would race. It was simply a matter of facing up to that reality. Her recovery powers after strenuous races and work were amazing. That was what stood to her and made her such a great stayer." Besides the NZ Cup, she won 43 other races including two Standardbred Breeders Stakes, a NZ Free-For-All, two Hunter Cups and five Inter-Dominion Heats.
During that time, principal owner Ralph Kermode wrote a letter to Derek that said in part: "Thank you for all the time and effort you have put into 'Bloss' and the expert way you have managed her and kept her going so long. Thank you for your frequent hospitality and your friendship."

Outside of harness racing, visiting the sick and delivering eulogies at funerals, Derek enjoyed the opera and musicals, rugby, travelling, meeting friends and making new ones, and supporting his wider family. Just days before he died, he was making plans for his next overseas trip. Nothing, however, gave him as much pleasure as helping someone else less fortunate than himself.

In that respect, he truly was a man without peer.

He is survived by his son Peter, daughters Glenys, Jennifer and Leigh, 10 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.


The funeral was held at Addington Raceway on Monday 3 July, 2006 attended by about 1500. The white hearse was led down the straight by the pacer Bowencourt because she has such a close resemblance to Blossom Lady. He left the track to the commentaries of Blossom Lady and Hands Down winning their Cups echoing around the course.


On a board in the stable is a sign on diplomacy, which reads "The ability to tell a person to go to hell in such a way that he looks forward to the trip."

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 5Jul06

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