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ETIENNE LE LIEVRE: Pioneer Breeder


In 1836 a French whaling boat sailed in and around the bays of Banks Peninsula and dropped anchor at the sight which probably impressed those aboard most...Akaroa. The French whalers stayed for several months and one of them, Francois Le Lievre must have been particularly pleased with what he saw, because a year later he was among 63 passengers on board the Comp de Paris, the first settlers' boat from France.

Francois set about establishing the most successful farm on Banks Peninsula and marrying Rose de Malmanche, who had also arrived on the Comp de Paris. Francois and Rose raised several children, but it was Etienne who inherited his father's love of the land, and it's horses. Etienne, who was born in 1854, was brought up in the days when the horse was mainly the mode of transport. His family regularly travelled the miles to the flatter land of Little River, where at picnic gatherings each farmer would bring his fastest horses to race. Naturally, Etienne followed with interest the progress of trotting in town, Christchurch, which by the turn of the century was going ahead in leaps and bounds.

It was obvious at the time that the early importations from America, the likes of Berlin, Childe Harold, Irvington, Vancleve and Wildwood, and mares like Jeanie Tracey and Woodburn Maid were responsible for considerable improvement in the local breed.

Having inherited the largest and most successful sheep farm on Banks Peninsula some years earlier, Etienne had the resources and time to make some excursions in this field himself, and in 1904 he began the long trip to California in search of quality young horses. In the company of Robert McMillan, a highly respected young American horseman who had been living at Halswell in Christchurch, Etienne returned to New Zealand with a yearling colt by Sydney Dillon, a six-year-old entire called Wallace L and a five-year-old mare in Muriel Madison, while McMillan was credited with purchasing the stallion Mauritius and the mare Miss Youngley.

The colt by Sydney Dillon, the sire of the first 2:00 trotter Lou Dillon (1:58.5), was Harold Dillon, NZ's champion sire for five years between 1916-17 and 1920-21. Harold Dillon sired some 190 winners including the public idol Author Dillon (1918 NZ Cup), as well as Waitaki Girl, John Dillon, Oinako, Sungod and Adonis, all among the best pacers of the day. Well over 200 winners came from Harold Dillon mares including Pot Luck, Parisienne, Glenrossie and Dilworth. Wallace L was only moderately successful at stud while Muriel Madison founded a very successful family, to which over 160 winners trace,including No Response and Koala King. Mauritius was exported to Australia in 1907 and wound up leaving around 120 winners while Miss Youngley was the granddam of 1923 NZ Cup winner Great Hope and is the ancestress of close to 100 winners.

In 1913, Etienne went back to California and purchased a two-year-old colt by Bingen called Nelson Bingen and three young mares, one of which was Berthabell. Stinted almost entirely over the years to Nelson Bingen, the leading sire here for two seasons, Berthabell was to prove one of the most remarkable broodmares in the history of standardbred breeding in NZ, and the founder of one of our largest maternal families. Belita and Belle Bingen were the other mares. Belle Bingen had been bred fron Berthabell in America in 1913, being by Bingen, and had arrived with her dam in 1914. Belle Bingen was crippled on the journey to New Zealand, however, and was put in foal as a two-year-old.

Berthabell had been in foal to The Harvester during the trip but upon returning to Akaroa the resulting foal lived only a few days. Etienne's poor luck was to continue, as in 1916 Berthabell foaled dead twins by Nelson Bingen. Then, the following year, Berthabell produced a colt to Nelson Bingen, the first of eight consecutive foals by the son of Bingen and eight consecutive winners. Worthy Bingen was unsound and very lightly raced as a trotter, starting 13 times over 4 seasons for four wins. Lightly patronised at stud, he sired 33 winners, including the champion trotting mare, Worthy Queen.

Then came the champion Great Bingen. Raced by Sir John McKenzie and Dan Glanville, who bought him from Etienne as a two-year-old for £400, Great Bingen won £14,920, a stakes winning record for several years. In NZ he raced 73 times for 22 wins and 26 placings, while he also contested the Australian Championship, the forerunner to the Inter-Dominions, in Perth in 1926, recording four wins before being just beaten by Taraire in the final. While Great Bingen was the best pacer during the late 1920s, his younger brother Peter Bingen was also acquitting himself well in the tightest class. As a nine-year-old, starting from 48yds, Great Bingen was just beaten by Peter Bingen in the NZ Cup, the first of two wins in the event for Peter Bingen. Peter Bingen raced 87 times for 16 wins and 24 placings, for stakes worth £8629, a little more than half Great Bingen's earnings. Great Bingen later sired 46 winners, including Double Great (1935 NZ Derby) and Taxpayer (1932 Sapling Stakes, NZ Derby), while Peter Bingen sried 45, including top pacers Peter Smith, Double Peter and King's Play.

After them came the fillies Bessie Bingen and Bertha Bingen, who were lightly raced as pacers, each winning twice. Great Peter (eight wins, GN Derby), Baron Bingen (seven wins) and the trotter Great Nelson (five wins) completed the remarkable record of Nelson Bingen and Berthabell. Mated with Guy Parrish, Berthabell left the leading northern pacer Great Parrish, who won 14 races and £3317, taking the 1929 Great Northern Derby and 1932 Auckland Cup. He sired 41 winners. Sent back to Nelson Bingen in 1927, Berthabell left the filly Bell Nelson, who was unraced. The Guy Parrish filly Corona Bell followed, winning once as a trotter.

Travis Axworthy, whom Etienne had imported in 1924 along with Guy Parrish, was the sire of Berthabell's 1930 foal, the colt Ring True. Raced from age three until 11 in the north, Ring True won nine races and £2029, and later sired 46 winners. Ring True had his last start on February 14, 1942, 21 years and one week after the first of Berthabell's progeny, Worthy Bingen, made his debut, finishing third in the 1921 NZ Trotting Stakes at Forbury Park.

The 11 winning progeny of Berthabell had won 94 races and stakes worth £35,335, a figure by today's standards that would run well into the millions.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in NZ Trot Calendar 11Sep84

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