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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It seems odd that one honoured with such a long list of degrees and awards for outstanding work in several fields of equine medicine as Professor Cliff Irvine should rate his proudest thrill as winning the 1986 Dominion Handicap at Addington with Tussle. But it sums up the complxity of a rare personality - someone able to discuss the most involved aspects of equine reproduction at any university forum in the world, and yet just as happy chatting about training his horses with people who never went to secodary school.
Irvine died recently, soon after his 90th birthday. He was Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Science at Lincoln University, a Doctor of Science (Otago) - the highest award in his field in New Zealand - and had honorary doctorates from Massey and Sydney universities among a host of other national and international awards, including the Bledisloe Medal from Lincoln University. He had an insatiable appetite for research but he never lived in an ivory tower.
Born in Dunedin in 1920, Clifford Hugh Greenfield Irvine, never one to bow to authority, left Otago Boys' High School at 15 after a dispute over the justification for a punishment he received. He later had similar problems in a brief Army stint. He started several unlikely careers from journalist to night porter, before going to Otago University to qualify for a veterinary surgeon course then available only in Sydney. He played for the champion Otago senior rugby team, Southern, on the wing.
Irvine used proceeds from training horses both in Dunedin and Sydney to finance his university days and his first winner, Carnavon, was in 1940. He set up a veterinary practise in Invercargill, catering for large and small animals at seperate surgeries, a novelty then. The biggest challenges were operating on badly gored pig dogs. He used a novel operational technique to save the career of the subsequent Grand National Steeplechase winner, Capet, for Bill Hazlett.
He married Fay Curtis, whose father Ross, was a racing trainer. The couple had a son, Guy, later killed in a road accident, and a daughter, Penny. An illness he contracted from working with cows caused Irvine to be hospitalised for six months, during which he taught himself several new skills including knitting.
A highly competent practical 'vet', Irvine nonetheless always had an affinity for research and he was appointed as a lecturer to the then Lincoln College in 1966. He had already made his mark as a trainer and driver. Light Mood, for which he paid a substantial sum (over £500) as a youngster won nine races, two of them at New Zealand Cup meetings, but he had as much satisfaction with his success with 1957 New Zealand Cup winner Lookaway, which had not won for 16 months when Irvine took him over. At that time he was heavily involved in research into the effect of the thyroid gland on horses, research which was to lead to major advances in treating racehorses. Lookaway restored to form was one example.
Irvine's research into reproductive endocrinology was world class, though he liked to recall that his first boss at Lincoln, Dr Bob Burns, would not allow him to experiment with horses at Lincoln until after a visit by Queen Elizabeth in 1977. She discussed the problems of getting some mares in foal with Irvine and later at lunch with Burns mentioned his obvious need for horses to work with. They were soon permitted and he ended up with 25, including two stallions. One of the mares was Kimmer, by his former star, Light Mood.
In 1977 he was invited to lecture at Texas A and M University and returned with his second wife Sue Alexander, a student at the college at the time and who was to prove a close professional associate and devoted nurse. For many years Irvine was the consultant for both Harness Racing New Zealand and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing. He defused the bicarbonate controversy which threatened to tear harness racing apart in thw 1990s as large doses of "milkshakes" turned mice into lions on the track.
After much trial and error, Irvine developed the world's first accurate bicarbonate test and set permissable levels of use. His approach in drug cases was always purely scientific. He allowed the use of heptaminol when it was banned elsewhere and held strong, and at times contrary, views on the effects of cattle steriods and EPO under race conditions. He was an international expert in several areas of drugs and their influence on racing horses. His research into reproduction, however, was a greater boon on the local industry front.
In the 1980s the Irvine name became famous in another arena. The trotting mare, Tussle, which he had bred from Kimmer and which showed little early promise, blossomed into one of the best mares produced in New Zealand and became the first to win the Rowe Cup, Dominion Handicap and the Interdominion Trotting Final, the three biggest trotting races in Australasia - a feat subsequently equalled only by Lyell Creek.
Typically, Irvine gave a lot of the creditfor identifying an emerging star to one of his laboratory assistants, Leone Gason, who later married Tussle's regular driver, Peter Jones. It was a remarkable story. Tussle, small, weedy and testy, was bound for a career in the Lincoln experimental band until Gason, then her only fan, got her going as a five-year-old. Various trainers had success with her when her owner was otherwise engaged but she won most of her big races for the Irvine stable, Sally Marks succeeding Gason as the mare's minder. Tussle won 38 races.
When she won the Rowe Cup she was the first horseIrvine had raced in Auckland since Lookaway had won there in 1960. As a 12-year-old Tussle beat Tyrone Scotty and other stars in the Quinns Fashion Free-For-All at Addington on Cup Day in national record time. Tussle died in 2007 aged 34. In 2002 her daughter, Bristle, becam Irvine's 100th winner as an owner.
Cliff Irvine was dcritically injured in a car accident in 2000, suffering a broken pelvis, serious head injuries and a fractured breast bone and knee. He was little more than semi-conscious for three months and in hospital for five. He set himself the seemingly impossible goal of getting back in the sulky with one of his trotters and just managed to achieve it. But the days of the highly competitive tennis matches at his Halswell home (opponents claimed cracks in the court surface were never repaired because the host knew exactly how to hit into them in tight situations) and some aspects of his work were ended.
However, he developed a strong interest in the effect of heavy use of soy bean preparations in infants which had been promoted as preventing later illness. When his contrary view caused a severe international reaction among proponents his conclusions were unaffected.
The ONZM award in 2000 for services to veterinary science was a thrill which came close to equalling the Dominion Handicap and also served as a stimulus to recover sufficiently from his injuries to travel for the presentation.
Irvine never believed in wasting time and urged a similar attitude to family members and his many successful students, some of whom, notably Margaret Evans, have gained international prominence of their own in the veterinary research field. "Television and some other things we like doing were wasting time. But he was never an angry person. I cannot remember ever seeing him lose his temper even in the most difficult situation," Panny Irvine recalled.
Sue Irvine remembers a man of great determination who "never gave up", even when recovering from his critical injuries, but accepted reverses with aplomb. "He set very high standards in his research, as you would expect, and you worked hard with him. But he was never flustered when things went wrong or one of us did something wrong. He had the true scientific gifts of concentrating on the main focus."
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press July 2010
Hundreds of people attended the funeral service of Dave Carville which was held at Addington Raceway last Saturday afternoon. Dave died suddenly of a heart attack four days earlier, his wife Katie at his side. He was 55.
His passing came as a huge shock to all in the industry, because Dave was loved, respected and admired by everybody who knew him - whether on a personal or professional level, or both. He was as passionate about his family as he was about everything else that he adored and/or took part in...his land and his horses, harness racing in general, his and Katie's multi-faceted company International Cargo Express and subsequently ICE Bloodstock, his many friends, monthly card nights with the lads, and his not-so-occasional punts on races at the TAB.
Born in 1954, Dave grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Christchurch with sister Linda and brothers Barry and Allan. During his latter school years at Papanui High he played basketball, got involved in life saving, developed an interest in racing pigeons and there would always be a love for horses simmering away in the background too. After leaving school his work graduated from paper run to employment in the office of Blue Star Port Line. He eventually became the Office Manager before progressing on to manage LEP in the South Island, then forming his own business, International Cargo Express, in 1992.
The first horse Dave owned was called Genesis, a colt by Out To Win that he raced with a couple of mates, who won five races at two including the NZ Sapling Stakes; a race at three, and another four as a 4-year-old including the Rangiora Cup before he was sold overseas. Needless to say, he was hooked on the game from then onwards.
He and Katie continued to develop ICE, and today it is one of the largest freight-forwarding companies in New Zealand - one that was also instrumental in providing direct flights between here and Australia so that racehorses can get across the Tasman and back again much more easier; hence re-igniting true trans-tasman rivalry between our greatest horses, like in last year's NZ Cup.
Through their two branches of ICE plus the subsidiary companies ICE Perishables and ICE Bloodstock, Dave and Katie were always keen to keep supporting harness racing and putting money back into the game, as their sponsorship of various races, Addington Raceway's passing lane and ultimately our Annual Awards Function showed. Their generosity didn't stop there though, with other things they supported ranging from many local sports teams to a child in need of life-saving operation.
Over the years the Carvilles became just as devoted about breeding their own rachorses, and today there are numerous harness equines carrying the 'Ohoka'(colts and geldings) or 'Millwood'(fillies and mares) tags as part of their name - many of them highly successful. The couple's crowning glory in this respect was Ohoka Arizona, the 2006/7 2YO Pacer of the Year who won five of his eight starts as a juvenile including three Group events. Recently embarking on another campaign, Ohoka Arizona has won seven of 16 appearances and nearly $260,000 to date and has also been popular at stud, his first crop of foals being due any day soon. At last count Dave and Katie's list of weanlings, racehorses and broodmares numbered about 100, with 30 more foals expected on the ground in the next couple of months. Understandably, these will be downsized over the next year or so.
Dave is survived by his wife Katie and children Adam, Libby, Ashley and Paige - all of whom gave very emotional 'farewell' speeches to their father at last weekend's funeral. In a fitting finale to the service, a hearse carried Dave's casket and followed Ohoka Arizona for a couple of laps around Addington Raceway.
Credit: HRWeekly 29 Sep 2010
Peter Rennell rarely missed a race meeting at Addington Raceway and was renowned as the unofficial keeper of times and class records. Within seconds of a new class record being established on the track, Rennell would appear in the Press Room with past and present time details.
Rennell, who died age 82 last week, was a Life Member of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club, but he was foremost a Canterbury Park man and served on the club's committee until retiring in 1996. Earlier, he was involved in the administration of the Akaroa and Amberley clubs while they ran equalisator meetings.
He started work in the registration department of the NZ Trotting Conference, before going to Wrightsons and National Mortgage and Agencies. From 1975 to 1981 he was the New Zealand representative for Parramatta Livestock. Paul Davies, who worked with Rennell from 1970 until he left Wrightson-NMA, said he was "a great man for detail, compiling catalogues and keeping records to an exceptionally high standard. And he had a strong following amongst yearling sales breeders and vendors, assisting many in upgrading their stock."
Along with his wife Bev, he was a member of the Met Syndicate that raced the top pacer, Likmesiah. Rennell was the father of Harness Racing New Zealand's CEO, Edward Rennell.
Credit: HRWeekly 29 Sept 2010
It was a race full of mixed emotions for harness racing horseman David Butt at Addington Raceway tonight (Friday) when he drove Ohoka Arizona to win race one at the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club's meeting.
The North Canterbury trainer/driver completed a chapter in his life securing 1000 driving wins, but it was a solemn David Butt afterwards who's only thoughts were with the owners of Ohoka Arizona, Katie and the late Dave Carville. "It's really nice for Katie tonight and I wasn't really thinking about the 1000 wins at all," Butt said.
At a time when all the connections were clearly reflecting on the loss of Dave Carville, Butt was still able to display the lighter jovial side to his personality when questioned on his achievement, a smile through the pain perhaps. Does semi-retirement beckon? "Im not semi-retired or thinking about it, but Bobs (Butt) sending me that way," he said.
Credit: Steve Dolan writing on harnesslink.com
After the dust and grime of the city, Stan Moore's Rangiora property is a stark contrast. I feel like I am looking at a biscuit tin lid. Birds twitter so loudly from dense green hedges it is almost overwhelming. Walking to lift the latch on his fence - the type where the crescent of metal has to be lifted, a wide gate opened and then the metal returned to its nook - the only sound, aside from the birds, is the noise we make crunching on gravel. Hearing the gate hinge creak, Suzy, a boisterous bundle of white fur, greets us at the door, loudly yapping and running in circles.
Bev Moore is in the kitchen. We had trouble navigating the rural letterbox system and are 20 minutes late. Stan couldn't hang around lollygagging waiting for us to arrive. "Oh, look, Stan's just down with the horses. He's only been gone about quarter of a hour," Bev says, drying her hands on a tea towel. "He said,'I have to go and do those horses'. He is down there, I'm sure of it. Unless he's hiked off on me. We just had our 50th wedding anniversary, so I don't think he will leave me now." She points to a block of stables a short distance away while Suzy jumps about our feet, barking. "Suzy, that's enough of that! She loves meeting people but she's too overpowering."
Suzy escorts us to the gate and runs around in circles barking, only becoming silent once our feet are once more crunching the gravel down towards the stables and still regarding us with baleful eyes.
My brother trains horses. His name's Phillip, but most people in the industry know him as Prop. Stan does and, as racing people are often prone to do almost without thinking, offers me the breeding of horses he thinks Prop had something to do with - their dam (mother), sire(father) and relevant wins. Prop had a lot to do with the notable horse Lyall Creek, and through his association with the Butt family, has had his share of Cup Day excitement. I've seen stables with salubrious fittings, ones equipped with hi-tech swimming pools and showering systems that look like Club Med for horses.
Stan's boxes may be vintage and feature more than their fair share of cooing pigeons and their droppings, but they're immaculately mucked out and the five horses eyeing us while we chat look beautifully cared-for.
Stan and Bev have lived on the property for 44 years, after spending the first six years of married life farming and milking cows. "Not too bad a spot here," Stan says reflectively. "Keep out of the wind and you're all right. It's a cold wind, that easterly."
For the first time, Stan's eyes smile as he proudly introduces his horse Fake Chance, a nine-year-old gelding by Fake Left. "I'm going to give him a jog. I'm going to swing him on behind on the lead. He needs a bit of loosening up after a trip up and back to Kaikoura yesterday. Two and a half hours there, and two and a half hours back, and then a race. It's a big day out. He never got in to the race at all, got submerged at the start, stuck on the second row and never got a run from there on in." Fake Chance, otherwise known as Herbie, as if to illustrate Stan's point, stretched a hind leg like an old man getting out of a chair.
When we visit it is Tuesday, exactly a week before Cup Day, and Stan is unsure if Herbie's going to get a start. To give you an idea of where Herbie sits in the scheme of the NZ Trotting Cup, fixed odds for favourite Monkey King are at $3.50. Herbie's adds are $81. "We're hanging in there for the Cup, there's four of us hanging in. We don't have a start as yet, do we Herbie? There's four horses vying for two spots at the moment. That's how close we are to getting in or getting out."
He doesn't care if he wins the Cup or not, all he wants is to have a horse in the race field. And when I asked him who will get his bet on Cup Day, he replies: "Stunin Cullen." Still, having Herbie in the top race would be a nice birthday present for Stan who turns 74 on November 16. "We tried last year and missed out. We're just not quite up there when those real good ones get the advantage, they're just that little bit slicker. It's the staying side of things where Herbie can figure."
Should Herbie get a start, Stan has no plan of attack for the race. "I'll just keep training the horse and keep him up to it. It's a tough race. I have others in work at the moment. One's qualified and the other one's not. Herbie is it and he's nine years old, he's not going to go forever." Two horses geared up and waiting to go for a jog are tied to a post. One is resting a hind leg, and looks like a woman of certain disposition leaning against a bar.
Stan and Bev bred Herbie themselves. His granddam, Debbie's Chance, won six races. "She's our other good horse." Our conversation is interrupted by two yearlings pawing the gate next to us with their front hooves and Stan strides off, grabbing a small stick wedged into the corrugated iron fence next to the paddock. It is clearly stored there fo this purpose. He waves it in the air above him, and the two cheeky horses inch backwards with their ears pricked.
In preparation for the Cup - a race that lasts mere minutes - Herbie has been in work since winter. Stan gets up before the sparrows each morning to take him for a jog or fast work on the beach, because it's good for his legs. Herbie's that is. "He's been in work since winter time. Normally they don't start quite as early as he did. We took the option we might try and win some money then rather than now. It's harder to win it now and compete against these other horses."
Stan takes Herbie's cover off to reveal a glossy coat. Together we try to get Herbie to pose while photographer Dean Kozanic smilingly makes a comment about never working with children and animals. Stan makes clicking noises with his tongue. Herbie presses his nuzzle into Stan's chest for a pat. Grabbing a lead, Stan decides to take Herbie out of the box so we can get a better shot. Herbie whinnies gently and stretches his hind leg again. He lifts his head up quickly, almost whacking Stan. "Herbert!" Stan says sharply.
Do horses need to load up on carbs before a big race like their human counterparts? To keep him in good nick for racing, Herbie gets "five kilograms of Golden grain mix from Ashburton, chaff, hay, that sort of thing. It's formulated for horses, all you've got to give them so they say; well, according to the packet. Herbie looks well on it."
To date, the race win that has brought Stan the most pride was a hometown one. Earlier this year, Herbie, driven by Mark Purdon, claimed the $50,000 Rangiora Equine Services Rangiora Classic. "The only cup we've won is the Rangiora one. We got a photo of Herbie with the cup on the wall. We wanted to get one of those photos for years but it never happened, now he's up on the wall. It's a nice photo. Monkey King was in the race that day, he finished down the track."
Part of the attraction of harness racing for many is that while you can do everything you possibly can, essentially anything can happen in a race, and luck plays almost as big a part as preparation. Outside chances can romp home and make dreams come true in just a few minutes. Borana did it in 1985. "A sudden downpour can change everything. It's all down to on the day, anything can happen."
Like everyone else, Stan gets dressed up to go to Cup Day, and having a horse in the Cup field is something he's dreamt of, and worked towards, for decades. "I've been doing this for 50 years and to get one in the Cup, never mind winning it, just getting in the Cup field, that's enough for me. If I don't get in, well, too bad. At the end of the day, you can't always get the horse to get there, can ya? Hopefully he can grow another leg on Cup Day and do something with it."
Herbie does the horse equivalent of a sigh and looks at Stan with big brown eyes. No pressure, Herbie, no pressure.
Credit: Vicki Anderson writing in The Press 6Nov2010