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
Keith and Bevan Grice have been breeding from the family of Captain Peacock for 51 years.
Captain Peacock (Live Or Die-Enchanting) won the NZ Derby in April and is engaged in the 3-Year-Old Emerald at Cambridge on Saturday. The Grices also bred Ima Gold Digger (Sundon-Janetta's Pride), a leading contender for the 4-Year-Old trotters section.
Phil Kennard, a Christchurch part-owner of Captain Peacock, is also in the ownership of Major Mark, a contender for the 2-Year-Old Emerald. Kennard is in the GAPMAD Syndicat who race Captain Peacock in partnership with the brothers Grant Ball, of Christchurch and Darren Ball, of Sydney, and Warren Wyllie and Richard Boon, of Christchurch, from the Ladbrooks stable of Dean Taylor. Mark Jones is the driver of Captain Peacock. Others in the GAPMAD Syndicate are Michael and Gerard Dawson, of Oamaru, Alister Strachan, of Oamaru, Angela Mowbray of Methven and Des Aitcheson, of Oamaru.
Captain Peacock is the first foal of Enchanting who won her first start when trained by Taylor and driven by Jones. That was a race for 3-Year-Olds at Motukarara in December 2003. Grant Ball was in the ownership of Enchanting (Sands A Flyin-Go Anna), who was put to stud after being unplaced in a further five starts. "She was badly conformed," recalled Taylor.
He had become involved with the family when he trained her dam, Go Anna, to win four races in the mid-1990s. Go Anna died in 2003 after leaving four foals. She left another filly, Lancashire Witch (by Tinted Cloud), the winner of three races. Go Anna was by Dancing Master from Kerry Khan, by Noodlum from Lady Barbara, by Lordship from Barbara Del, by Armbro Del from Coo Doo, by Morano from Lady Dimp, a Nelson Derby mare the Grice brothers began breeding from in 1959.
They bought her from their cousin, Len Grice. Their uncle, Jack Grice, owned and trained the 1952 NZ Derby winner, Rupee. Another uncle, Ben, owned and trained Haughty, winner of the NZ Cup in 1942 and 43. Lordship won the NZ Derby in 1961 and Noodlum won the race in 1974.
Coo Doo won the 1971 Welcome Stakes, and other big winners from this equine family include Palestine and Derby, who won nine races in succession in the early 1980s. "Winning the Derby is our finest hour," Keith (84) said. Bevan is 79. "We have always felt that with good stallions and good trainers this family would reach the top. We cannot speak too highly of Dean Taylor," he said. "Breeding horses is our hobby, and we have been at it ince we left school."
Credit: Taylor Strong writing in HRWeekly 2June2010
Herbie Moase, who died recently at the age of 97, was part-owner, trainer and driver of the top trotter, Inflammable. His partner in the horse was Frank Bebbington, whose father Reg employed Moase when he was farming and training in Mid-Canterbury.
"He was a naturally good horseman," recalled Frank. "He came back from the war and bought a farm, and I'm sure Peter Wolfenden started off with him. Later on I remember having a few beers with him at his 'local' and by the end of it he'd somehow got Inflammable off me while I kept Royal Armour. They were both top trotters about the same time."
Moase won seven races with the son of Stormyway and Flame, the last of them at Auckland in 1971 over Easton Light, Flagon Wagon and Cavil - the same day Bebbington won at the Cheviot meeting with Baffle Girl.
"Inflammable had the ability to open yard gates. He was stabled at Otaki for a meeting, it might have been Hutt Park, when Herbie heard that eight horses were loose in the town. Inflammable had got out, and went round and opened the others."
Credit: HR Weekly 15 Dec 2010
I suppose as your father was a trainer you were always going to go into the game?
The old man worked as a foreman for old Free Holmes for many years and took his stars like Trix Pointer when they went to Auckland. He was later a trainer and he also rode in saddle races. In fact, he fell off the famous saddle pacer Mankind when he was winning one day and I got sick of hearing about that. But no, I wasn't really interested in the horses and I went to the races one day when I was about 19 and I got hooked into it.
What was your next step?
My first job was with Cecil Devine, and I was there quite a while. We had our moments and at one stage parted on bad terms but it was the best thing which ever happened to me. I learned so much there. He was a master trainer.
Which era were you there?
False Step, Thunder and Teryman were there then. They were all good horses to handle. It was a bit of a breeze when you look back on it from the horses to handle viewpoint but it wasn't so good when the Van Diemans came into work.
Cecil stood Van Dieman (with which he won the 1951 New Zealand Cup) at stud on the property - we did the stud work as well - but they weren't nice horses. They were spooky and nervous and jumped out of their gear with any excuse. I remember I was working up a horse called Van Rush. He was a four-year-old before we got him to pace right. I used to drive him around behind in the hoppled work. One day Cecil told me I could pull him out and try him at the end. Well, he just ran past all of them. I never got to drive him again. I think he won his first four or five races.
Stablehands worked long hours in those days?
We worked 6½ days. We fed up at lunchtime on Sunday and had the rest of the day off. But I was living in a whare on the place and virtually had to stay round to keep an eye on the horses. We used to do the oats too. We'd get up at five and have the horses finished by nine and then we would spend all day harvesting and often go back after tea. Jack Smolenski was there then. I told him I'd worked out that the contractors were getting five bob an hour and knocking off at five and we went on and were getting a shilling an hour. But we really didn't mind that much. I didn't do much outside the horses anyway.
What about the work schedule with the horses?
You had to have your own stopwatch. Everything Cecil did was based on the watch. You would be told to run your first half in maybe 1:15, and given all the other sectionals to do in great detail, and there was a problem if you didn't get it right. It was down to a fine art.
Cecil had a reputation for being a bit of a character to work for?
He was very thorough down to the last detail and he was down on any of us drinking. In fact, we parted ways later on when he was told I had been drinking at the races. I hadn't been and I resented that. Cecil used to go to town every Friday and we had to do our usual full brushing down twice a day. He put double covers on his horses and we had to take both off and do it properly. Just in case we were tempted to cheat a bit when he was away he would put some straw between the covers. If they weren't disturbed when he checked after coming home, which meant you had only done half the job, you were in bother.
Did you have a better offer when you left?
Well, not really, but Cecil and I had a disagreement one time when I was mowing the lawn for him and he was on about drinking again. I sort of quipped that I had just got the mower out of the shed and there had been a few empty bottles of his in there. I was sacked on the spot. When I walked away Cecil wanted to know where I was going. I said: "Well, you sacked me." And he replied: "Yes, but not until you have finished the lawn." He was a character. I went back there for a while later and we got on alright.
Reg Curtin has always been a great mate of yours. Was it around then you met?
Yes, it was a bit unusual then. There was a lot of feeling between the Devine and Litten stables over False Step, and Reg worked for Jack Litten. Some people took it all pretty seriously but Reg and I didn't let it bother us. He has been a great friend. We have had a lot of fun over the years. Mind you I never resisted sorting him out on the track when it counted.
You then went to Ron Kerr. What was the reason for that?
Ron was a specialist at breaking in horses and curing problem horses, especially gallopers. I had not had that sort of experience. He was a great stockman and had a good pacer then, Mighty Loyal, but mostly he was educating them.
What sort of problems did the gallopers have?
We used to get the ones who were rebels and bad buckers who couldn't be controlled. Ron used to put a pack saddle on them, hook half a bag of chaff on both sides and let them go bucking in the yard. When they got tired of doing that we would get on them and after a while they got the message.
Did you go out on your own them?
No. I had just got married and was working night shifts and started helping Jim Dalgety when he was at Templeton opposite Don Nyhan's. After a year I went fulltime with Jim. We had quite a lot of success. I mean, I was the third driver in the stable but I drove five winners in that first season and I was the equal leading probationary driver. There were only 12 races for probationary drivers all over the South Island in those days.
How long were you there?
Quite a while. Later Jim moved out to West Melton and went into the breeding game. We were finding our way in the early days we didn't tag the mares which was fine if we were both there every day in the breeding season, but if you had been away and others had arrived, things could get tricky. Fortunately, we got it right virtually all the time. But I wanted to work more with racehorses and set up on my own.
Jack Parsons had a place in Yaldhurst just opposite where Allan Holmes trained. I worked the night shift and trained a horse for Jack for the rent. He had leased a horse called Local Star to Hec Jardin and I got that to train. It was my first winner (1965). I used to pre-train too and Derek Jones was a great supporter of me at that stage.
Any of his top ones?
I broke Leading Light in for Derek and told him I thought it was well above average. Derek said: "All right, send him over." But he lined him up at Methven first up and broke up with the money on. Derek said to me: "Peter, even though he broke I think you overrated that horse." He sent it down south and didn't go to drive it himself. It won by 20 lengths and, of course, ended up winning an Auckland Cup (1969) for Derek and Jack Grant. Great speed horse. Jack Parsons had his sire, Local Light.
In those days three training wins seemed a good season, five a top one and anything else sensational for many trainers. How did you survive?
Local Jen was leased to me by Jack Parsons and she won five good stakes for us. Then I won quite a few races with Morris Pal which Mike and Colin De Filippi's father, Rod, raced with me. Yes, there weren't many racing opportunities then especially for the slower ones unless you went to the Coast and I used to take horses to Hawera to get starts and form for them. Some are back doing that now but it was real bad in the 1980s down here. You had to qualify and then win a trial to have a show of a start at popular meetings.
What sort of money did it cost to train a horse with you?
Five pounds ($10) a week when I started. Some were charging £7 but you had to give a discount to get any horses. Remember there were no driving fees paid then if you trained the horse as well. That is why when I was starting out there were no professional drivers outside Doug Watts. Even Maurice Holmes had to train as well. Most drove their own and if you didn't drive, it was hard to get any horses because of the extra expense for owners.
Kata Hoiho I remember as one of your best horses. Didn't he have thoroughbred blood in him?
Yes, his mother (Our Helen) was by a galloper (Prince Bobby) but I didn't know a lot about his breeding. He came from the Coast (bred by the Moynihan family of Hokitika) and Neil Edge got hold of him. He won what is now the West Coast bonus (Westport Cup, Westport second-day feature and Reefton Cup) as a three-year-old. Unfortunately, they didn't have it then. We had a bit of luck with galloping blood. Neil raced Te Aro Boy, which was out of a mare which Jim Dalgety had bred from a thoroughbred cross, and he went alright.
What happened to Kata Hoiho?
He ran second in the Hororata Cup at three then won the Methven Cup early in his four-year-old season. We sold him in America after that.
Funny thing, I took a flight of horses over to America later with Reg (Curtin) and met the top American men who trained and drove him, Billy O'Donnell and Jerry Silverman. They told me he was the best Kiwi horse they had handled up until then and he qualified in 1:57 with his head on his chest. But he broke down before he could race and never came back.
You seemed to do well in staying races. Any particular reason?
I think we won 11 provincial cups at 3200m on both sides of the Alps. The Methven and Hororata Cups on the grass, all those sort of races. I have never had more than 10 racehorses in work. I used to think the staying races were a bit easier to win than the sprints, especially down in the grades. A lot of the time they weren't run at a lot of speed which helped the lesser horse. In the shorter trips it tested just their speed. I remember taking Flying Home to Hawera and we won a 3200m from a mobile gate in 4:40 on a good track.
What was the secret of success on the West Coast tracks? You seemed to concentrate on that circuit.
Yes, we were always going over there, even to the gallops meetings where they had two trots. At that time you could get a lot of starts with an out-of-form horse because the fields were not usually full. You could end up having two starts on each of the two days at Westport, two more at Reefton and then there were three days at Greymouth to follow. Everything had it's chance to earn some money. You had to back them as well and you knew all the form. All you had to worry about was first starters, they could fool you. You could pinch an advantage at times, especially at the start. I had a horse called Pussy Foot which drew the second line 11 times in 14 starts in the trots at gallop meetings over there and never started from the second line once. You could usually find a space on the front if you timed it right.
And the driving?
That was another thing. The good horses didn't go over there so a lot of the top drivers didn't go either. You were driving against a lot of owner-trainers and amateurs and the professionals had a wee bit more in their favour. The front was still the safest place to be. And mind you, we could come unstuck too.
I started Colin McLauchlan off in the trotting game. He had had a horse with (Cecil) Devine which I got to work up, and then he started coming out and working the horses and he got into the game in a big way later. I leased Miss Frost for him and she won four races in 10 days. Colin was a fitness fanatic himself and it worked for him. He died just recently in his 80s and none of his immediate family had lived past 60. Anyway, I had a horse of his at Greymouth one day and it was paying about $60s. Colin liked a bet, I liked the horse and he went and put $100 on the nose.
You wouldn't believe it, I miscounted the rounds. I made my usual move at Greymouth which was down the back and I was cruising. Then I realised I had gone a round too soon. If there was a track that could fool you like that it was Victoria Park. Anyway, we ended up finishing fourth. Colin put another hundred on it the second day and it won. But it paid less than $2 and Colin actually lost money on the deal. He took it pretty well.
Did the stipes take any action?
Yes, I copped a fine from Len Butterfield and it had a follow up. A short time later John Bennett did the same thing with David Frost at Timaru but he held on to win. Butterfield told him he had fined a bloke the other day for it and he was going to have to fine him too even though he won. I think he got $150. John always blamed me for him getting a big hit in the pocket.
Reverting to Kata Hoiho, I suppose the export market growth became your main focus?
Yes, it was a great boon. but horses can surprise you sometimes.
I had a horse once for the connections of Holy Hal. Arthur Idiens was in it too. It could only run 2400m in 3:38 when I got it going, but I thought it had a bit of potential. Anyway, they wanted to finish with it. I said I would train it for a month for nothing and pay all the disposal costs if it didn't get any better. It fell over the next day and hurt itself a bit, but by the end of the month I felt it was worth going on with. However they had had enough. I bought him for $50 and sold him later to America for $5000, which was good money then. I didn't feel all that good about it but I had done all I could for them. I made sure I never sold duds to America.
Montini Royal was a good winner for you. Did Reg Curtin talk you into breeding to Montini Bromac?
Yes, he went on about it. Reg trained Martini Bromac and he always thought the world of him. Anyway, I sent a mare to him and Martini Royal won the Timaru Nursery Stakes and the Stan Andrews Stakes when that was a big two-year-old race at Addington. I handed the reins over to Jimmy Curtin then. He won over 3200m more than once as a three-year-old, including the Hororata Cup and later won the Methven Cup. He could run 4:08 but as a four-year-old he just had trouble being quite up with the ones he could beat at three.
Anything wrong with him?
No. To be honest, that blue magic stuff was around then. A lot of publicity was about the big stables, but there were quite a few smaller trainers using it. You could work out who. I always had a suspicion that was a cause. He worked as good as ever at home.
Pauls Express was another good performer?
A remarkably consistent horse. I remember they used to hold up the record of Rupee who was in the money in 23 of his first 25 starts. Well, Pauls Express did that too but didn't win as many. He wasn't top class but very honest.
Have you raced a horse with Reg Curtin?
No. We raced a dog together trained bu Ray Adcock who started off in trotting and it won ten races. Genuine Ace it was called. And I did Reg and Les Lisle a favour with a mare called Redundant.
It wasn't going much and I think Jimmy (Curtin)thought she was shooting material. Reg and Les had bred her. Anyway, I won a couple of races with her and she has been a gun broodmare. She has left at least seven winners and we have had Muscle Machine and Rosie J out of her ourselves. My son Robert (who races Les Lisle with Roddy Curtin)has been breeding from her.
You had some fun on the road at times?
There was the time Reg reckoned I killed a lady at Addington.
I was driving Brase for Allan Holmes there one day and it won a good age-group race and paid over $100. A lady in the stand who had backed it got so excited she dropped dead from a heart attack. Reg said it was obviously my fault.
Best horse you have seen?
Close finish between Cardigan Bay and Christian Cullen. They were the best of my era.
How do you view harness racing today?
They have got most things right, especially the handicapping system and the free starts. It is far better. Pat O'Brien (Chairman Harness Racing New Zealand) is a friend of mine but I think he is doing the right things
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 12May2009
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
There seem to be quite a few Prendergasts in southern racing. How did you all get into it?
Dad had a garage in Hyde with a bit of land attached and there were six boys in the family. Four of them had a go with racehorses. Dad raced Wildwood Chief out of Wes Butt's stable and he won the Sapling Stakes and nearly won the Derby. He drowned in a pool after he was sold to Australia, or that is what they said. We always had horses around and got up teams for the picnic meeting circuit back in the 1940s and 50s. I had a horse with Wes for a while called Top Tally as a two-year-old. I still have the bills. Four pounds ($8) a week fees, two pounds for shoeing and two pounds to float a horse to Kaikoura.
Were there trotters at the picnics?
Gallopers too. I rode the gallopers as well and Tony also later took up training them. Every little town like Naseby and Dunstan had their picnic meetings and their Cup races. We won all of them at one time or another. I actually won the last raceday saddle trot run at Oamaru on Roman Scott, who was by Highland Fling. He was trained by Davey Todd who had Cardigan Bay - he had got beaten in his only saddle trot. I took out an amateur trainer licence in 1956 and won my first race with Tessa, a Direct Heir mare. I moved to Palmerston and had a farm there which I ran in combination with shearing.
You were pretty good on the board?
I could shear around 340 in an eight-hour day. That was right up with the guns then.
You used to get five pounds two and sixpence ($10.25) a 100 then. Now it is about $120 a 100 but of course everything has changed.
What made you give it up?
I got TB and had to. The trouble was the farm was not really viable without the shearing so I sold up and moved to Oamaru. I got more serious with the training then, though I had a lot of back trouble after a race accident.
There had been a smash on the first round and a couple of drivers were still on the track. When we came around again the ambulance went right across in front of us thinking it was protecting those two, but three or four horses ran into it. I ended up landing on the shaft of another cart. They told me it was bruised and I drove home sore, but it was a lot worse than that. I got used to it, like you get used to the wife, and I could still shoe horses. But it always gave me trouble. Not like the wife.
When did the bigger world get to take notice of your horses?
We ended up setting up next to the Oamaru track and built a house there. I got to know Colin Campbell who has that Moccasin breed which did so well (stars like One Over Kenny, Leighton Hest, Springbank Richard, and earlier Stylish Major and Le Chant). It was funny because Moccasin herself was a pacer by Indianapolis, who had won three New Zealand Cups pacing. Anyway, Colin and I worked in together for 28 years and while down there I had Robbie Hest for him among others. I drove him to win the Trotting Stakes and he had a lot of speed. But he was a hard pulling horse and it found him out over a distance.
Of course some of the stars from that family are now with Phil Williamson. He worked for you?
Yes, and one season when I was out with my back, he drove nine winners in a season, which was tops for a junior driver then. Phil was a real natural with horses. We were standing Depreez at stud then, though he didn't do much good, and some of the mares were a handful. Phil had a special way with them. He could catch them when nobody else could. Later on, I had some really good boys like Mike Heenan, Greg Tait, Graham Ward and Carl Markham. Terry Chmiel started off with me, too, when he was at school.
What other horses were going well then?
Hajano was a very good pacer and so was his half-brother Johnny Baslbo. We sold him to America for something like $50,000, which was good money them. Israel did a good job for us at Addington in the early 80s. He was unbeaten at the Cup meeting (three wins)which was a very rare thing in the intermediate trots.
Why shift to Chertsey?
Partly family reasons. There didn't seem to be a big future for kids in Oamaru. So we bought Slim Dykeman's place which had a new barn, built another house and lckily we got away to a great start there.
The first three horses that went out the gate all won. Light Foyle won about nine for us pacing in the end. We took a truckload to Nelson and had a great innings there. The Simon Katz came along.
Not the fastest but he won over $300,000 and took me a lot of places I hadn't been. He just never went a bad race. Our Eftpos card, I call him. You took him along and he got you some money.
Yes, but weak. I told the owners early on he would take a lot of time and thankfully they gave it to me. He had one start at four and maybe five of six at five. He won a Dominion and a Trotting Free-For-All and did what Israel had done, winning three at the Cup meeting. He ran second in a Rowe Cup and third in an Interdominion after getting skittled on the first lap.
Your son in law, Anthony Butt, took over the driving?
I did all the driving for a while, but the horse got a bit blase about it and used to have me on a bit. Someone fresh made the difference.
Did he take a lot of work?
No, he was good winded. We did a lot of road work with him. He was a lovely natural trotter, sound as a bell. He was by a pacer, Noble Lord, and from an Eagle Armbro mare and they weren't much. Just shows you. We used three-ounce galloping plates on him all round. Kerry O'Reilly did a lot of our shoeing. He was a legend at it. We never found out if Simon Katz could pace because he never had the hopples on him.
What became of him?
Funny, he died of cancer not long after he retired. He had what was diagnosed as a virus and we turned him out in the back of Hawarden. My son picked him up on Christmas Eve and as soon as he got him home told me he was a sick horse. He was gone in no time.
Yet not the fastest trotter you trained. Who was that?
Hickory Stick. He was a nine-year-old when we got him and he had been up in the hills for two years after breaking down in the tendon. Stuart Sutherland had had him and I was actually in the chapel at Stuart's funeral when I remembered he had told me it was the fastest horse he had had. When I got home I rang up the owner, Bruce McIlraith, to see what had happened to him and he was just about to go into work. We won five with him and some top races like the Banks Peninsula and Canterbury Park Cups.
Any horses which you rated highly we didn't get to see?
There was one called Skipper Dean. He was a trotter by Master Dean but was too unsound to go far with. He could have been anything.
You spent a lot of time in administration?
I was one of the founding members of the Oamaru Owners Trainers and Breeders back in the 1950s, which is still going, and it went from there. It could be tough in those days. If you had a licence you couldn't be a member of a club. When I first got a driving licence I was only allowed to drive in Central Otago and south of the Clutha. Waikouaiti was about half an hour away and I couldn't drive there! I put a lot of years into the Horseman's Association and am pleased to say it has a much greater standing with officialdom than it had when I started.
What was the best horse you have seen?
Highland Fling. They used to bring him down to Forbury when we were kids going to the races with Dad. If there had been hopple shorteners and ear plugs around in those days he could have been anything. I was a big Noodlum fan possibly because I bred one from him we sold on for $30,000. That helps your regard for any horse.
You trained mainly trotters. Was that by choice?
It didn't really matter to me. You do get identified as a trotting specialist when you have a few of them, bu we had some top pacers too.
Did good owners make the difference to you as a trainer?
I always say one third paid by return mail, one third paid on the 20th and one third didn't. It is tough on a professional trainer who has to carry that last third with his own money for another month.
Possibly only that I never worked in a professional stable.It would have made things easier when I was picking it up. I was 42 before I had my first drive at Addington. That doesn't make it easy. But overall I would do nearly all the same things over again.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 16 June 09
Bill Denton's grandfather (also Bill) ran the popular Triggs and Denton leather and harness store in central Christchurch in the 19th century. Both Denton's son, John, racecourse manager at Addington Raceway, and daughter Julie De Filippi, who trains with her husband Colin, are ensuring the horse tradition continues. Bill Denton, at 78 a gentleman of racing, talks to David McCarthy about his own era.
Were you always going to live with horses?
Well, my grandfather was president of the New Brighton Trotting Club at one stage but my father, Lionel, went into the pub business. I think he was the youngest ever licensed in Canterbury. He had the Kirwee and Kaiapoi hotels and the Mitre and Canterbury at Lyttleton. He bought a small property (15ha) on Russley Road, next to where Mark Purdon was. Maurice Holmes was there then. After I left Boy's High I did a couple of years working in Sargoods warehouse, but the horses were what I wanted to do.
Was the place meant for training?
Breeding. Standardbred stallions were hard to get then. You couldn't get permits to bring them from America because of the dollar restrictions. We had Medoro for three or four years. He was an American-bred, but Noel Simpson had brought him in from Italy which beat the system. We had some thoroughbred stallions too. Cassock (sire of Great Sensation) and Newton Pippin. But they were fill-ins until we could get out own trotting stallion. There was just a row of boxes there then. Peter Jones trained gallopers there later, but we had to sell for a railway from Hornby to the Styx planned there. They are still talking about it. So we moved to a bigger place in Pound Road.
Maurice Holmes is a legend. How did you find him?
He was my hero. Kids have heroes playing football or other sports but mine was always Maurice. I wasn't the only one either. I got quite close to him. I would get through the fence and help out there every chance I got, jogging horses and that. He would tell you what to do but in a different way. He would say "I wouldn't do that if I were you" or "I would just do such and such if it was me", but you got the message.
Garrison Hanover was the stallion you were most closely associated with. How did you get him?
Jack Shaw had a commission to go to America to buy Flying Song for Clem Scott, and Dad went with him. The permit situation had eased by then. Dad was advised by Jim Harrison, of the United States Trotting Association, who wrote that great book on training standardbreds. He recommended Garrison Hanover.
He was by Billy Direct, who was all the rage then and fairly well-bred. Because of that he got a good reception right from the start. There was no AI (artificial insemination) in the first few years. It came in later. We would do 75 to 80 mares most seasons. Bob McKay helped out with the AI. He had studied it in America and was right up with the play.
Was success instant?
More or less. From his first crop came Sally Boy. We never saw the best of him but he showed a lot of ability as a young horse and we were sort of right after that.
Good horse to handle?
A lovely horse. Not very big - about 15 hands - but kind. Anybody could do anything with him. He left some great horses (Cardinal Garrison, Apres Ski, Game Adios, Garry Dillon, Waitaki Hanover, Dandy Biar, etc). Near the end of his life when we shifted to Tai Tapu, I served a few mares with him for friends and we had to build up a mound for him to do the job. He took it all in his stride.
And the "Russley" fillies and mares started there?
Yes, and now one (Russley Song) features in the line of Auckland Reactor.
Why shift from Pound Road?
We had two blocks there and they were not connected. It was always a disadvantage. I bought land at Tai Tapu. I had had my eye on it for quite a few years because it seemed to handle rain well and I bought it when it became available. It was bigger and well-situated and we moved everthing there in the late 1970s. It was good, but I would have to say horses did not do as well there as they did at Yaldhurst. The ground is a bit colder and wetter, and it affects them.
Did you have other stallions?
My word. We had an exchange deal for a time with Clem Scott and stood Flying Song (the sire of Russley Song) for a while. Lumber Dream. He was getting the overflow from mares who couldnot get into Garrison for quite a while. He was a top sire. He was a free-legged pacer, which was unusual then, and he left a champion free-legged horse in Robalan. He was sent out by Marty Tannenbaum of Yonkers Raceway, who had a lot to do with the International series they had in the 1960s. Marty struck problems and the horses were sold up. I think Clarrie Rhodes got Lumber Dream for $2000.
An Adios horse. I remember when he got off the plane the first thing I saw was white ankles and stockings. I thought 'what have we got here?' He looked like a Hereford. He was a fertile horse but not easily aroused, which made things difficult. He left Brad Adios early on. The Adios horses did better in Australia than here. I thought they weren't tough enough for our racing. Tony Abell had him later.
Later you had Honkin Andy?
John Lischner, Paul Davies and I went to America to look for a horse. About that time Good Chase had had one stud season here and done exceptionally well. I think he got 19 winners from 21 foals. Then he had gone to America to race and whenhe came back, his stock were not nearly as good. We all suspected that some of what he was fed over there had been a factor. So we were looking for a lightly raced horse which had not been messed around with. He had only had about five starts Honkin Andy and had run 1:58. I think he cost us about $100,000.
What did you make of his stud career?
He left some very fast, very good horses (Honkin Vision, Really Honkin) but in the end I rated him a disappointment. He was the first Albatross stallion to come to New Zealand too.
You have had some big training and driving moments with Superior Chance. I think he chased Armalight home in that Free-For-All when she smashed all the records and her record stood for years. How did you get him?
He was a free-legged horse which Tom Leitch, who lived nearby and worked for me at times, owned. Superior Chance took a lot of sorting out - he could kick believe me - and I tried various things before we got it right. He used to choke-down easily. In races like the Free-For-All, he wore not one tongue-tie but two and various other bits and pieces. He collapsed and died one day on our track. We were doing an easy 3200m. He was a bit wobbly when I pulled him up, then he just collapsed.
You have developed a bit of a lean over he years. How bad was the back problem?
It is better now than it has been. I just couldn't straighten the spine and spent a long time sleeping on Bib Softees. It was inoperable, being caused by joints in the spine. Exercises have helped me a lot in recent years. I had to give up the horses in the end because of it. I had trouble getting in and out of the cart and they told me I would be in a wheelchair if I damaged it any more. One day I fell getting out of the cart and that was that. We sold up the horses and moved to Halswell. John carried on for a while but wanted to do something else. He does the track at Addington and does a good job too. Ray McNally had quite a lot of success as a junior driver with us too.
Have you missed it?
Well I go to Colin and Julie's most mornings now and jog a team and have done a bit of fast-work without problems. I got a great thrill when they won the Cup with Kym's Girl. I had quite a lot to do with her build-up and actually got a bigger thrill than anybody. A really super little mare.
Looking at young drivers making their way over the years, do you often think of (grandson) Darren?
(Darren De Filippi, a highly promising horseman, was killed in a road accident beyond his control returning from the Orari races some years ago).
It was a terrible thing. Young Darren was such a great person. You have to accept what life serves up but it was very tough for a very long time. Yes, he is always with us.
I suppose Maurice Holmes was the best you saw?
Yes, but the standard was high in that era. F G Holmes, Gladdy McKendry, Bob Young, great drivers to watch. Now we have Dexter Dunn rewriting the record books. What a great young driver he is.
Best horse you have seen?
Johnny Globe. For what he was and what he did and the people (Don and Doris Nyhan) who were associated with him. They were lovely people and he was a great hero in his time.
The breeding game. Has it changed a lot over the years?
Yes. Not always for the good. Greed has come into the game now, I'm afraid. For us it was a good living for three of four months hard work and you were grateful for it. You did a lot of the work yourself. Anybody can stand a stallion now. The vets are there all the time, doing most of the work and some horses serve ridiculously large numbers of mares because of that technology. A lot of the personal touch has gone.
And the famous colours now you don't have any horses?
They have found a good home. I said to Mandy (De Filippi, granddaughter) one day recently she might like to have them and she lept at the chance. So they will be around.
Credit: David McCarthy writing in The Press 17 March 09
There was no whip fourish, just a sly smile of satisfaction on the face of Ricky May as he drove Tara Royale to his 2000th success at Rangiora yesterday. May's modest demeanour suggested it was just another race, but the win put his name in New Zealand harness-racing record books.
In a career that has seen the Methven reinsman win nearly every major race in New Zealand and Australia, May became only the third New Zealand harness-racing driver to reach the 2000-win mark, joining driving legends Maurice McKendry and Tony Herlihy.
Racegoers got their first look at Ricky May successes at the Geraldine racecourse on November 27, 1976, when he drove Ruling River to victory. The horse went on to win another seven races with May in the sulky. "She was owned by my grandmother (Anne May)," May said. "I was in the one-one early, but got shuffled back a wee bit. It was a pretty tight finish, but we won the race, and that was the start of things, really. She got me going."
In a time when it was tough for a junior driver to get a break in the game, May managed 20 wins in his first four seasons in the sulky. The real fun began when May teamed up with fellow Mid-Cantabrian Brian Saunders. The pair quickly struck up a training-driving partnership with an impressive strike rate that started with Miss Bromac, which won the Greymouth Cup.
Miss Bromac incidentally gave May his first New Zealand Cup win in the form of her son Inky Lord, which, to this day, is one of the most talked-about New Zealand Cup victories in the 105 runnings of the great harness race. Inky Lord appeared to be wiped out with 500 metres left to run, but made a remarkable comeback to win. "It's hard to name what was exactly my best moment, but your fist NZ Cup win is always special," May said. "He (Inky Lord) gave me some of my best moments in the game, but he also gave me some of my worst." A year after his breathtaking victory in the Cup, Inky Lord looked on song to make it two from two, before suffering a heart attack after the Cup Trial a week before the big race. "He felt awesome that day, too. It was gut-wrenching," May said. "I really think he could have won back-to-back Cups."
Two more New Zealand Cup victories were on the cards for May with Iraklis in 1997 and then Mainland Banner in 2005. "Mainland Banner would get the greatest performance of any horse that I have ever driven. She started out having her first start on Boxing Day, and 11 months later she won the NZ Cup, as well as nearly all of the major fillies races in between."
Renowned as one of the most patient drivers in racing, May early on based his driving style on Mike De Filippi and Peter Jones who were leading drivers at the time of his introduction to the game. It was that patience that earned May major respect from his peers, opponents and critics alike, although nowdays May sees it as something that cannot always be emulated. "Brian (Saunders) liked his horses driven quietly, so that fitted in with the way I liked to drive. You can't do it so much these days, just with the way that things have changed, but it still comes in handy every now and then." it was fitting then that May's 2000th winner came courtesy of just such a drive on Tara Royale yesterday.
The Dave Thompson-trained runner was given the prefect run by May, and when asked to give at the top of the straight, the Live Or Die filly gave plenty and cleared away for victory by three-quarters of a length. "It's a pretty big relief to finally get there actually. I drove Vita Man to win the Ashburton Flying Stakes in 1982 for Ray Anicich, who owns Tara Royale, so that makes it all the more special. He's pretty over the moon about it, too.
So the main question is where to now? May isn't too sure, but leaving the driving ranks isn't on the cards yet. I'll keep on going. I have been pretty lucky in having both trainers and owners who have been loyal to me and stuck with me throughout the years, and they will soon let me know when I'm not driving any good. "I haven't won an Interdominion or an Auckland Cup, but I am not too worried. If Monkey King was to come back next season as good as when he finished this one, he could get me one of them; he was fair flying before he went for a spell."
Three thousand wins paints a picture of a long road ahead, but it only took a matter of hours for May to get win number 2001 when Eisenhower crossed the line first later in the day yesterday, so who knows? Anything could be possible.
Credit: Matt Markham writing in The Press 29 June 2009