YEAR: 2007

The remarkable little trotting mare Tussle passed away on November 1 aged 31. She had been in retirement for several years at the Halswell property of her 85-year-old breeder/owner/trainer Dr Cliff Irvine, for whom she won 36 races and $534,325 in NZ plus two Inter-Dominion heats in Australia. Her tallies for races and stakes won were records which will stand for a trotting mare in NZ and were achieved 20 years ago after only winning her first race as a 6-year-old at her 12th attempt.

After winning the Rowe in 1985 and Dominion in 1986, Tussle's crowning glory came in 1987 when she swept unbeaten through the Inter-Dominions at Addington. That was as a 10-year-old and Tussle would win three races in her last season of racing as a 12-year-old, the penultimate one being a 15 to one upset of Tyron Scottie and a top field in a FFA on NZ Cup day in 1988 where she set a 2000m standing start national record of 2:33.8. She would finish second to Landora's Pride in the Dominion and then win her last race at Alexandra Park the following month in the Rhodes Memorial Flying Mile when odds on.

A year later she would produce her first foal in the Game Pride colt Wrestle, who qualified but went unraced. After starting stallion life as the teaser at Nevele R Stud, the diminutive Wrestle has been lightly patronised at stud over the years and sired seven winners (from 30-odd foals of racing age) including the good sorts Down For The Count, Monaro Miss and Jack The Capricorn. Minor winners in Throttle and Topple followed before Tussle produced Bristle, a Britewell colt who won eight races in NZ and another in Australia.

Tussle's sixth and last foal and her only filly was Scuffle in 1998, a daughter of Sundon who was unraced and whose first foal is De Gaulle, a Continentalman colt sold at the Premier Sale of $20,000. Bill Bishop has Scuffle's next foal in a colt by Armbro Invasion, while Tussle's 'lifetime caretaker' Sally Marks has just broken in a yearling filly by Continentalman called Mamselle for Irvine.

By Tuft, Tussle was one of 12 foals and six winners Irvine bred from the unraced Kimmer, whose sire Light Mood was a good pacer for Irvine winning nine races in the late 50s.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HR Weekly 15Nov07


YEAR: 2004

Blossom Lady winning her Cup in 1992
The passing of Blossom Lady last week would have meant different things to many different people.

For her countless fans around Australasia, an admiration earned mostly by sheer guts and determination, it would have rekindled memories of a truly marvellous racing career, the nature of which we are unlikely to ever see the likes of again.

For the Polly Syndicate's Manager Ralph Kermode it was like the last chapter in a book, but if irony and coincidence play any part in the racing scheme of things, it won't be the end of the story. Because the same day that the fateful news came from Canterbury, Blossom Lady's last foal arrived home at Kermode's Palmerston North property. Thus there was the end of an era, but also a beginning. Finding an appropriate name for a filly by Live Or Die while retaining the 'Bloss' or 'Bloom' theme under such circumstances is the task presently ahead for the Polly Syndicate.

For all the Kermode family's friends in the syndicate - Bob and Barbara Williams, Ian and Jenny Smith, Ross and Adrienne Kennedy and the late Pat Foley and his wife Mary - Blossom Lady was their first standardbred.

Kermode was in a reflective mood last week, recalling the events which led to a horse of a lifetime. "I was interested in a filly by a commercial sire from a nice family, but just being a poor school teacher at the time, couldn't afford to get one at the yearling sales," said Kermode. "So I had advertised for such a weanling in the 'Calendar' and had about fifty phonecalls, mostly from the South Island, and they all reckoned they had the best family in NZ. I arranged to go to about a dozen properties while in Canterbury over a Queen's Birthday weekend, and was at the Ashburton trots on the Monday. When I got home, (wife) Judy said a fellow from Ashburton called Bill Cook had been calling all weekend, and that I had better ring him - Bill was rather gruff. So I did, and when I said who it was he said 'where the hell have you been ?' - that was the first thing Bill ever said to me."

All this led to Kermode buying a filly by El Patron from Lumber Lady, and subsequent "pestering" about her year older half-sister by Farm Timer. "Farm Timer didn't exactly fit my criteria for commercial - I'd hardly heard of him - but Bill wouldn't let it go, so in the end I agreed to lease her and beat him down to a right of purchase of $5500 within six months."

Blossom Lady soon showed sufficient promise and speed for that option to be exercised - more ability than the unraced Paleface Lady anyway - and Kermode knew he had "something" when she began her career as a 3-year-old. "She didn't like to get involved in races - she would just hang around at the back and pace roughly. Then one night at Hutt Park, Stephen (Doody) was at the back at the half and let her go and she went past them in a hundred metres. Then she hit the bend again and she just about finished up in the tide at Petone."

Progress was not rapid however, and it would be another couple of years before there was a realisation that Blossom Lady was a lot more than something. This was at Ashburton during a Queen's Birthday weekend again. "On the first day she finished second to Clancy and on tape you can see Peter (Jones) still trying to pull the ear plugs after the finish. He came back and said 'who put those (bl....) ear plugs in?'" On the second day, Blossom Lady streeted Millie's Brother and company over 3200m in 4:03.8, which bettered Delightful Lady's national record for mares by two seconds.

That was just the start of the highlights and memories of course. From that point, between the ages of six and 11, she would win another 35 races and $1.3m. The New Zealand Cup was special, and her second Hunter Cup was "bloody amazing". That night she served it up to Golden Reign in front and "brained them" - running 3280m from a 30 metre handicap in a staggering 2:00.6 mile rate after being three-wide in the open for much of the race. "Anthony (Butt) came back and said she could have gone round again - she was just unbeatable that night."

Kermode also singled out an Easter Cup where she "took it" to Chokin at the height of his powers before going down fighting, and the Palmerstonian Classic from 90 metres before a big hometown crowd as other memorable moments. The biggest disappointment was the Inter-Dominion at Addington, where she was "carved up" at the 600m mark. A heat of that Championship as a 10-year-old would be her last win, and her first foal would be Mister D G, whose career has followed an amazingly similar path.

There is another 'beginning and end' aspect to all this as well. Since Blossom Lady's foal was fostered at one month, she has been cared for by Ohoka veterinary couple Bruce Taylor and Margaret Evans. Last week, Kermode recounted the story that was told to him during Blossom Lady's career by Jim Dalgety, who stood Farm Timer, the horse to naturally service Lumber Lady. "Apparently Lumber Lady was such a bag that Jim had to used a twitch on both ears as well as her lip, and even then he doubted the horse had got the job done. It was Margaret who would come around and palpate the mares, and Lumber Lady was among them one day. Whe Magaret said that 'there was a nice foal in there', Jim said 'that can't be - she has been too much trouble'."

Dalgety's reaction to this surprise was something to the effect that..."the mare had been that much trouble, that the foal would either be worth nothing and knocking on the head, or a champion." It wasn't the first or the last time Dalgety was right of course, but the essence of the story is the fact that Evans was there in the beginning, and the end.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 26May04


YEAR: 2004

A Young Rufus but not the original was the competitor at Addington last week. Had it been the Young Rufus of old, he would not have scrambled home like a handy 'C sixer' ahead of Clifford Jasper in a kind race for him last Thursday. His margin should have reflected the great horse he is - or was. Indicating he had lost interest in being a racehorse, he got home by a neck.

With a booking to leave for Auckland, and then on to Melbourne, trainer Mark Purdon was immediately faced with the choice of retirement on a high note or a campaign that carried a high risk of ending on a sad one. "I would not like to take him to Australia and for people to see him finish down the track," said Purdon.

As it was, the winner of the Auckland Cup by nearly eight lengths a year ago and last season's Pacer of the Year was all-out to win a five-win front off 20 metres with just a flicker of the old flame. Purdon said it was pleasing for Young Rufus to end his career on a winning note and top $900,000 in stakes.

Up in the trainers' stand, Grant Payne, his attendant since Purdon had shifted south, was "disappointed." "I expected him to win by three or four lengths. In his last hopple before the race, he had worked as well or better than ever before. When he got to the races, all he could think about was the breeding barn. When he came back to the boxes, he was pretty fresh - you wouldn't have thought he had had a race," he said.

Payne said he had enjoyed the travelling that came with caring for a great horse. "Five times to Australia, everywhere here. He was a great mannered horse, and liked company. He never really liked being by himself."

Payne's devotion to the stallion played a part in his remarkable recovery from a life-threatening operation to mend a twisted bowel on the eve of the Inter-Dominions at Addington last year. For three nights, he slept outside his box as Young Rufus tettered between life and death. "I never really thought he was going to die, but Bill Bishop said to me later he put the chance of survival at thirty percent."

Payne said the Auckland Cup win was his most compelling performance. "He was one fit horse for that. I don't think any horse in the world would have beaten him that night," he said. "No matter how quick you were going with him, you knew that you were on something special. But he would always hang a little. You would straighten him, and he'd just hang the other way."

Pyne said Young Rufus was always a pleasure to parade. "He was a show horse. You would finish grooming him and stand back and look at him, and you couldn't help thinking how good he looked. He was one of those horses that you'd walk out, and people who didn't know him would ask 'What's that horse?'"

Bishop, who performed the operation to save Young Rufus, said the horse was not affected physically by his experience. "He got back all his old habits. It is hard to evaluate whether the operation had any lasting affect. It is fair to say the expectations on the track were high. But how he looked and how he raced did not co-relate," he said.

In the meantime, Young Rufus is having a few days swimming to keep himself in trim.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 28Jan04


YEAR: 2004

Last weekend marked the end of an era for Roydon Lodge Stud with the death of Smooth Fella.

The son of Most Happy Fella was a flagship stallion for the Christchurch-based stud during the 1980s, and it was a solemn moment for all when he slipped away peacefully in his yard on Saturday afternoon.

"I think it is sad when any great horse like this dies," said Roydon Lodge Stud's Director Keith Gibson. "I would not say his death was expected, but we knew he was nearing the end and he hadn't served any mares for a number of seasons. He'd had a long life for such an active stallion, and a great one."

Smooth Fella made an indelible impact on the harness racing industry in this country. At last count he was the sire of 793 NZ-bred winners (787 pacers and six trotters), with 235 in 2:00, and damsire of 687 NZ-bred winners (681 pacers - 231 in 2:00; and eight trotters - one in 2:00).

Smooth Fella is the sire of 16 1:55 pacers, the fastest of them being Skip (1:51.8), Commander Paul (1:52.4) and Rainbow Fella (1:53). He is also the damsire of 57 to break this mark, the top three in this respect being Silky Pockets (nee Birthday Boy, 1:51.2), Just A Butler (1:51.4) and Valiant Heart (1:51.4).

Without question Smooth Fella's greatest son was Roydon Glen (22 wins, $463,244), who later would sire champion trotter Lyell Creek, and Smooth Fella himself also left other successful sires in former champion juvenile Tuapeka Knight, Slugger and more recently Ermis.

Smooth Fella was the leading sire of 2-year-old pacers four times, with his first three crops in 1980/81, 1981/82 and 1982/83, and then again in 1986/87; he was leading sire of 3-year-old pacers once, in the 1983/84 season; he was the leading sire of pacers once, in the 1984/85 season; and he topped the broodmare sires' list twice, in 1997/98 and then again in 2001/02. Remarkably, he is currently the leading broodmare sire for this season.

Smooth Fella had not served a mare since the 2000/01 season, but in his time at stud in NZ he covered a total of 2314 mares for 1733 live foals.

He was 31 years old at the time of his death.

Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 14Jan04


YEAR: 2002


Courage Under Fire's contribution to harness racing was far greater than 41 career wins, a string of feature race titles and almost $1.5 million in stakes.

Affectionately known as "Mighty Mouse" in Australia and "The Pocket Rocket" in New Zealand, Courage Under Fire alone took harness racing to the wider sporting world with his 24-race winning streak. It was common-place to see some big thoroughbred names making a special trip to the trots just to watch the pint-sized people-puller strut his stuff. Cricketing heroes Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting were also huge fans of the pacer.

Courage Under Fire first captured my imagination on Christchurch Show Day in November, 1998, when he overcame a torrid run to beat NZ's best 3-year-olds. It was a performance of a champion. In the nine months that followed, the son of In The Pocket proved himself one of, if not the best 3-year-old Australasia has seen with a record-breaking six Derby wins.

The best win of his career came at Moonee Valley on July 10, 1999. It was the Australian Derby and local star Shakamaker was at the top of his game. What was supposed to be a thrilling contest turned into one of the most emphatic and memorable wins in the history of Moonee Valley. In a stunning display of sustained speed, Courage Under Fire simply ran his rivals ragged. His 1:56.5 mile rate for 2540m not only destroyed the track record, but also bettered the world mark.

Another of his stellar performances came at the Gold Coast just weeks before the Australian Derby, when the colt came as close as I have ever seen to a horse winning by the length of the straight. The official margin was 48.75m and the time for the mile a sizzling 1:54.9. Racecaller Dan Mielicki superbly captured the moment of Courage Under Fire's first defeat - at Moonee Valley in January 2000 - with the words: "The world must be ending."

As dramatic as it sounded, Mielicki's call was closer to the mark than even he realised at the time. Life went on, but Courage Under Fire was never quite the same. Gone was that invincibility, that intimidating presence that terrorised his rivals. Trainer Bruce Negus handed the reins to Brian Hancock in a headline-grabbing stable change. Hancock was always in a no-win situation. Everbody expected Courage Under Fire to dominate the Grand Curcuit and nothing short of that would surffice. The truth is, Courage Under Fire, by the lofty standards of his youth, was a disappointment in the big league.

But, as Hancock said this week, if you forget his deeds at two and three and just judged him on his Grand Curcuit form, he "did a damn good job." He won three Grand Curcuit events, contested three Inter-Dominion finals and won six Inter heats. Racing against horses that dwarfed him, every race as an older horse was a war for Courage Under Fire. He was one of the most appropriately named horses we have ever seen.

My memories of Courage Under Fire will be as much about the huge crowds that surrounded his stall for a glimpse, as they will for his fantastic deeds on the track. He was a people-pleaser and I was pleased to have followed his career from start to finish. Farewell, little fella.

Credit: Adam Hamilton writing in HRWeekly 18Sep02


YEAR: 2002

MONKEY KING - Bargain Buy

MONKEY KING(2002) $20,000 39 wins $3.48m

$20,000 might not seem like much of a bargain but balance it against stakes won and it looks a steal. What is more, just one more bid around the ring and Steven Reid and Robert Famularo's dream would have been someone else's triumph.

After looking a smart but not a great pacer, one night 'The Monkey' produced a phenomenal last quarter in a race at Addington, and from then on it was a trail of riches. It took him a while to nail a New Zealand Cup with his pioneering of the modern 'bike' in this country but in the end he did it all.

Steven Reid later recalled that $20,000 was the last bid. Robert had that as his limit(a fairly sensible one in those years) and one more call from the rival buyer would have nailed one of the greatest earners of modern times. I wonder if someone still wakes up at night thinking about that.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed May 2016


YEAR: 2002


"She was as game as any horse I ever sat behind." Those were the sentiments of Bob Cameron last week upon learning that grand race and broodmare Bionic Star had died aged 26. Cameron was the regular reinsman of Bionic Star, who recorded eight wins and seven seconds from just 23 starts in a career restricted by unsoundness. "She had the ups and downs due to tendon problems, but she certainly had plenty of ability on the rest." A race that remains vivid for Cameron was the Waikouaiti Cup, a fourth consecutive win in the Spring of 1979.

Bionic Star was bred to be royalty, being by Bachelor Hanover from Broodmare of the Year, Adio Star, dam of 10 winners including the Derby winners Bachelor Star, Main Adios, Main Star and Game Adios. She didn't disappoint at stud either, her second foal being the quite outstanding racemare Bionic Chance, who proved more than a match for the colts on many occasions. Bionic Chance is the only filly to have won the NZ Sires' Stakes 2YO Final and almost undid Race Ruler's Triple Crown aspirations in the NZ Derby. The following season she showed an astonishing display of speed to win the NZ Standardbred Breeders Stakes over Gina Rosa, Frangelico, Michele Bromac and Victoria Star. Also among Bionic Star's first three foals were Bionic Raider(6 wins) and Pacelbel(4 wins), while her remaining seven foals all qualified, with six to race and three winning.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 20Mar02


YEAR: 1999


No Response, the 1978/79 NZ Harness Horse of the Year, died last week. No Response, who turned 28 last Sunday, was in retirement on the property at Kerrytown where he was trained by Richard Brosnan for breeder Fred Black, of St Kilda and formerly Pleasant Point. The property is leased by Brosnan to David Gaffaney.

An electrifying run from the rear of the field at the 600m carried No Response to a two-length win in the Inter-Dominion Trotting Championship Grand Final at Addington in 1979. The Hodgen's Surprise-Cordsworth gelding had won his heats on the first two nights. He won the NZ Trotting Championship on the fourth day to post 10 successive wins and 12 fron 16 starts as a 7-year-old.

His achievments earned him the Horse of the Year title. His other major wins that season were the Benson and Hedges Stakes and NZ National Trot at Alexandra Park. No Response did not win in six starts as a 8-year-old but he came back at nine to win the J Rowe Memorial Cup at Alexandra Park, the NZ Trotting Championship and three other races.

No Response began his racing career at Waikouaiti in October 1977 as a 6-year-old when unplaced. He was then trained by Black and won at his next start at Orari. He won his next start for Black at Washdyke and then transferred to Brosnan, who was his regular driver. "I remember most of his wins, but one of his best efforts was his win in a free-for-all at Timaru before he went to Australia in 1981," said Black, who is 89. He won a heat of the Australasian Trotting Championship at Moonee Valley in 1981 from five starts in Australia.

He was retired after the Rowe Cup with a record of 24 wins and 21 placings from 60 starts for $135,128 in stakes.

Black won four races with Cordsworth (by speedy trotter Ripcord), the dam of No Response. He had been given First Axworth, the dam of Cordsworth, by a friend, Dave Hansen of Palmerston North.

Credit: Taylor Strong writing in HRWeekly 11Aug99


YEAR: 1998


Waipounamu, winner of 17 races trotting in the 1970s, has been put down at the age of 29.

"The winters were getting harder on him with his bad arthritis," Bill Sutherland, a son of Waipounamu's late owner Gordon Sutherland, said. Waipounamu had been running at Riverdale, where Gordon Sutherland farmed.

"He (Waipounamu) was a bit of a character. 'Old Jack', as we called him, was still jumping the odd gate to get into a better paddock until a couple of years ago." The jumping habit was a characteristic of Waipounamu when he was in the Duntroon stable of the late Stewart Sutherland, a brother of Gordon.

The Aksarben-Tataus gelding, bred by Stewart, was 11 when he recorded his final win, the 1980 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup with Jack Smolenski the driver. Inter-Dominion winners Hano Direct and No Response were among the beaten division.

Waipounamu had his first win as a 4-year-old at the 50th jubilee meeting of the Wyndham Trotting Club in March, 1973. He won each season he raced, except as a 9-year-old. He was retired in 1980 with a record of 203 starts for 17 wins and 73 placings for $72,075 in stakes.

His other good wins were the NZ National Trot at Alexandra Park, Ordeal Cup at Addington and the Banks Peninsula Cup. He ran second to Ritch Hill in the 1978 Rowe Cup in Auckland and he filled a similar placing behind Maori's Idol in a heat on the Inter-Dominion at Moonee Valley in 1978.

Credit: NZ HRWeekly 17Jun98


YEAR: 1996

Derek Jones & Blossom Lady

There would be few Addington personalities in the last 50 years who have attracted such favour and adulation as Blossom Lady. In this context, Johnny Globe probably reigns supreme, with Blossom Lady a close second, ahead of Lordship and Lord Module.

The retirement at the weekend of New Zealand's greatest racemare is of no surprise: it has been on hold for two and a half years!

Lesser competitors would have given up the battle, but the skills of trainer Derek Jones coupled with an indomitable spirit gave Blossom Lady a long life at the top. On the eve of her 156th start, she was still working as well as ever. But when a leg injury she has tolerated since the Brisbane Inter-Dominions in 1993 made another visit, Jones decided the show was over.

"Derek told us that he would never forgive himself if he had raced her last Saturday night and something had happened to her," said Ralph Kermode, the manager of the Polly Syndicate which raced the million dollar mare. "We have no complaints. It has been something we have anticipated for some time, certainly this season. After she ran the fastest two miles of her career at the Cup meeting and the fastest mile, we thought we might get back to Melbourne, where she won two Hunter Cups. But we have had a fantastic run, with marvellous memories. Derek has done a marvellous job, swimming her a lot, rubbing her leg every day," he said.

Prepared for a start by Stephen Doody, Blossom Lady went on to win 43 races - most of them in the hands of regular driver Anthony Butt - and earn $1,334,800 from 155 starts.

Her major wins were the 1992 NZ Cup and NZ Free-For-All, the 1991 Easter Cup, two Hunter Cups, six Inter-Dominion heats, the Monsanto Free-For-All, three NZ Standardbred Breeders Stakes, an Inter-Dominion consolation race and the Ashburton Cup. 'Bloss' won 35 races in NZ and eight in Australia. Eight of her NZ wins were sub 2:00 - 1:56 (1m), 1:58.9 (2000 mob), 1:58.6 (2400 mob), 1: 59.1, 1:57, 1:57.3, 1:58.7, 1:56.8 and 1:58.9 (all 2000m mobile).

She was much travelled and was renowned for her need to absorb an enormous amount of work. Her racing was characterised by a willingness to look the enemy in the eye whenever there was a softening of the pace.

"She was the sort of horse an owner dreams of having," said Kermode. "She was so honest. She would never run a bad race. She had bad luck, but you'd always know she would perform. In many races, she would take to race to the opposition, although it did not always pay off. The most spine-tingling moment for me was in the Easter Cup that Chokin won when she led for the last mile and took off down the back straight, and my only disappointment was that she didn't meet up more with Franco Ice who had a similar style of racing," he said.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 10Jan96

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