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HORSES

 

YEAR: 1988

EASTON LIGHT

Easton Light, one of NZ's outstanding trotters of all time, had to be put down last week after developing a ruptured intestine. He was rising 24.

Bruce Running who drove him to all but 3 of his 36 wins, said the tough old gelding had enjoyed good health and the run of the family's 11 hectare Ardmore property from the time he retired from the tracks as a 13-year-old until starting to deteriorate a fortnight back. "We got the vet to him as soon as he got crook, but he couldn't be saved," said Bruce. "He was a good, honest horse with so much ability. Mum and I are really going to miss him." Bruce added that Easton Light had come in handy while he was breaking in young horses of his own in recent times. "He used to give them a bit of a tune-up and show them how to get into it," he added.

Bruce and "Sparky" - as he nick-named him because of his high-spiritedness - teamed from the start of the now 6-year-old gelding's second campaign. That season (1970/71), from 14 starts, they gained four wins, three seconds and two thirds.

In 1971/72 at seven, Easton Light had his first Dominion Handicap tilt at Addington, and after being forced to race very wide was a gallant third to Precocious and Merrin. Injured in the 1971 Rowe Cup, he was patched up to run top trotter Johnny Gee to a whisker at Manawatu in March 1972, but soon after, on veterinary advice, had to be taken right out of racing.

The following season, Easton Light comfortably won the Dominion Handicap from Precocious, and with six wins in all was top trotter of that term. At nine, Easton Light raced brilliantly for eight wins to be again the nation's top trotter. Forced wide from 15m in the Dominion, he was third to Philemon and Bachelor Tom, then easily won the NZ Free-For-All from Bachelor Tom and Philemon. Other good wins were in the National Trotting Handicap in Auckland (in 4:16 for 3200m)and NZ Trotting Championship at Addington at Easter (4:17.9).

At 10 Easton Light for the third straight year was the nation's top trotting stake-earner, and the peak performance of his career came as the tough old gelding joined the short list of dual Dominion Handicap winners, scoring by 4 1/2 lengths from 30 metres in 4:13.1, easily a record. In the Rowe Cup, from 40m, he ran winner Robyn Evander to a neck. His six wins and 11 minor placings at this age made him, with $90,875, easily the richest trotting winner in Australasia.

Again at 11, Easton Light hogged the trotters' scene. From 40m in the Dominion Handicap, he had a shocking run and pulled a flat tyre the last mile to finish a gallant second, sandwiched between the winner Hal Good and third-placed Cee Ar in a head and half-head finish. Then, in finally winning the Rowe Cup (from 40m), he capped record unparalleled in the history of Australasia. After his epic Rowe Cup win on his own stamping ground at Alexandra Park, a crowd of 10,000 rose and cheered, clapped and whistled him to the echo. Easton Light's six wins and four placings from 14 starts at 11 pushed his earnings to $120,445.

Troubled by a recurring back ailment, Easton Light, after gaining only a few minor placings from 15 starts at 12, was "retired." But he reappeared at 13, winning the Benson & Hedges Challenge Stakes at Auckland in October so well that another Dominion Handicap tilt - his seventh - was 'on'. From 40m in his final Dominion bid , he got up for fourth, some five lengths from winner Nigel Craig, who clocked 4:15.6 from the front. Sadly, Easton Light was relegated from that gallant placing for breaking stride right on the line. He had raced his heart out that day, and was finally done. After three more fruitless starts, he was retired for good. His final race was his seventh Rowe Cup bid in May 1978 - won, incidentally, by his talented stablemate Rich Hill. Eric Running was struck by a truck and killed while droving sheep on the road in South Auckland in September 1979.

In 167 starts over 10 seasons, Easton Light gained 36 wins (13 at Alexandra Park, eight at Addington, five at Hutt Park) and 76 placings for $132,370.

Few better trotters have looked through a bridle.


Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly 20Apr88

 

YEAR: 1987

Robalan & Denis Nyhan
ROBALAN

"The dirty, low, mongrel. He's always been a cow of a thing." That ain't no way to treat a lady and Denis Nyhan certainly isn't sincere as he talks about his old favourite Robalan. He's just annoyed because 'Robby' gets a kick out of playing hard to get. "He never lets me catch him and I reckon he enjoys it. Denise is the only one whose got a chance"

Robalan is rising 21 and looks it, but remains in fine heart, enjoying his retirement with his old mate 'Annie', or former smart trotter Relinquish. It's hard to imagine this ageing gelding was once the free-legged pacing phenomenon whose mere presence on the track was enough to fill the stands. Robalan had character and charisma, special qualities that elevate horses from merely outstanding to champion status. People loved him and that's the most important ingredient. He was big and powerful and possessed astonishing speed. And he was different...he was free-legged.

Most of Robalan's achievements on the track have now been passed with time, and to the younger generation he is just another name in the record books, but to those fortunate enough to witness this freak of the equine world, his was a most colourful chapter.

He came from total obscurity. Born in 1966, Robalan and his dam, the lightly raced U Scott mare Elsinore, were consigned to the 1967 National Yearling Sale and purchased by E Broad of Invercargill for 475gns. Gil Shirley, who weaned and initially handled Robalan, recalled some years later that he was "as mad as a snake." As a late yearling he was leased by locals Rob Pollock and Alan Devery, from whom he derived his name. When Broad passed away soon after, Pollock and Devery exercised their right of purchase of $1500.

Robalan showed an inclination for free-legged pacing at this early stage but Devery was finding him more than a handful. He could jump anything in sight and had a pet hate for workcarts, on which he often inflicted severe damage. After showing enough promise as a 2-year-old to take to the trials, Devery handed him over to Wyndham horseman Alex Townley. At this point Devery did not have a professional licence to train. Robalan's future was soon in doubt, however. In just his second trial for Townley he finished swinging a leg, which turned out to be the aftermath of a shoulder injury sustained as a yearling. After a second veterinary examination discovered the problem and Robalan was successfully operated on, he was sent back to Townley, who produced him to run placings in the NZ Kindergarten Stakes and Welcome Stakes.

Recommissioned as a 3-year-old, Robalan was soon troubled by a wind affliction and his career was again in doubt. At this point Denis Nyhan enquired after him, saying he and a Blenheim friend, Peter Hope, were interested in buying him. Business was quickly done, Pollock selling his share and buying a taxi business. This was to be the turning point in Robalan's fortunes. Nyhan's no non-sense attitude, a willingness to try the unorthodox, and the constant care of wife Denise, was to send Robalan along the path to stardom.

His rise was not spectacularly fast - he took two years to reach open class - but as time passed it became increasingly evident that Robalan was something "out of the box." Nyhan had finally thrown the hopples away for good after Robalan failed hopelessly in the 1971 Inter-Dominions at Addington. There were still chinks in the armour, but as a five and six-year-old, his emergence became very real.

Robalan won five races as a 5-year-old and six at six, looking particularly good in winning the Ashburton Flying Stakes, NZ Free-For-All, Wellington Cup, a heat of the Easter Cup and a heat of the 1974 Inter-Dominions in Sydney. This was a golden era in Australasian harness racing. Robalan, along with Royal Ascot, Arapaho, Manaroa and Globe Bay, travelled to Sydney to do battle with the likes of Hondo Grattan, Just Too Good, Jason King, Glamour Chief, Bold Biami, Reichman, Welcome Advice and Adios Victor. And to the day he dies, Nyhan will vow and declare that Inter-Dom should have been his. In the Final, Robalan was waiting to pounce as the field rounded the home turn, but a skirmish saw them knocked sideways and lose all chance. "I really felt that Robby was travelling better than Royal Ascot, and as Royal Ascot was only beaten a head (by Hondo Grattan), he must have been very unlucky," Nyhan said.

The following season Robalan was to emerge as a truly great pacer. Arapaho hogged the prized plums, the NZ and Auckland Cups, but Robalan was voted Harness Horse of the Year over the sensational juvenile Noodlum. Robalan won a record 12 races during the season and all things being equal was invincible. An impressive double at Forbury Park in October saw him installed second favourite for the NZ Cup, but after being slow away and forced wide to make his run from the half, he was unable to make any impression on Arapaho and Globe Bay and a brand new rival, Young Quinn.

Back to sprinting in the NZ Free-For-All, Robalan waltzed home for the second year in succession, beating Arapaho by five and a half lengths. Then came a thrilling win over Young Quinn in the Miracle Mile, sprinting twice during the running before holding on to win in 1:58. Now on the top of his form, Robalan toyed with Young Quinn and Arapaho in the National Flying Pace, a lead-up to the Auckland Cup. The big event was to elude Robalan - he was squeezed up early and broke, eventually being pulled up. As if furious at that defeat, Robalan scored six consecutive wins, including his second Wellington Cup (by three lengths over Young Quinn), the Commonwealth Games Free-For-All over Arapaho, and the Canterbury Park Free-For-All effortlessly in 1:57.6, a lifetime best.

About this time there was considerable speculation as to what Robalan was really capable of over the magic mile. Never one to mince words, Nyhan said his champ would go 1:52 in America, or at least better than the then world record of 1:53. This drew its share of criticism, but, given events since, Nyhan's prediction was obviously pretty close to the mark.

Young Quinn was all the rage for the early part of the 1974/75 season, sweeping all before him with eight consecutve wins in the north leading up to the NZ Cup. Robalan looked back to his best for his fourth attempt until struck down by a blood disorder less than a fortnight before the coveted event. A start looked very doubtful, but largely through the dedication of Denise, Robalan bounced back at the pre-cup trials to signal his intentions.

It is now history that Robalan cruised home amidst wild applause, in what Nyhan later described as "little more than a workout," and he set the seal on his greatness a few days later with a world record in the NZ Free-For-All. Recording his third straight runaway win in the event, Robalan stunned the race-going public, putting the mobile 2000m behind him in 2:26.6, a mile rate of 1:58. This bettered the record credited to top American pacer Irvin Paul by three seconds. It wasn't so much the time, but the ease with which he accomplished it.

Young Quinn, a battling third in the NZ Cup, was to gain his revenge over the next few months. He took the Miracle Mile in a NZ record 1:57 after Robalan had sensationally broken when vying for the lead at the top of the straight, and bolted away with the Auckland Cup, Robalan finding the 20 metre handicap too much. Forced to miss Young Quinn's Inter-Dominion in Auckland through an ailment, Robalan reappeared at Easter to again thrill the crowds on his favourite stomping ground. A hot favourite from his 35 metre handicap, Robalan looked hopelessly out of it when he galloped, cantered and trotted away from the mark, more than doubling his initial deficit. But Nyhan seized the opportunity to follow Lunar Chance around the field with a lap to travel and Robalan went on to win easily in a track record 4:07.4. Bill Doyle, Nyhan's father-in-law, had timed Robalan post to post in 4:02. This was his crowning glory.

Robalan returned as 9-year-old and, while he again struck winning form, he was obviously past his best an finding long handicaps to the younger brigade too much to overcome. His career finished on a sad note when he broke down in the Claredon Free-For-All at Addington on January 2, 1976.

Robalan had originally been bought strictly as a business proposition...he was bought to be sold. There were plenty of offers along the way as well, but either they weren't enough or the right money didn't front up. As time passed it became obvious that Robalan was simply priceless, gelding or not. How could you sell a chance at winning the NZ Cup? And he certainly vindicated Nyhan's faith. "Put it down to sentiment," was Nyhan's reaction to several tempting offers during his whirlwind 7-year-old season.

Robalan was at the height of his career as a seven and eight-year-old and really struck a purple patch in the summer of 74, with six consecutive wins. Nyhan doesn't have an explanation for this, except that every great horse has his time. "When Robbie had his first season or two in open class, there were several other top horses around at the time. It was just a case of who got the run on the day. As time passed these horses fell away. Arapaho, Royal Ascot and Manaroa had had their time at the top. As Robby's career was drawing to a close, Young Quinn was coming to it," Nyhan reflected.

Nyhan can see parallels between his times in the limelight with Lordship and Robalan and today's stars. "Master Mood is obviously NZ's top pacer at the moment, but throw Roydon Glen and one or two others in the same race and it would just be the luck on the day. Seldom does a horse remain undisputably tops for a long period of time," he said.

Prior to Robalan, Nyhan had been associated with two other great pacers. As a boy he closely followed the fortunes of his father's wonderful pacer Johnny Globe, and then in the 1960's he was the regular driver of his mother's 'pocket battleship' Lordship. How does Robalan compare to these and other champion horses of their time? "Not many horses reach the absolute top bracket and I can't see any point in comparing those that do. They are the sort of horses you dream about...they keep you going. Robby was special to us because we had so much to do with him. I just wish I had another one that could run like him."

-o0o-

The free-legged pacer Robalan will not have to suffer the demands of another winter. With arthritis setting in, Denis Nyhan made the decision at the weekend to put him down and spare him any further discomfort.

He was buried on Nyhan's Templeton property, where he spent most of his 29 years.

Mike Grainger: HRWeekly: 6May96


Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 9Apr87

 

YEAR: 1987

Hands Down winning the 1980 Cup from Delightful Lady
HANDS DOWN

Addington favourite Hands Down was humanely destroyed last Friday after breaking his shoulder in a paddock accident on the North Otago farm of his owners, Bill and Fay McAughtrie. The 1980 NZ Cup winner who scored 22 other wins at Addington during his brilliant career, has been buried on the McAughtrie's Omarama farm, where he retired to 13 months ago.

Trained by master Canterbury horseman Derek Jones, Hands Down - affectionately known as "Old Bill" - will be remembered as a super-tough and versatile pacer who could drain the breath from his rivals with merciless front-running performances, or scorch home from the tail to find the winning post first.

"It was quite strange, though," Derek's son Peter Jones, Hands Down's regular driver, said in a radio interview at the weekend, "I kept all the press clippings and he was never named a champion by the media. Maybe it was because of his robustness, even ugliness." He may not have bee as handsome as some, but the chunky son of Armbro Del and Snow Chick could have done nothing more to earn the accolade of "champion."

Hands Down raced once as a 3-year-old (he was unplaced) but made a huge impact at four years, winning nine races and capping his season with a typically brave win over Philippa Frost and Bonnie's Chance in the Canterbury Park Winter Cup. His stylish 4:09.3 for the 3200m stand that night reflected his staying powers, and, although not yet open class, the 1980 NZ Cup became his major 5-year-old aim.

And what a stirring performance he gave, just 11 months after clearing maidens, to deny the classy Delightful Lady by a neck in race record time of 4:07.2 after forging to the front down the back the last time. Later in the Metropolitan Cup meeting, Hands Down added the NZ Free-For-All (2000m) and Allan Matson Free-For-All (2600) - a rare and prestigious treble. Seldom at his best too far away from home, Hands Down's rollcall of successes includes the Kaikoura Cup, Waikato Cup, an Inter-Dominion Consolation and three Easter Cups.

But give "Old Bill" a 2600m stand at Addington in August and he was happy. His tremendous heart and some skillful early season conditioning by Derek Jones saw Hands Down string together four successive Louisson Handicaps in the early '80s. And it was so nearly five, with Norton and Our Mana stretched to stave off the 9-year-old (who began 25 metres behind) by a nose and half-head in 1984.

Father Time was rapidly catching up with Hands Down, but he had one surprise left for his Addington fans. It came on the final night of the 1984 NZ Cup meeting, just three months after he narrowly failed to bag his fifth Louisson. With regular partner Peter Jones sidelined with torn ligaments in an ankle, the reins were passed his then 18-year-old nephew Anthony Butt and the combination of young and old scored an emotional win in the $20,000 Christchurch Airport Travelodge Free-For-All. He rated a sensational 2:01.6 for the flying 2600m, and left struggling behind him such accomplished pacers as Camelot, Borana, Hilarious Guest, Enterprise, Our Mana and Gammalite. The race marked Hands Down's 23rd Addington victory, and also his last, surpassing the previous best of 21 held by dual NZ Cup winner Lordship.

The strapping gelding had a cluster of outings as a 10-year-old, but had long since passed his peak and was retired after failing in the Ashburton Cup on Boxing Day, 1985. Derek Jones, who named his Templeton training establishment "Soangetaha Lodge" after his dual Auckland Cup winner but leaned towards Hands Down as the best he has trained, regularly visited his mate at Omarama. "He was like an All Black; every time he went out he tried his best. He is the best horse I've ever had and probably one of the best NZ has ever seen."

Peter Jones: "I'm sure he used to sense the atmosphere. After a win at Addington he'd pause, even if for only 10 or 12 seconds and look at the crowd as if to say, "gotcha again!"

Credit: Matt Conway writing in HRWeekly 12Feb87

 

YEAR: 1987

OUR MANA

'Old Tom' Our Mana was retired in May, the winner of $331,900, the result of 96 starts for 20 wins and 20 placings for his Loburn owner, Mrs Jenny Barron.

"It will be sad not to see him racing again but he's lost a little bit of his kick," said trainer-driver Colin De Filippi of Our Mana, whom he transformed from being a regect to a top-line pacer. Our Mana made astonishing progress for De Filippi after being virtually given to Mrs Barron for a token $200 after he had been tried and found wanting in several stables.

The impressive bay burst on the scene in the 1982-83 term winning eight of his 12 starts and being awarded 4-Year Old of the Year honours over NZ Messenger winner Hilarious Guest. He won the inaugural $10,000 West Coast bonus for winning his first three races on the Christmas curcuit and ended the season by taking a 1:57.3 mile record at Addington.

The Schell Hanover-Taimoni gelding attained open class ranking in just his 15th start and went close to winning one of the major cups on three occasions. Unfortunately the history books will show Our Mana was the runner-up in the 1984 NZ Cup behind Camelot, the 1984 Auckland Cup chasing home Enterprise, and the 1985 NZ Cup when he ran second to the boilover winner Borana.

Our Mana's big win came in the 1985 Lion Brown Easter Cup at Addington, while other major wins for him came in the Lion Red Mile at Cambridge(twice), the Castlemaine XXXX Handicap(now the Henkell Trocken) at the Auckland Christmas meeting over 3200m.

The horse that put De Filippi on the map as a trainer, the successful Pukekohe-based horseman also rated Our Mana "as good as any he has driven. 'Old Tom' proved a grand money-spinner for Mrs Barron, earning a cheque in 69 of his 96 starts.



Credit: NZ Trotting Annual 1986

 

YEAR: 1986

TUFT

Veteran sire Tuft, who made a tremendous impact on the NZ breeding scene during his 20 years at stud in this country, died recently at Weedons.

The top trotting sire in NZ on six consecutive occasions from 1974/75 to 1979/80, Tuft was 24 at the time of his death, which according to Karehana Stud proprietor Dennis Moore , occurred because of "old age".

By the outstanding trotter and sire of trotting sires, Star's Pride out of the Dean Hanover mare, Tassel Hanover, Tuft has sired 225 winners to date, including the top trotter Tuteena (1:59.8). In all, he sired 14 in 2:00, the other 13 being pacers and including the good dual gaited winner Hoquard (1:59.8), Miracle Mile winner The Scotsman (1:56), My Melody Queen (1:56.8), Memphis (1:54.8), Doctor Voss (1:58.2), Mighty Tuft (1:57.8)and Pinkafled (1:59). His broodmares have produced the 2:00 performers Alba Wings (1:58.6, Queensland Derby) and Stardell Lad (1:57.8).

But it was as a sire of trotters that Tuft really made his mark, and with some small crops tp represent him during his last ten years at stud. His best performer currently racing is the champion mare Tussle, winner of the 1985 Rowe Cup and with $184,000 in stakes the greatest stake winning trotting mare raced solely in New Zealand and Australia.

His other top winner include Rowe Cup winner Framalda, Trotting Stakes winners Black Miller and Edis Nova, Inter-Dominion Grand Final winner Castleton's Pride, Now, Spartan Prince, Ilsa Voss, Tough Girl, Mighty Lee, Mister Square and Marsha Donna.

Tuft was imported to NZ by Mr Dudley Moore of Templeton, who shared in the ownership of the great little champion pacer Caduceus.

Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 22Apr86

 

YEAR: 1986

ATOMIC LASS - Mystery Mare

Nobody would have been ready to put the knock on Atomic Lass as her breeding career unfolded but it would have been a lot harder to predict she would produce a horse like Auckland Reactor.

Atomic Lass was then 18years old, had missed the two previous years and had already had 10 foals, some smart, some useful but none memorable. One of her early ones, Taupo Tiger, had won a couple for Mark Purdon but was moderate in Australia. Waitaki Warrior followed a similar path winning the Bankstown Guineas. Taihape Tickler was another who showed good form early on(6th Great Northern Derby) and ran in some good races in Australia though ending his days in claimers in Perth.

Matuki took a 1:53.2 time in the US which was pretty much run of the mill. A dose of Direct Scooter through Mach Three seemed to transform the situation and whatever the odds being against Atomic Lass she produced a $1.9m record smashing superstar.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed June 2016

 

YEAR: 1985

MIGHTY CHIEF

Mighty Chief, one of the best trotters to race in the 1960s, died recently at the ripe old age of 24.

A gelded son of My Chief and the grand producing mare Gala Girl, Mighty Chief was bred by Oamaru's Frank Oliver and was purcashed by Lester Clark of Greenpark for 190 guineas at the 1962 National Yearling Sales. Mr Clark never regretted the purchase. In his first season on the racetracks, Mighty Chief more than recouped his purchase price. The gelding made a sensational debut by winning at Timaru in February of 1964 at odds of 147/10/-. His first season of racing saw him race just seven times for five wins - two at Timaru and one each at Cheviot, Methven and Ashburton.

At four, Mighty Chief won two of his ten starts, both wins coming at Addington. It was his next season, as a five-year-old, that Mighty Chief made his presence felt in open trotting ranks. After being beaten a head by When in the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup, Mighty Chief turned the tables on that mare and several other rivals by winning the 1965 Dominion Handicap in the hands of Doody Townley. Worth in total 2500 that year, the winner's share of the Dominion Handicap stake was 1625, a far cry from the $60,000 total stake of last year's contest.

Mighty Chief won a further two races at five, both also at Addington. He won a heat of the NZ Trotters Championship then added the final to his list of wins when beating Poupette and When. That season he was the leading stake-winning trotter in the country with 4025 in earnings.

Thirteen starts at six brought wins in the Ordeal Handicap at Addington, by nine lengths, and a heat of the NZ Trotters Championship (he was fourth in the final), while he also notched a brace of wins at Forbury Park. Victory in the grass track Banks Peninsula Cup again eluded him, this time being beaten by Tronso, the winning margin again being a head.

Addington was a happy hunting ground for the gelding by the time his seven-year-old season came round. He had won seven races on the track before the commencement of that season and added three further wins by the time the season finished. His successes came in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All, Canterbury Park Trotter's Cup and the Ordeal Handicap. His fourth win that season was recorded at Forbury Park. In all, 18 starts at seven brought in $10,295 in stakes from four wins and six placings.

Mighty Chief then experienced a lean trot as an eight and nine-year-old. Her raced only nine times those two seasons for no reward. While returning from a workout as a ten-year-old, Mighty Chief's racing career received a serious setback. He was frightened by a bird when returning to his stables and fell heavily on the asphalt road surface. The injuries he received were bad enough to make Lester Clark retire the gelding. However, Mighty Chief soon recovered and belied his age as he galloped around his paddock.

It was decided to return the gelding to work and a lease was signed by Springston dairy farmer Trevour Mounce, who took the veteran over. In his first start in over 20 months, Mighty Chief lined up against some of the best trotters the South Island could offer in the Winter Handicap at the National Meeting in 1971. Lacking form of any nature, Mighty Chief was neglected in the betting, being twelfth favourite in a field of as many runners. Home Mighty Chief rolled at odds of 83 to one in the hands of Bobby Nyhan to score his eleventh win at Addington. Mighty Chief struck again that season, winning the Victoria Park Free-For-All at Greymouth and he also ran second in the Ordeal Cup.

Two more seasons of racing, at 12 and 13 years, followed. In a total of 18 starts, the closest Mighty Chief came to winning was a nose defeat by Bambi at Greymouth as a 12-year-old after giving his younger rival a 12 yard start.

In all, Mighty Chief raced 105 times for 20 wins and 25 placings for stakes of over $36,000. He took a lifetime record of 2:02.4.

Credit: Brian Carson writing in NZ Trot Caledar 8Jan85

 

YEAR: 1985

SIR CASTLETON

The open class trotting free-for-all at the New Brighton meeting on September 13 turned out just as we'd come to expect. Off level marks Sir Castleton was just about unbeatable and so it proved, but little did we know then that his 44th career win was also to be his last. A little over a month later, the news broke, the champion trotter had been retired more or less over night by Mrs Margaret Macpherson when he showed signs of lameness in work. X-rays showed arthritic deterioration in a joint in his near-hind leg.

Mrs Macpherson, who with her late husband, Mawson, had derived so much enjoyment from the electrifying performances their diminutive dynamo turned in over the years, decided this was the end of the road for the 9-year-old. "He needed a good six months spell if we were thinking of racing him again, but I've decided he's finished. He's been too good to us to have him breaking down completely," she said. There'll always be an apple for him here every night, she said of Sir Castleton, who bowed out as NZ's greatest stakes-winning trotter.

The son of Game Pride and the 1982-83 Broodmare of the Year, Castleton Queen, raced in NZ 96 times for 39 wins and 34 placings for earnings of $255,902. He earned an additional $46,250 in two campaigns in Australia giving him a cpmbined total of $302,152.

Sir Castleton soon hit the headlines when he stared racing as a 4-year-old back in the 1980-81 season winning nine of his twelve starts (seven in succession) and being the subject of some lucrative offers. He was the quickest trotting graduate to open class in living memory, taking his open ranking in just 10 starts. Four wins in eighteen starts, including his second Ordeal Cup at Addington, were the fruits of his 5-year-old campaign, in which he finished third in the Rowe Cup to Stormy Morn and Kenwood Song after being forced very wide on the home turn.

As a 6-year-old, Sir Castleton's great potential was realised. He won a further 10 from 24 starts, including the NZ Trotting Championship at the Addington Easter meeting in a national record equalling 3:21.3 for the mobile 2600m, then blitzed his rivals in the 1983 J Rowe Memorial Gold Cup, winning easily by six lengths from Basil Dean, Thriller Dee and Jenner.

Sir Castleton, after winning an Inter-dominion heat at Alexandra Park that season and running third to Scotch Notch and Jenner in the Grand Final, went to Adelaide as a 7-year-old and defeated the champion Australian mare on her own soil in the 1984 $30,000 Inter-Dominion Trotters Final, this being the highlight of his career. Driven by Paddy Timmins, Sir Castleton was locked up on the inner for much of the running, then produced a blistering turn of speed to flash past Scotch Notch in the closing stages to win by three metres.

Sir Castleton also evened the score between the two great trotters at two apiece. Scotch Notch had earlier in the season again trekked to NZ in November and after Sir Castleton had beaten the mare in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All, she came out on top in the Dominion Handicap in a cunning battle of tactics. "Those races against Scotch Notch were our favourite memories," said Mrs Macpherson shortly after Mawson's death last year.

Sir Castleton had earlier started his 7-year-old season by winning from 40m and 50m behind respectively on both days of the National meeting in August, while after coming home from the Inter-Dominions, chased Basil Dean home in that rival trotter's brilliant 3:15.3 clocking in his unbelievable NZ Trotting Championship success. Sir Castleton trotted the second fastest time for a trotter over that distance with his 3:16.2 for second.

The performances of the half-brother to 1975 Inter-Dominion Trotters Grand Final winner, Castleton's Pride, during 1983-84 were enough for him to share Horse of the Year honours with the NZ Cup winner Steel Jaw. Sir Castleton was only the second trotter to have such an award bestowed upon him, joining No Response as recipients of their gait to win the Horse of the Year title.

Prohibitive handicaps again made things tough for the 14 hands gelding as an 8-year-old. He won a further six in NZ from 20 appearances. Winning first-up from 35m behind at the National meeting at Addington in a national-record equalling 3:21.1 for the 2600m, Sir Castleton also scored from 35m behind at Alexandra Park in October in a national record of 3:31.7 for 2700m for a colt or gelding, but still outside Scotch Notch's best of 3:28.7 for mares.

Winning the NZ Trotting Free-For-All at NZ Cup time for a second time, Sir Castleton was again out of luck in the Dominion Handicap making a mistake early but being timed post-to-post in 4:10, his last mile in 2:01.2 to finish sixth. Sir Castleton created history on January 22 to become the only trotter in modern times to win from a handicap of 55m behind at Addington, getting up to win in 3:21.8.

Taken to Moonee Valley for a rematch with Scotch Notch at the Inter-Dominions, the Tinwald trotter won a further two heats (again beating Scotch Notch in one of them) but after having a slight strain in a leg before undertaking the trip, Sir Castleton suffered a fissure fracture of a cannon bone in the Grand Final when finishing second to Scotch Notch.

Fully recovered a couple of months later, Sir Castleton was being readied for his 9-year-old campaign when owner-trainer Mawson Macpherson, died. The training of the grand trotter for his last three races and wins, was then entrusted to stable employee, Wayne Smart. Sir Castleton produced a sprint that only he could produce to win on the opening night of the National meeting, then gained a rather fortuitious win on the second night when run down late by Mendelspride, only to be promoted when his rival was disqualified for galloping over the closing stages. Win No 44 for Sir Castleton was achieved with the minimum of effort, despite being parked in the open throughout.

Doody Townley, who drove Sir Castleton in nine of his wins in latter years, rated him the greatest trotter he had driven. "He was the best alright - he never knew he was beaten and had such terrific speed," said the successful horseman.

Credit: Jeff Scott writing in 1986 Trotting Annual

 

YEAR: 1984

BASIL DEAN

Yes, don't text, Basil Dean later won a Dominion Handicap and a lot of other races. But when his career is recalled, as it often is, it is because of only one race that amazing New Zealand Trotting Championship at Easter 1984, still a landmark in our trotting history.

Basil Dean, trained largely by Bob Jamison, was in the hands of Kerry O'Reilly and took charge of the race early on . What followed was so stunning all you could here in the Press Box was Star reporter Dave Cannan's strangled cries of disbelief calling out the fractions as the big trotter burned his rivals into the ground. When the clocks stopped it was at 3:15.3 for the 2600m, smashing his own national record by nearly five seconds having already eliminated Scotch Tar and Sir Castleton from the record books. No easy task in fractions never mind seconds.

To put this stunner into proper perspective Basil Dean's time was faster than the national pacing record held by Steel Jaw and Bonnies Chance. These days it is back to five seconds slower. Think of Monbet running around 3:55 in a Dominion. That is the measure of the impact on that sunny afternoon. Even though he had not won any of the most sought after races Basil Dean was voted Trotter of the Year on that one run and he held the title the following season when he won the Dominion.

But he never went anywhere near 3:15 again and who could be surprised? Even all these years later it is still hard to believe it the first time.

Credit: David McCarthy writing in Harnessed 2016

 

YEAR: 1984

BONNIE'S CHANCE

Bonnie's Chance, who ranks as one of the greatest mares ever to complete in NZ, has gone into honourable retirement.

The champion Majestic Chance-Bonnie Countess mare had her last start at Addington on December 30, and went out on a high note when she took the NZ Standarbred Breeders' stakes for the third successive year. Locked up three back on the fence behind Hilarious Guest and Jilaire's Chance, it was late in the straight before the gap opened along the rails which enabled Bonnie's Chance to sneak through and claim a length victory over Hilarious Guest in 2:01.2.

Following that race, trainer-driver Richard Brosnan said he was tempted to have another tilt at the Auckland Cup in February, the only major race which has eluded her. But a week later, the decision was taken, after consultation with owners Mesdames Bonnie McGarry and Karen Grice, to retire her. "It was a hard decision to make, but for the good of the horse it was the right one," Richard Brosnan said last week.

Bonnie's Chance, who has been troubled with leg problems for some time now, retires with $357,000 in stakes, second only to another grand mare, Delightful Lady, on the list of stakes winners to race solely in NZ. She started 75 times for 32 wins and 20 placings, including the 1982 NZ Cup. Her victory over Hands Down in 1:56.2 for the mile at Washdyke makes her the equal fastest miler (with Lord Module) in a race in NZ, and she shares with Steel Jaw the record for a mobile 2600 metres at Addington - 3:15.4.

Bonnie's Chance has been served by Lordship and had gone 21 days at the time of her December 30 win at Addington. He dam, Bonnie Countess, recently foaled a colt to the Albatross stallion Sholty Imp, and is to be mated with Lordship.



Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 10Jan84

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