One of New Zealand's most successful and esteemed horsemen died at the weekend.
Doody Townley, who drove 21 Group 1 winners and more than 700 others, was 73 when he passed away on Sunday in Ashburton Hospital. He retired at the end of the 1990 season while the 65 compulsory retirement rule was still operative. By anyone's standard Townley was in the handful that made the very top - and stayed there.
He won Group 1 races in the '50s; he was still winning them in the '80s. He was admired for his ability to handle the trotter. Wes Butt, who drove in the same era as Townley, said:"He was one of the best drivers NZ ever had. He was just first class and he excelled with the trotter. It's a sort of a test, driving a trotter. Doody would sit quiet, get them balanced and hold them together."
Although he drove such great pacers as Stella Frost, Rupee, Tactile, Sun Chief and Jacobite, he was happiest handling a trotter. "With a trotter, you're not worrying about luck in the running. To keep trotting is the big thing," Doody said. "I actually think you have won if they trot all the way. It's better to run last and trot all the way. In a sense that's an accomplishment."
Put on the spot when he retired to recall his most memorable race, he chose the 1965 Easter Cup at Addington he won with Jacobite. "I will never forget that race. I came round the bend with about a quarter mile to run. We had just disposed of the others when I see ahead of me Robin Dundee and Lordship. They were two champions ... who'd imagine we would peg those two back. He was a tough horse, Jacobite, and he did it."
Rather than go for a favourite amongst so many fine horses he drove, Townley preferred to respect them all. "It is hard to single out those good horses," he would say. "They all had that bit extra. Bagshaw, for instance, was a good trotter. He won the big trots at Ashburton when they had free-for-alls for the good horses, but nothing historical. Showdown was a good stayer I drove for Billy Doyle, and I suppose the win by Stella Frost in the Auckland Cup was a great thrill."
His major wins included two Auckland Cups, NZ Cup, two Inter-Dominion Pacers' Grand Finals, two Inter-Dominion Trotters' Grand Finals, Rowe Cup, Dullard Cup, Dominion Handicap, two NZ Derbys, two Great Northern Derbys, two NZ FFA's, Easter Cup, seven Champion Stakes, two NZ Trotting FFA's, two Ashburton Cups, four Sapling Stakes, four Welcome Stakes and too many others to list.
At the time of his retirement at the end of the 1989-90 season Townley admitted to some favouritism in driving the trotter. "Oh, yes; I prefer driving a trotter. With a pacer, it's more a case of placing a horse in a race. With a trotter, you are not worrying about luck in the running. To keep trotting is the big thing. I actually think you've won if they trot all the way. It's better to run last and trot all the way. In a sense, that's an accomplishment."
Townley was recognised as a master with the trotter and enjoyed nothing better than driving them; 'Doody' was an artist getting them balanced and in their gait. He had a little lean forward, reminiscent of the great Maurice Holmes.
An absolute professional, always impeccably neat, Townley was the son of a trainer. He was born on June 25, 1925, one of 10 children, had his first drive behind the trotter Walter Jingle at Ashburton on Boxing Day, 1944, and finished down the track behind Betty Maxegin, who he was later to train and win five races in a row with. "I even took her to Auckland to race in the Inter-Dominions, but she was confused racing the other way round and wasn't worth tuppence." He first win was behind Tara's Hall at the Waimate gallops. "She was out of a mare by Vanity Hall, bred by Arthur Nicholl, and my father traied the horse," he recalled.
At the age of 22, after working for his late brother Bob and helping the family turn sheep pens into horse yards on their new Tinwald property the week his father finished second with Dusky Sound to Marlene in the NZ Cup, he began training himself. During the war, when petrol was scarce, the horses went to the races by train. "I remember walking them down the back roads and getting the train at Waimate. They'd go down the night before." And there was nothing, he said, like the road trip to Nelson which now takes the float eight hours but then, via Blenheim, took 17 hours without a stop.
Besides the speedy Betty Maxegin, 'Doody' won good races with Frank Scott, a U Scott trotter; Cleome, Frontier, and Bashaw, by Josedale Dictator, who was "never the same" after being hit by a car.
His first "great opportunity" as a driver came when Jack Grice asked him to handle Rupee. "He was the first good horse I drove...a real natural. He won all the classics, and I remember the first time I got beaten with him. I was following a horse I used to train; I think it was Brave Company, which Colin Berkett had. I was three back on the outer when he just stopped in front of me. I then had to go four wide, and by then Bob Young had shook his hook with Excelsa and I couldn't catch him."
In recent years, he has retired in Ashburton. Suffering from emphysema, he had given up working horses but remained in good health until being hospitalised about a month ago.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 31Mar99