Though he maintained a very low profile in horse racing, Auckland brewery baron and philanthropist Sir Henry Kelliher, who died recently aged 95, was an enthusiastic and sporadically successful breeder of standardbreds and thoroughbreds.
Sir Henry will probably be remembered best in harness racing for giving Aucklander Mrs Audrey Dean's champion pacer Cardigan Bay a luxurious retirement at his island paradise, Puketutu, in the Manukau Harbour. From Match 1970 until Cardigan Bay died aged 31 in March 1988, Sir Henry doted over the internationally famous gelding, who attracted thousands of tourists from around the world to see in the flesh the first pacer to win a million dollars. "I think he must be the most photographed horse in the world," Sir Henry would often proudly say.
But Sir Henry's involvement in the standardbred sport went much deeper. His crowning achievement was to rank as the breeder of 1979 Inter-Dominion Grand Champion pacer Rondel, who was imported to NZ in embryo inside the Light Brigade mare Light Rendez. From the noted First Water family, Light Rendez had been bought in Australia on Sir Henry's behalf by Noel Simpson, and covered by the Simpson-imported American stallion Berra Hanover.
Mary Hall, a Dillon Hall mare bought from Canterbury as a breeding proposition by Sir Henry, produced a fine winner in Monsignor for Whenuapai trainer Ray Norton, while Magli, Mary Hall's 1953 foal by Loreto, left Terraton, a classic winning filly for Noel Taylor.
One of the best trotters produced in NZ, Easton Light, owes his place in immortality to Sir Henry's generosity. It was in the late 1950s when Dennis, son of Eric and Thelma Running, who were farming at East Tamaki, developed a nervous disorder that led to double pneumonia and other complications. Following hospitalisation and almost nine months in a recuperative home, Dennis returned home to mend further. To get him interested in moving around and out in the open air, Eric decided to get him a pony.
After Eric approached Puketutu stud master Jack Bainbridge, it was reasoned a pony might be too frisky. The upshot was that Sir Henry gave the Runnings an eight-year-old gelding with a deformed foot named Graham Logan, whom he had bred from a Black Globe mare, Indian Globe. Graham Logan had been tried on lease by Auckland trainer Horry Keogan and, after registering just one third placing in 14 attempts, returned to Puketutu Island with no future in sight.
When Dennis Running tired of his pet, his father, who had learned the rudiments of training horses when a freezing worker with the late Jack Brophy at Timaru in the 'forties', decided to have a go at training Graham Logan to win a race. Taking Graham Logan to the races as a 10-year-old in 1962/63, Running won three trotting races with him. It led to Eric carrying on in the game and eventually winning fame and fortune with Easton Light, NZ's biggest trotting winner to this time with 36 victories, including two Dominion Handicaps and a Rowe Cup, for $132,370.
As a thoroughbred breeder, Sir Henry earned distinction through Mister Pompous, the good Canterbury galloper of the early 1970s, while several Puketutu-based stud stallions to make an impression on New Zealand and Australia racing were headed by Ivory Hunter.
Long-term patron of the Auckland Trotting Owners, Trainers and Breeders' Association and the first patron and a grand supporter of the NZ Trotting Hall of Fame, and an occasional sponsor of juvenile pacing events in Auckland, Sir Henry refrained from racing horses in his own right.
For a non-owner, he possessed a remarkable command of bloodlines, while, probably from his early days as a third generation child of a Central Otago farming family, he had a love of horses that shone through whenever he escorted guests around the paddocks and stables of the lush Puketutu Island that was his home for half a century.
Credit: Ron Bisman writing in HRWeekly