The Sellars story is a great Southern story to tell.
It’s primarily about quality mare Leyava who left a host of cup class horses and a second branch of the family that did just as well.
The tail begins in the early 40’s in Seaward Downs Southland.
“They had a rabbit board that came around fumigating rabbits. It was a unit drawn by a horse. My father asked the rabbiters what the horse was. They told him it was a good racehorse and that Davie Todd trained it. Dad thought he would check this out so he rang Davie with the name Fortune’s Favourite and said did you train it. He said yes but it was no bloody good but it was a good family so Dad ended up paying 25 pounds for her,” said Andrew Sellars.
The family who were relative newcomers to the breeding of Standardbreds had lengthy discussions before deciding to send her to Indianapolis the winner of the New Zealand Cup 1934, 1935 and 1936.
From that mating Pollyapolis arrived in 1946.
“An old friend of the family Jack Winter trained her initially before being trained by Wes Butt. She won six races.”
Once her racing days were over Jack Sellers started breeding from her and bred a number a nice horses including Trigside (Flying Song) which won a Gore Cup (1963) and Va Vite which won ten races.
Jack Sellars didn’t want to get too involved in breeding but bought off George Youngson Rustic Maid who was the dam of twelve winners including 1950 New Zealand Cup winner Chamfer and 1946 New Zealand Derby winner Free Flight.
“Dad was keen to breed a filly at the end of her career and carry on that breed. He said to me that he wasn’t going to breed off two horses and said to me that if I wanted to take Polly (Pollyapolis) you can get a foal from her. I thought that was pretty good. Initially I was going to go to U Scott but I was advised because he was in such demand that if you missed out in getting in foal you didn’t get any refund. I thought I can’t afford that. Clem Scott said go to Garrison Hanover. From that we got Leyava.”
At that stage Andrew was working for at W George and Sons near the Post Office in Invercargill. The store was run by Jim Dynes in menswear. The Dynes name was very prominent in the province back then.
The Sellers at that point were living at Roslyn Road – They have reside there for 49 years this year.
Leyava was raced in partnership of Jack and Andrew Sellars.
“She had ability but had a poor attitude to racing. Dave Kerr trained her and she won two races and had numerous placings. After her finished racing I took her over on my own for breeding.”
The name is a combination off Andrew’s his wife Shirley and daughter Avalon but the breeding destiny nearly wasn’t.
“We nearly lost her before we got her in foal the first time. She was on the property here and my neighbour had stored some bags of wheat. She pushed the door open and got an oversupply of wheat into her system. She was very close to dying. The neighbour rang Cliff Irvine in Christchurch and asked him what we should do. He said get her into a good muddy watery area and let her stand in there for a couple of days and she came right. We don’t know why it worked but you never questioned Cliff Irvine.”
Her first foal was Sassenach by Young Charles.
“I trained him as a two year with the help of Henry Skinner. Maurice Skinner had him for a few weeks just to get him use to company. I took him to a few trials including Balfour where he fell so as a three year old I sent him up to Jim Winter to train on a training arrangement.”
He soon showed Winter that he had ability and had his first start on Cup Day in the Riccarton Stakes and finished third when driven by Doug Watts. He won four races as a three year old including the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Clubs Three Year Old Championship.
“All the best three year olds in the South Island were in that race. He lost seventy yards at the start and won by three lengths in a New Zealand record time for three year old for a mile and five (furlongs). It was an outstanding performance.”
Bob Young at that point had taken over the driving.
“He was a very astute man a real old Scotsman. He didn’t give too much credit unless it was really deserved. We weren’t punters but after the Riccarton Stakes we had two or three hundred pound. He was in the Cross Stakes at New Year time. I said to Jim I think we should just put that stake money on him because he should win the race. We put it on but he broke up badly and he just made up a few places. Jim not being used to big punting was a bit upset at my suggestion. He mentioned it to Bob and said god if I knew I could have still won the race I was just saving the horse.”
One thing that Sellers did insist on was that the horse was to run in the 1971 Interdominions at Addington.
“He was only a four year old. He won his first two heats and ran second in his third heat. He was the second highest qualifier. The top qualifier was Holy Hal.”
The final was won by Junior’s Image who was later disqualified after returning a positive swab. The promoted winner was Stella Frost.
As a five year old Sassenach returned to racing at Ashburton in October before progressing to the Cup meeting in Christchurch raced then over four days.
“He was throwing his head around a lot and Bob Young couldn’t steer him. One vet suggested that it could have something to do with the seed out of the grass. Jim throw a nose guard on him on the third night and he duly won and was roundly booed because he’s been pretty well back the first two days.”
He came out on the last night of what was a four day cup carnival and won the Olivier Handicap against the cup horses.
He then travelled north for the Auckland Cup and ran fifth on a wet track showing signs of soreness.
“He was sent home to me and I potted around with him and treated his legs. I took him to Riverton on the old grass track and won the Riverton Cup with him. Apart from Riverton which was an equalisator meeting I couldn’t quite get a win with him.”
Bob McArdle approached Sellars and the horse was sold to America.
His New Zealand race record was…
Leyava’s second foal to race was Ryal who was by Canny Scot. Jim Dynes bought him as a weanling
His New Zealand record was 34 starts for 8 wins. He won a Canterbury Free For All.
“He when to America and won forty odd races over there.”
Shavande was Leyava’s next foal. He was by Hundred Proof and was trained by Andrew.
“He was as good as any of the horses she left. He had a very bad attack of strangles after I’d taken him to the Forbury trials. Peter Williams did a hell of a good job.”
After being nursed back from this major setback in won a double at Wyndham.
But tragedy struck again when he ran into a sharp branch on the farm. It pieced a hole just below his shoulder.
“Even after that he won the Gore Cup then he was sold to America. Doug McNaught had a lot to do with him and thought he was an outstanding horse. He was on his way to cup class no doubt about that.”
The next foal from the mare was Hi Lo’s Forbes colt Stylist.
“He had some ability but was bad in his gait when tried at high speed. Jim Dynes took him over the try and straighten him out. They won a race with him. He became very unsound so we turned him out. After two and a half years he looked okay in the paddock so I bought him back into work. His first start back was over a mile and he pulled his head off but he finished pretty close up. We then headed to Gore and he bolted in.”
Lumber Dream was the next port of call for Leyava and that mating produced and another colt named Profiteer.
“The most intelligent horse I even had. He was cunning with brilliant speed.”
He was trained initially by Sellars. He recorded his first race at Wyndham in November 1977 winning by three lengths running the 2400 metres in 3-08.
“Peter Wolfenden phone me wanting to buy him but I said this horse was too good to be selling.”
A year later although still racing well Profiteer was starting to win the battle of the wills in the south so it was decided to send the colt north for Gavin Hampton to train. Sellars had become friends with the Canterbury horseman after he drove Sassenach at Hutt Park a few years earlier.
“He was sent up prior to the Reefton Cup which was the richest C2 race in the country at that time. He won that race and came back and won two races at Addington. Then Lucky (Profiteer) worked Gavin out so he came back down here.”
Sellars had to reinvent the horses training regime and it was a combination of walking the horse for an hour or light jogging.
“I knew whip and Profiteer didn’t go together so I got wee Austin Stack to drive him. He was a quiet wee driver. I said threatened him but don’t never hit him. He got place after place with him but never won. He was running off long marks and doing not too bad so I whipped him up to Addington and I won with him. I got Paul Hampton (Gavin’s son) to drive him because I thought the horse would know Gavin. I’ve never yelled so loud for a horse.”
At this point Sellers had three of Leyava’s progeny in work with Allan Devery training Zabadak and Stampede. All three horses travelled north together raced that night. It was Derby night at Addington which saw Hilarious Guest beat Portfolio and Mel’s Boy. The previous filly to win the Derby was Bellajily in 1963. Hilarious Guest is he the last filly to win the Derby.
Zabadak finished seventh while Stampede fared better running second.
Profiteer finished his career in March 1982 and commence a short career in the stallion barn.
He sired 35 live foals and left three winners Auburn Profit (6 wins), He’s A Gun (5 wins) and The Developer (2 wins).
“He was never going to get a lot of mares because he was a cheat but a very fast one.”
Socialite (Armbro Del) was the mare’s next foal. She was unraced.
Zabadak (Nevele Bigshot) was next. He qualified and raced from the Henry Skinner stable.
He won five races for Skinner including an impressive double at Wyndham in March 1981 culminating in the 3200 metre Wyndham Cup.
“Peter Davis drove him. Henry drove him to win on the first day but he decided to drive another horse in the stable (Eden’s Joy off 40 metres 6th). Peter took him straight to the front and donkey licked them (4 ½ lengths in 4-11.0 over 3200 metres on slushy track). At the time it was a Southland record.”
At the end of that season Henry Skinner decided that he wasn’t going to carry on training.
“Allan Devery phone me and said would you consider sending Zabadak to me I’m getting a bit more serious about training professionally. I said yes as long as you take another horse called Stampede. Henry had qualified Stampede. Alan wasn’t very sure about it. So he was talking to Brendon Fahy a good friend of mine. He said Brendon do you know anything about this horse called Stampede. Brendon said to Alan look if Zabadak wins four races for you next season this fella will win seven. So Allan took him.”
It was the start of a very fruitful relationship between owner and trainer.
“Allan was an outstanding conditioner and trainer and he won the next seven races with him. He won all eleven races with Stampede.”
One race that remains in Sellars memory was the day Zabadak won at the Canterbury Park Trotting Club meeting in January 1983.
“He tried to kick Gavin out at the start. It was a mile race. He decided that they weren’t going fast enough in the lead up and he started bucking and kicking. He was kicking himself right out the back by five and six lengths. He settled down. He caught the field and Gavin who could be pretty severe when he wanted decided to be sent him around the field at the half. He beat the likes of Hands Down. That’s the sort of horse he was. On his day he could beat anything.”
He finished his career in 1985 with a record of eleven wins from 64 starts banking $53,325 in stakes. His most important wins were in the Firestone Cavillino Stakes. He ran second in a qualifying heat of the Interdominions, second in The Radio 3ZB FFA, and the Group Two White Heron Travel Lodge FFA.
This younger brother Stampede had also finished his racing career at that point and had embarked on a career as a stallion.
His career record also included eleven wins and he won $55,665. He won a Group Two First Pace Consolation and finished second in the Kaikoura Cup and third in a Easter Cup.
“I was keen for him to have that chance. He was a beautiful horse with a lovely nature. He had arthritic knees which restricted him a little bit. I was always a fan of the U Scott blood and of course Young Charles was by U Scott.”
He fashioned a moderate record as a stallion helped by two quality well performed horses in Defoe and Stands To Reason.
Defoe (1-53 TT AUS) the winner of eleven races including the 1990 Lion Red Mile in Auckland. He ran second in the NZ Messenger, second in a Interdominion Heat in Auckland in 1991, third in the 1990 Fosters Australian Pacing Championships, third in the 1990 Miracle Mile, second in the 1991 Miracle Mile third in the $100,000 Italian Cup behind Westburn Grant and Thorate.
Stands To Reason recorded six wins.
“At the height of his career he (Stampede) had 194 mares. It was the season when Defoe had won Taylor Mile and was dead unlucky not to win the Messenger and Brendon Fahy’s horse Stands To Reason won the $150,000 Sires Stakes Final in Auckland (1990).”
Post Stampede Leyava had he last two foals both fillies Saligna (Lumber Dream) and Sakina (Son Of Afella) and that’s where the relationship with Brian West began.
Sakina trained by Ron and Charlie MacDonald recording two second and 1 third from seven starts.
“We had a few mares. Brian suggested that he would take them all up there and look after the stud side of it and prepared the progeny for sale. It never worked out that great. I can’t blame Brian as he used good sires. It was one of these breeds that seem to mix better with sires like Nevele Bigshot Hundred Proof and Canny Scott.”
One of the mare West took over from Sellars was Lady Megan (Lordship – Socialite).
“She won her first start and put up a Southland record. She got very nervous and used to shake herself to pieces on race days.”
She left Full Strength (1-57.9) and At Your Service (1-52.0 USA).
In February 1986 Sellers received one of the biggest offers for any of his horses and both were unraced Saligna and Sapele.
“She (Sapele) was trained by the Lees. She was about to go to the trials and I was approached by Paul Davies on behalf of John Curtin to see whether he could buy my two Lumber Dream mares. He said he’d take both of them. I said no he won’t because I didn’t want to let two Lumber Dream mares go out of this breed. I said I want $100,000 for Saligna (Lumber Dream –Leyava) and $60,000 for Sapele (Lumber Dream – Socialite). He bought the $100,000 one. I send the other one (Sapele) to stud and she died.”
Although the breed has faded there are still a small number of the bloodlines active.
Brian West is breeding from a Mach Three daughter of Susan Who (Butler BG – Socialite)named Titled and has a qualified two year old called His Royal Harness who is trained by Chris McDowell and a Stunin Cullen yearling filly out of Titled.
Flashbang (McArdle- Susan Who) was the winner of two races in New Zealand and two in Australia has a Courage Under Fire two year old filly, a Changeover yearling filly and a filly foal by Auckland Reactor.
Also being breed from Famous Lover (Dream Ahead – Susan Who) who has left Call Me Your (Santanna Blue Chip) the winner of nine races in Australia.
That’s the Leyava story and that’s only half of the tail because of course Pollyapolis’s other filly Va Vite (by Young Bob) has also plenty of upside to her stud career.
She left Largs (Lordship) the dam of Glen Moria (10 wins). She also left handy performers Carlton Hill (Smooth Hanover) 5 wins and his full sister Churnside also 5 wins.
But that another story for another day perhaps.