Tim Butt- the Ongoing Story

Tim Butt- the Ongoing Story

29th July 2020

Bruce Stewart

This story was initiated by my interest in the connection Menangle trainer Tim Butt has to harness racing in southern New Zealand, the way in which My Field Marshal has very much put him back on the Australian Harness map, and the fact that Southland bred pacer Tact Tama looks like his next star.

However, in looking into the background of Tim Butt, the story frame expanded because as a trainer this former Canterbury horseman has forged a remarkable career.

His record in both countries speaks volumes of his ability to pick stock, train to win and target the big races on both sides of the Tasman.

Then there was that remarkable run on the Dominion Handicap when between 1999 and 2011 he won the race as a trainer an incredible eight times, something fellow trainer Mark Jones has been reminded of.

“When I won it the first time (with Master Lavros) he walked past and said ‘Congratulations, seven more to go. And when I won the second time he walked past and said ‘Still six to go’. Cheeky bugger,” said Jones who drove many winners for Butt.

The feats of horses like millionaires Lyell Creek, Flashing Red, Take A Moment and Stunin Cullen are well documented. But when you look at the list of other winners (printed below) a host of very good horses have helped to shape this trainer’s outstanding record. And a handful of these horses came from other stables with Butt reinvigorating their careers – Mah Sish, Report To Duty, Mister DG and Mr Feelgood are examples.

“He’d get horses from other trainers and improve them, which is the sign of a very good trainer,” Jones said.

Camtastic gelding Mister DG won nine races for Manawatu trainer Stephen Doody before Butt secured him.

“We tried to buy him early on. As a seven year old they got an offer to sell him to America because he was on his mark in New Zealand. As a courtesy they rang us. We paid quite a lot of money. He might have won 100 k when we got him and I think he ended up winning 600 grand in four months. One of my big disappointments though was not winning the Interdominions in Perth. He just ran out of track. He got fourth – a short half head and short half head and a short half head behind three great horse, Jofess, The Falcon Strike and Sokyola. Another ten to fifteen metres he would have won it,” said Butt.

Tim also rates Vulcan as another great horse which to some extent lived in the shadows of some of the trainer’s more illustrious trotting stars like Lyell Creek and Take A Moment.

“He won two Jewels. He was a bit underrated. He came along at the wrong time when there were horses like Stig and I Can Doosit. He won five Group One’s in twenty two days.”

That winning streak included a Great Southern Star Heat, Great Southern Star Final, Trotting Grand Prix, The Knight Pistol and New Zealand Trotting Championship.

“That’s unheard of. He still didn’t get trotter of the year which annoyed me a bit, but never mind.”

Winning connections after Vulcan’s Dominion Handicap win – Photo Race Images

Another horse Butt had success with was American bred Grinfromeartoear stallion Mr Feelgood.

“We bought him out of Kentucky. Basically Kevin Seymour wanted a horse for the Interdominions because he was sponsoring it. We sourced a horse through Nifty Norman who was a good friend. We paid $600,000 US but he won it back in his first season.”

Mr Feelgood won thirty nine races, banking $3,336,157. He won the 2009 Interdominions at Albion Park beating Blacks A Fake by half a neck.

Washington VC gelding Report For Duty was another horse Butt trained at the end of it’s racing career. He was developed into a cup horse by Patrick O’Reilly.

“He was a little tradesman. He ran third in two Hunter Cups.”

Tim took Mah Sish to Australia. He won seven races for Ladbrook trainer Dean Taylor before Butt took over the reins.

“Dean developed him and he looked a good horse. Dean didn’t travel that much and we just thought the horse needed to be in those good races in Australia. He nearly won a million dollars. He ran second to Themightyquinn in the Interdominions and won the Hunter Cup.”

Mah Sish was part owned by Greg and Leigh Ayres. Leigh is Derek Jones’ daughter and Tim’s aunt.

The Mach Three gelding ended his career winning fifteen races and $955,165.

The Ayres also had a share in a number of other Butt runners including Raglan, Report For Duty and Elusive Chick.

But there was one budding grand circuit horse that got away; Soky’s Atom gelding Quick Step Bromac which Butt bought off David Butcher.

“He was really promising. He was heading up to Auckland on the float with a real good trotter I had called Sonofadon. We bought him down and he won on Show Day and was just starting to hit his straps. I thought he was my next Cup horse. He hopped on the float and headed north but they rang us from Bulls and said the horse had died of travel sickness. They all had blood tests before they left and they were all perfect.”

Butt began his training career in 1989 with his first winner being Dubois Moss at Nelson in January 1989.

From 1995 he was consistently training over twenty winners a season and his first two good horses Swan Creek and Happy Asset were both winning their first races in that season.

It didn’t take long for Butt to realise there were also good pickings for the right horses in Australia and in 1998 he took a small team across the ditch lead by trotter Novander Whiz.

The Gee Whiz 11 square gaiter won his first start in Australia beating Aussie champion Noopy Kiosk in the McNamara Memorial Trotters Cup at Geelong.

Lord Lester was also part of the team and he won a heat of the Victoria Derby before running third in the Derby won by Holmes DG.

On that same trip Happy Asset ran fourth in The Hunter Cup.

“That was a pretty good first introduction to Australian racing,” Butt said.

From that point he began making regular trips to Australia chasing the big dollars.

“We always like to chase races like the Hunter Cup and the Interdominions. They were special races back in those days. They had a lot of hype. The final of the Interdominion was worth a million dollars when Shakamaker won and Lyell Creek won the mile. Harness racing was pretty big then.”

By 2018 Butt was away from home quite a bit and relocating to Australia became a reality.

“I had to travel a lot when I took Field Marshal to Australia. The way things were transitioning in New Zealand was when you got a good horse you had to spend most of your time in Australia.”

My Field Marshal – Photo Kate Butt

Another reason for Butt relocated to Australia was because he found it was easier to place horses around a fairer handicap system, and there were more weekly race meetings within close proximity to his home base.

“When I came over, the only horse I took over to Australia that would have been competitive in New Zealand was Let It Ride. I think we won 60 odd races in that first year.”

Butt has a 24 horse barn at Menangle which is says is the toughest place he knows to win a race.

“Tact Tama at his second start had to go 1-51 to win so that’s about the level you’re at.”

The Menangle Barn – Photo Kate Butt

He says locally there are around ten to fifteen races meetings where he can race a horse every week and be competitive.

“Very seldom is there a horse in my barn that I can’t take somewhere and win. There’s tracks like Newcastle, Wagga and Dubbo.”

Butt says training from a barn complex without grassy paddocks requires a different mindset.

“I did a lot of homework before I came over. Guys like Chris Waller train from establishments like ours. Most of the successful galloping trainers train from complexes. It’s the same in Honk Kong and Japan.”

Inside the barn – Photo Kate Butt

He says without a doubt the profile he’d developed over the years of successfully winning big races in Australia, helped him procure facilities at Menangle.

“I was lucky with my profile. Every time we had a hit and run mission we were generally pretty successful. We’ve won Group One races in just about every state. You have to apply to get in. I only got a few boxes originally but after being there for sixteen months they built a barn especially for me.”

Butt has three full time staff with his wife Andrea doing all the organising.

“She organises all the horses, the paddocks and washes down. We start at about six, or about five o’clock in the summer. We’re pretty much under control by one o’clock. The boys come back at three and the horses go back on the walker. There are no fences to mend. It a pretty easy lifestyle. We put the float on and we’re at the track in three minutes.”

Andrea and Tim Butt with Flashing Reds New Zealand Cup – Photo Race Images.

Daughter Kate does all the media. She has a degree in Hotel and Business Management and has Fridays off to do any media work like Twitter and Facebook.

“My generation doesn’t understand it so much but I can see the benefits of being in touch with all your owners. We get a lot of good reports back on how we contact them and the photos they get. We use My Stables which is an app that’s pretty easy to work.”

Over the last while Butt says he’s attracted new owners to his barn.

“There’s such a big pool of wealthy owners. In New Zealand you could probably count them on one hand.”

Butt says he’s been lucky that some of his New Zealand owners have stayed with him. He cites Shona and Syd Brown.

“Syd was good friends with my father. Syd’s a great stockman and his horses come up in immaculate condition. He’s got a great breed. He breeds to the best stallions and he looks after his stock so you’re halfway there.”

“Syd still loves his New Zealand racing but sometimes you’ve got to see where the best opportunities lie.”

Another New Zealand owner is Virginia Duncum who has a share in recent Ascot Park winner American Lightning.

He says the style of racing in Australia is different to that in New Zealand and he’s had to change his training regime.

“When I first arrived my horses were staying. At the start they were lost for speed but in the finish they were clawing the ground back again. I had to get them a bit sharper. The kiwis are great conditioners who take a long term view with horses. The Aussies are probably better week to week because they race so much. We’re better at setting a horse for a particular race. Here there’s a $30,000 race every week so you don’t hone your skills in the same way.”

He says another thing that’s different is that many of the products he uses to treat his horses are available at the local Saddlery Store.

“It keeps the cost of things down. For a lot of things in New Zealand you have to go through a vet. Things like iron injections are twenty bucks a shot here. In New Zealand they may be a hundred. I also think with processed feed the trainers in Australia have closed the gap.”

His son Riley is part of the set up and is starting to create his own career in the industry as a driver.

“It’s quite good. He’s had a bit of everything, he’s driven some roughies. He’s got good hands and he can nurse them around but he has to learn the tactics and the aggression and not to be too aggressive. Southland bred and developed Tact Tama’s been good for him because he gives you a bit of power and confidence.”

Riley Butt and Tact Tama – Photo Kate Butt

Butt says Southland has always been a great source of quality bloodstock and he’s continued to buy the right stock out of the province.

“Southland’s such a great breeding ground going back to Son Of Afella and Washington VC. Horses down there are given time to develop. Back then a nice horse could run fourth or fifth. Nowdays a nice horse wins by five or six lengths and everyone wants it. There’s not the depth there was, but there’s still plenty of nice horses that come out of Southland.”

He says he also has a good network of friends around the South Island that are always on the lookout for race horses.

“People like Craig Thornley keep an eye out for me in Christchurch. There are people I prefer to buy off because I know they develop their horses.”

He continues to keep a close eye on the New Zealand racing industry and says that during the Covid19 lockdown NZ had the opportunity to reshape it’s handicap system.

“It’s great to get back racing but with Covid it gave New Zealand a chance to start on a blank page and get the handicap system right. There’s so much more they could do.”

He also says New Zealand owners are treated poorly compared to their Australian counterparts.

“The owner doesn’t get a fair crack. If a horse gets up in the grades too quickly they get exported to Australia. Ideally you want them racing in New Zealand with the owners having the time with them. It’s about making money. It’s trying to get back 80 cents in the dollar or close to it. “

He says there are more options when racing a horse in Australia. “Our (New Zealand) horse population is bigger that Queensland or Perth but they seem to race more often. In New Zealand we trial horses too much. Those horses should be racing. When you’re at the trials there’s no earning capacity.”

One recent purchase from Southland is the Christian Cullen gelding Tact Tama which was bought out of the Winton stable of Trevor Proctor.

“We took a bit of a punt of him. Brent Barclay liked him at the trials when he drove him. We like to buy horses before everyone else is trying to buy them and take a bit of a risk. He’s come up really well. He’s got a good attitude. He’s a lovely laid back horse.”

He also recently purchased another Proctor trained pacer, Tact Tory which is unqualified.

“He was a bit of a punt because he hadn’t done a lot. The same owner that bought Tact Tama bought this one. I liked his breeding. He’s a big sort of guy. He was actually in the yearling sales in Canterbury but was withdrawn because he had bone chips in his hocks which is not a problem.”

He was also interested in buying Tact Fergie – another Proctor trained gelding.

“They’re going to keep this one. I think I’ve given them a little too much money” (for Tact Tama –laughter).

Tact Fergie and Brent Barclay – Photo Bruce Stewart

Another horse heading Butt’s way soon is the Kirk Larsen trained Forsure which is owned by Shona and Syd Brown of Mosgiel.

“We had a stable down in Southland thirty odd years ago so we’ve always had a relationship with Kirk. I trained Honour Bromac to win a couple and I said to him that he should breed from her. He did and she left Howard Bromac.”

Forsure and Kirk Larsen – Photo Bruce Stewart

Forsure’s full-brother My Field Marshal undoubtedly restarted Butt’s career and after showing sensational form at four in New Zealand he developed into a Grand Circuit horse in Australia.

“He’s back in work. He probably put me back on the map after having a quiet time with good horses. This will probably be his last campaign. We’re looking at taking him back to Perth.”

Butt is excited about a young French trotter Holzarte Vedaquais which has just arrived at the barn.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge with Covid and the exchange rate. He got out of quarantine on Wednesday and they closed the Victoria border on Wednesday night but they let the horses through so we were bloody lucky.”

Tim Butt and Holzarte Vedaquais – Photo Kate Butt

The horse was purchased in a joint venture between Aldebaran Park principal Duncan McPherson, well known trotting owner Pat O’Driscoll from Haras des Trotteurs, Greg and Leigh Ayres, Fred Cruz and Sydneysider Bob Jones who bought half the horse.

“Le Trot (French Trotting Organisation) took a group of us up there for ten days. They took us to all the studs and race meetings. I was the only one that bought a horse but I’m sure a lot more will be bought in the future.”

Butt says the young trotter was up with the best two year olds in France.

“You couldn’t get a better horse. I’ve bought French horses before and this one’s streaks ahead of them on credentials.”

And down the track, all going well, Butt would like to bring him to New Zealand.

“It’s a big investment. I want to bring him down to New Zealand if he’s good enough and race in races like the Dominion and the Rowe Cup.”

Another recent purchase is Knockawarwon a full-brother to American star Shartin.

“He’s just a three year old. Craig (Thornley) did the deal for me. I’ve got a few fingers in a few pies and I know what I want. I like to buy horses a bit above average. I don’t go for the middle of the road horses.”

Although Butt doesn’t have a lot of trotters in the stable, one that’s making her mark is Dizzysjet (Quaker Jet filly) which finished second to Elite Stride in the NSW Trotters Derby.

Tim jogging Dizzysjet – Photo Kate Butt

Tim acknowledges that part of his success on both sides of the Tasman is due to his brother Anthony’s driving skills. Anthony drove 535 of his 832 winners.

“Yep Ants was a big part of the stable. He’s a big race driver. Cool, decisive, and he drives with the right amount of aggression.”

Anthony and Tim Butt after Vulcan’s Dominion win – Photo Race Images

Canterbury horseman David Earnshaw was also an integral part of Tim’s operation. He worked for Butt for over 20 years and drove 45 winners from the stable.

“One Cup meeting he ran second in the Dominion with Roydon Flash and third in the Cup driving Tribute.”

Prop Anderson also worked for Butt for over 15 years and travelled around the world with Lyell Creek. Anderson and Butt trained in partnership for four seasons from 2007 to 2011 and notched up 175 wins.

Prop Anderson and Tim Butt with Flashing Red – Photo Race Images

Butt has had numerous success in the past, and it’s clear to see that there’s plenty for him and his family to be getting on with. Plenty of exciting young talent and by the law of averages another star is probably just round the corner. Not that he’s forgets his former champions like Lyell Creek.

“Yep he’s still alive. Mum looks after him. He’s running around in the same paddock as Vulcan.”

Lyell Creek in action – Photo Race Images

Some of the numbers:

  • Won 90 Group races in New Zealand. 39 Group One races, 40 Group Two, 11 Group Three and 14 Listed races.
  • Won 21 Group One races, 9 Group Two, 7 Group Three and 5 Listed races in Australia.
  • Total 127 Group races in Australasia.
  • Trained 4 Rowe Cup winners Lyell Creek (2000, 2001 and 2004) and Take A Moment (2003). Has also owned a Rowe Cup winner in Stig (2013).
  • This season so far he’s trained 56 winners in Australia for stake earnings of $540,666 and currently sits in eighth position in the highly competitive NSW premiership.
  • Current Australian Grand Circuit Trotting Master as the leading trainer of Grand Circuit trotters between 2000 and 2019.
  • His leading trotters on the Grand Circuit were Lyell Creek in 2000 and 2001, Take A Moment in 2003 and 2004, Lyell Creek in 2005, Mountbatten in 2008 and Vulcan in 2013.

Butt has won 8 Dominion Handicaps as a trainer.

  • 1999 (Lyell Creek)
  • 2000 (Lyell Creek)
  • 2001 (Take A Moment)
  • 2002 (Take A Moment – Dead heated with Martina H)
  • 2003 (Take A Moment)
  • 2004 (Lyell Creek)
  • 2007 (Mountbatten)
  • 2011 (Vulcan)

NB: He also had a share in 2008 winner Stig.

  • Won New Zealand Trotting Cup twice with Flashing Red
  • Took out the Interdominion Trotting Championship three times with Take A Moment (2001 and 2003) and Lyell Creek (2000).
  • Won Interdominion Pacers Championship with Mr Feelgood in 2009.
  • Won Auckland Cup with Happy Asset (1999) and Flashing Red (2007).
  • First Group win was with Lord Lester in the 1997 Group Two Members Golden Mile at Thames beating Holmes DG by a neck.
  • First Group One win was with Lyell Creek in the 1999 Dominion Handicap at Addington.
  • Best New Zealand season as a trainer was in 2005 when he trained 60 winners second only to Geoff Small who trained 82. In that season he trained horses like Foreal, Take A Moment, Tuherbs, Tribute, Lyell Creek and Mister DG.
  • Trained 832 winners in New Zealand; 648 on his own account, 175 with Prop Anderson and 9 with Jonny Cox.
  • Of the 832 winners Tim trained in New Zealand, 535 were driven by brother Anthony, 45 David Earnshaw, 28 Mark Jones, 23 Dexter Dunn, 23 Blair Orange, and 21 by Kim Butt.
  • Trained three Hunter Cup winners: 2012 Choise Achiever, Mister DG 2004 and Mah Sish 2013.
  • Miracle Mile winner: 2018 My Field Marshal.
  • Winner of the Blacks A Fake: 2018 Let It Ride.
  • NSW Breeders Four Year Old Challenge: Let It Ride:

Millionaires while under Butt’s care:

  • Lyell Creek 113-56-15-11 $2,961,137
  • Stunin Cullen 42-18-4-2 $1,493,716
  • My Field Marshal 75-29-18-7 $1,492.582
  • Take A Moment 67-39-9-3 $1,164,356
  • Flashing Red 16-6-3-2 $1,065,988.38
  • Vulcan 127-20-20-11 $1,025,892

Other big winners for Butt are (hopefully I’ve got them all!!):

  • Foreal (18)
  • Tribute (16)
  • Happy Asset (14)
  • Choise Achiever (13)
  • Raglan (13)
  • Pocket Me (13)
  • Elusive Chick (13)
  • The Flyin Doctor (12)
  • Novander Whiz (11)
  • Cam Before The Storm (11)
  • Roydon Flash (11)
  • Mister DG (11 and $704,233,.05)
  • Let It Ride (9)
  • Cullen’s Creek (9)
  • Tuherbs (9)
  • All Talk (9)
  • Theaneson (9)
  • Eastnor Lad (9)
  • Hilarity Lobell (9)
  • Mountbatten (8)
  • Greenburn Creek (8)
  • Ray (8)
  • Mah Sish (8)
  • Centreofattention (8)
  • Novander Whiz (8)
  • Swan Creek (8)
  • Red Tip Governor (7)
  • Another Moment (7)
  • The Big Mach (7)
  • Astral Traveller (7)
  • Smart Seeker (7)
  • Hostile Grins (7)
  • Hanovander (6)
  • The Sniper (6)
  • Jungle Jane (6)
  • Lord Lester (6)
  • Genius (6)
  • Lota Speed (6)
  • Dudinka’s Cullen (6)
  • Report For Duty (4 and $407,373.52)
  • Mr Feelgood (4 and $896,487.00)