The Southern Harness Racing community and the Southern district in general, has lost a very much loved figure with the death earlier this week of Father Dan Cummings.
This was a hard story to start, but having spoken to a host of people who knew Fr Dan well, I’ve been given an insight into this man and feel privileged to be able to reflect that to many who will have known him and valued him. He was a loved family member, priest, and good mate.
There’s a lot I didn’t know about, particularly Dan’s life outside of the harness breeding and racing world, but luckily plenty of people have been able to fill in some of the gap, not least of these his sister Julie.
Father Dan attended St Kevin’s College in Oamaru as a boarder and upon leaving school, he went home to work on the family farm at Lawrence, before heading to Mosgiel to begin his training for the priesthood.
Julie said “He was very close to Mum. She started working on breeding thoroughbreds which he enjoyed and continued (with it) quietly as he continued his training.”
Dan had also developed a great love for rodeo, especially calf roping and bulldoging. Training for the priesthood didn’t put a damper on competing; he won numerous titles in the late ‘60s, ‘70s and early 1980’s.
“He had a tin calf set up out the back of the Seminary, as local Mosgiel people will tell you, so he could practice his calf roping,” said Julie.
Follow rodeo competitor Pat McCarthy of Chatto Creek in Central Otago remembers those early days well.
“The first trip I can remember with Danny was that I picked him up after the Millers Flat Rodeo and we drove to Waimate. We had one hell of a trip. We sang songs and laughed the whole way. Just the two of us for the best part of five hours.”
He also fondly remembers Dan’s ability to improvise in the days when saddles weren’t tailor-made for rodeo events.
“There weren’t many western saddles round in those days. Danny had an old stock saddle -not sure whether it was an Australian breaker or what it was. There was no horn on the front so Danny had a bolt stuck in the pommel. He had it braced back round the seat of the saddle. It was really quite something. Danny used to practice in it. Most people wouldn’t have even got into the saddle let alone trying to rope in it.”
In the rodeo world there were road trips, banter in abundance and loads of laughs.
Pat continued, “I always associate Danny with the Waimate Rodeo because we used to have a hell of a party at Johnsons Pub. Bill Johnson was a great friend of Danny’s. I remember one night we were in the pub and I said to Danny ‘We should sue you because you married me and you married Bill and none of them turned out.’ You could say things like that to Danny.”
Dan also had a few party tricks back in those early days.
“Danny was a hell of a gymnast and he kept himself in real good shape. He used to have an act he’d put on in the pub where he’d get up on his hands with his feet in the air and walk along the bar. He was a hard thing and he loved a good time.”
McCarthy says he had a deep respect for his follow rider.
“Before he went away and became a priest he did a bit of living which a lot of these clergymen didn’t do, so he could relate to anything. I was telling someone the other day ‘If every priest or Preacher was like Danny Cummings, religion would be totally different.”
Outside of competing he was also the Secretary of the Outram Rodeo Club for thirteen years and Mid-Canterbury horse trainer Simon Adlam remembers him turning up at his stables proudly wearing the Club’s logo.
“He used to rock in here on his way to Christchurch wearing a pair of jeans, a denim shirt with Outram Rodeo on it and a red, white and green Tamizhan cap like the old timers used to wear. I use to say to people that were here, that they better watch themselves because a priest has just turned up,” Adlam said.
As a Catholic Priest in the Otago Diocese he spent some time in many parishes, including St Bernadette’s (Forbury – handy to the race track), Mornington, St Mary’s Kaikorai, Port Chalmers and latterly at St Thomas Aquinas in Winton.
“Training to become a priest takes seven years but Danny took two years off in the middle to study for an MA at Otago University,” Julie said.
Cummings was in Port Charmers during the 1990 Aramoana Massacre when thirteen people were killed including local policeman Stewart Guthrie.
“At that time he was also a Police Chaplain because as a priest they all have other wee jobs. He was very close to Stu and his wife.”
Other roles that Dan held included being Hospital Chaplin, and he was in charge of Catholic Education in Otago.
Father Dan also spent ten years at the Winton Parish of St Thomas Aquinas where he was able to continue training his pacers which were stabled at Derek Dynes stables.
“He loved it down there. He had fond memories of being able to train with Derek. He got very involved with music for the church, while at Winton. He loved the technical challenge of setting up speakers and sound systems,” Julie said.
Dynes son in law Trevor Proctor says although pedigrees were talked about regularly, there was always plenty of other chat.
“They used to talk about religion and the other religion (the horses). It used to blow my mind when they talked about breeding. They’d go back years and years. It was unbelievable just listening to them,” he said.
Dan held an Open Drivers licence for twenty five seasons. He recorded his only ever win driving Tact Hayley Jane for Dynes at the Wairio meeting in December 2004.
“He said ‘I don’t think Derek wanted to win the race so that’s why he put me on.’ He said ‘I drew one on the second line and the horse that drew one (on the front) lead all the way. I think I messed it up for him,” Proctor recalls.
And the following day spirits were high at St Thomas Aquinas.
“When he won that race Dianne and I got a photo of the win, presented it to him, and it was hung in the church at Winton. On the Sunday after the races he joked that there were more losing tickets on his drive than there was money in the plate.”
And Proctor said Dynes was always under pressure to head to church but that was something Dan never quite achieved until the very end.
In referring to this, Brent McIntyre from Macca Lodge said “When he was at Winton one of the O’Reilly boys rang Derek and said ‘He’ll get you, he’ll have you going to church every Sunday.’ Old Derek used to say the only way they’ll get me in the church is if they carry me in.”
Simon Adlam continued the story – “When Derek passed away, Father Dan took the service.
“At Derek’s funeral in Winton the first thing Father Dan said was ‘I finally got ya.”
As a priest Dan was required to take a number of sabbaticals and one was to England where he was to stay for nine months, attending a university studying a theological paper, the last three months though were spent at a racing stable In France.
Julie said “He didn’t see the need to sit the exam because it wasn’t going to mean anything. So he went to a racing stable in France which he thoroughly enjoyed. He didn’t speak much French so there was a barrier there, but I remember him saying ‘If they give me a grooming brush and a hoof pick I’ll know what they’re saying.’ He was basically the boy. I think he got to sit in the cart a couple of times.
As a trainer Father Dan held a training licence for twenty nine years, training seven winners including Petra Star and Maureens Dream. Maureen’s Dream was his first winner at the Tuapeka Meeting at Forbury Park in November 1984.
Julie says in his later years Dan returned to live at Lawrence on the home farm, and together with Peter, got great satisfaction in breaking in and training the fillies that the lodge kept and in particular seeing Bonnie Joan perform at the highest level.
“He got a huge thrill out of Bonnie. Although rodeo and racing were secondary to his priesthood, in the last few years he’s really enjoyed training the horses. He got a great thrill training two and three year old winners Notaword and Tuapeka Jessie. He never boasted but I think he was quite proud of that.”
Notaword won as a two year old at Forbury Park in July 2018 and in November 2019 Tuapeka Jessie won at the same venue as a three year old.
Notaword in America – Photo supplied – John Curtin
West Otago breeder and trainer John Stiven said when it came to training, one of Cumming’s pet subjects was horses tying up.
“He often told me that when he was training from Forbury Park where the horses never got out to grass, he never had any problems with tie ups. When he was at Winton and Lawrence they did. He’s been extremely helpful to me in sorting out Countess Of Arden. He analysed the blood tests we had on her in a totally different way.”
Tuapeka Lodge Stud was established in 1965 and since 1977 has been run by Dan, his brother Peter and his sister Julie.
“Dan was very aware that it had to pay for itself which it has done over the fifty plus years it’s been operating,” Julie said.
Dan, who oversaw the preparation of the stud’s yearlings for the National Sale in Christchurch was a pioneer when it came to publicity using the internet and he was the first to introduce videos for prospective buyers to view.
“He liked to push the boundaries by making the videos for Tuapeka Lodge and being the first. He filmed and edited them all himself. He was way ahead of his time. It must be twenty years ago that we started making those videos. He would ride my horse and lead the yearling and we would video it so the people could see the legs and the feet of the horse as they were trotting. He loved the challenge of doing that,” Julie said.
Over the years Father Dan has built very strong relationships with a number of people. Perhaps one of the longest is with fellow breeder Brian West who met the Cummings family forty years ago through a work colleague who owned a farm next to Tuapeka Lodge.
In 1985 West tried to buy Tuapeka Kay (Smooth Fella – Tuapeka Star) from the Cummings as a foal.
“It didn’t happen and we had to buy her at the Sales. So that’s when my connection with the Tuapeka horses began and I met Dan after that.”
West says Cummings had a vast knowledge of Standardbred pedigree.
“He was a star really. We literally spent thousands of hours talking about what was happening overseas. This of course was way before semen transport and shuttle stallions. We had second rate stallions coming here because at that time racing was thriving in North America. It was very expensive compared to here. On one of my early trips over there horses were grazing on a farm at $12.00 US a day and here it was $1 a day. That gives you a comparison as to where we were in terms of money and strength. In the States the old boys looked after what went on and they looked after their own interests first. That’s why it was so difficult to get stallions to shuttle down under. I mean, who would breed today to an unraced stallion like Vance Hanover. He wouldn’t get a shot especially now days when there’s only about 2000 mares being bred from,” West said.
West and Fr Dan enjoyed some trips overseas together, one a month long to North America and Canada with bloodstock agent John Curtin.
“We realised during the trip that we were way behind in regards to pedigrees. It was also a great learning exercise for Dan and I because we found out what the American farms were feeding their foals to grow them into good strong yearlings. Nobody here had any idea of what we should be feeding young horses in those early days.”
West and Cummings also had a close association at Sale time where their yearling were boxed side by side in the same barn for many years.
“In 2008 we actually prepared the yearlings for Tuapeka because Julie and Lew’s farm at Mosgiel where the horses were being prepped was flooded out.”
West vividly recalls one standout yearling in the draft that year.
“When the yearlings arrived here there was one absolute standout so I phoned Dan and asked him how much he had that yearling insured for. He said $50,000. I told him he should double it. The horse (Tuapeka Mariner) sold for $250,000 so it was a wonderful experience going through that with him as well.”
West, Father Dan and Braeden and Caroline Whitelock spent lots of time together.
“We did a lot of stuff outside the horse world but we always gravitated back to the horses, pedigrees and families.”
After trying for a few years, West finally convinced Dan to go with himself and the Whitelocks to the Breeders Crown in Australia.
Fr Dan’s connection with Braeden and Caroline Whitelock who live in the Manawatu, goes back a long way, in fact horse wise, right back to the early 1900’s.
It transpires that Braeden’s great great grandfather George Craw owned a horse called Nelson Derby which won the 1915 Great Northern Derby. Unfortunately due to the depression Craw had to sell the horse which ultimately went on to win the 1925 Auckland Cup, but for his new owner.
As a sire Nelson Derby sired Single Star which was the grand dam of Hindu Star. Hindu Star’s third foal was Sakuntala (Armbro Del) and co-incidentally Dan’s parents Cliff and Joan bought her in 1974.
“When Caroline and I got married we went to see Dan at the Catholic Presbytery in Dunedin. We’d never met him before but we asked him if we could buy a filly. It didn’t come to anything but Dan rang us later and said Tuapeka Star was for sale. Ivan Harris had bought the filly off him a few years before but she hadn’t had a foal for three years,” said Braeden.
Subsequently the Whitelocks bought Tuapeka Star and have had great success with the family. She left Braeside Star the grand dam of O Baby which won four Group One races.
“We’ve been good friends since. We’ve talked about horses, breeding, and life around many things. He’s (Fr Dan) remarkable to me because he put other people first. He’s done that in his work and his life and hasn’t bothered about material things. His priority has always been the people, their hardships and how he can support them.” I get
Whitelock says it was Fr Dan who came up with the idea of a horse trek as a way of supporting well known Christchurch vet Bill Bishop and his wife Helen when they lost their house to a fire.
“We got a group of twenty people and trekked from Hawarden to Hanmer Springs over three days, staying in woolsheds. We ended up with a priest, a vet and a couple of Americans. It was great.”
“Dan rang one day and said he was a bit bored. I told him that wasn’t a problem.”
Braeden purchased Avana which was bought at the 2019 Yearling Sales, and the Cummings took a half share.
Dan broke Avana in and worked her up before sending her to Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen at Rolleston where she’s currently in work.
Mid Canterbury trainer Simon Adlam has also been a big part of Fr Dan’s life, having trained many Tuapeka horses – the first being Tuapeka Wings in 2004.
Their association began on the recommendation of Derek Dynes who spent some time in Mid Canterbury training horses down the road from Robert Cameron whom Adlam worked for.
“Dan (asked) Derek when they were both down in Winton if he knew a guy called Simon Adlam. Derek said yeah yeah he’s alright, he’s one of you lot, meaning that I was a Catholic,” said Adlam.
Tuapeka Lodge started sending some of it’s race mares north to Adlam. “Often I’d race them through the winter, time trial them and send them back to become broodmares.”
Adlam trained good mares Raindowne and Wave Runner for Tuapeka, and with his family he visited Lawrence on a number of occasions.
“We called in to see him not long after he’d shifted back to the farm and we took the kids down there because they were educated at a Catholic school. They couldn’t believe a priest could train and would ride horses around a farm.
He always had an interest in the kids. This year Caitlin prepared a yearling for the sales and he came over and gave her a few pointers on how to lead the horse round the ring.”
Adlam looked forward to getting a call from Dan every fortnight.
“He knew what was happening breeding wise and what was going on in America. He was just brilliant.”
For the last ten years Macca Lodge has looked after the Tuapeka Lodge broodmares in the spring. After the foals are born and the mares are served they all return to Lawrence. Stud master Brent McIntyre says he always enjoyed visits from Father Dan.
“Dan was a straight shooter. He was a great thinker when it came to breeding. He’s done it for a long time so he was an interesting guy to have a yarn too. He would often think outside the square,” he said.
McIntyre’s association with Tuapeka Lodge began in the early 2000s when he purchased Jamie (Albert Albert – Tuapeka Tango). Her pedigree goes back to Lumber Dream mare Mains Lady which is another family the Lodge has had great success with.
“Both sides of their breed have done a hell of a job. There’s always been a superstar. The family has done a great job in making sure it’s gone ahead.”
McIntyre says Dan had a special way with the mares and foals.
“He was a great man to come round and inspect his foals especially in the first two weeks when (the mares) are really protective of their foals. But with Dan he’d just walk out in the paddock and say ‘woo stand’ and walk round them and inspect them. It was unreal. He’s the only guy I’ve seen doing that. He must have had a few old rodeo tricks up his sleeve.”
However, according to Julie there was one mare he never quite mastered;
“Maureens Dream. She was a very strong willed mare. For the ten or so foals she had she would chase the stud master out of the paddock. I remember she was at Peter Cowan’s at Mosgiel once. We told Peter not to go in there but he thought he’d go in on a bike. Well she chased the bike, he dumped it, jumped the fence and she kicked the bike. I remember going with Danny to Wai Eyre and he thought he was cocky enough to walk up to her but he didn’t go too close. So Brent may be right with most mares but not with Maureens Dream,” she said.
One of the South’s great successes has been the Southern Bred Southern Reared group of breeders who collaborate to promote southern yearlings that have been prepared for the National Sales in Christchurch. McIntyre says Dan was an integral part of that group.
“He going to be missed. He was like the wise old owl. Everyone would be away on a tangent and he would bring them back into line. He had a deep respect.”
John and Judy Stiven from Arden Lodge in West Otago also had a close relationship with Father Dan.
“We’re really going to miss him at Arden Lodge because when he was down this way he’d would call us from the ‘Koi (Waikoikoi) and say ‘I’m fifteen minutes away, get the billy on.’ “He liked Judy’s baking. He would have a yarn about this and that and then say he needed to get going,” Stiven said.
Father Dan at Arden Lodge – Photo Judy Stiven
John was one of the founders of Southern Bred Southern Reared and he said initially Dan wasn’t part of the group, but once he joined he really enjoyed the company.
“He enjoyed working with a positive group. His experience doing banners on the website was great for us but he still liked to have his Tuapeka Lodge banners up first, and he’d always remind us of the extra hits his site got. One of his strengths was to listen and then sum up on everything that had been said. I guess he learn that by being in the Priesthood. He’ll be greatly missed by SBSR.”
Over the last few years Tuapeka Lodge has reduced the numbers of mares the stud breeds, and Bloodstock agent John Curtin recently sold their last three race horses.
The Stud is the longest continuous vendor at the National Sales in Christchurch and over its fifty five years of operation it produced an incredible ten sales toppers.
- 1977: Columbus (Bachelor Hanover – Sakuntala colt) $26,000
- 1979: Young Tala (Young Charles – Sakuntala colt) $20,000
- 1985: Tuapeka Direct (Smooth Fella – Sakuntala colt) $81,000
- 1987: Tuapeka Kay (Sooth Fella – Tuapeka Star filly) $180,000
- 1990: Ermis (Smooth Fella – Tuapeka Star colt) $34,000
- 1991: Kokona (Vance Hanover – Maureen’s Dream filly) $25,000
- 1993: Urrain (Vance Hanover – Marsa Star colt) $85,000
- 1994: Iraklis (Vance Hanover –Tuapeka Star colt) $88,000
- 1999: Lavros Harrier (Falcon Seelster – Marsa Star colt) $170,000
- 2008: Tuapeka Mariner (Christian Cullen-Seamoon colt) $250,000
“He got a huge delight out of seeing them well presented and well behaved,” Julie said of Dan who prepared most of the Tuapeka yearlings.
Sakuntala (Armbro Del – Hindu Star) bought by Dan’s parents Cliff and Joan in 1974 from Templeton breeder Ted Graham was certainly the backbone to the stud’s success.
Julie says Dan got a great thrill out of watching the many yearlings he prepared turn into outstanding racehorses.
However in later years it was Bonnie Joan that held a special place for him.
The Somebeachsomewhere mare won ten races; seven as a three year old and she earned $210,464. One of the most satisfying wins for the family was her winning of the 2017 Southland Oaks Final.
Bonnie Joan and Dexter Dunn after winning the 2017 Southland Oaks -Photo Bruce Stewart.
Julie Davie, Peter Cummings, Dan Cummings, Brent McIntyre, Sheree McIntyre and Jed Mooar – Photo Bruce Stewart
Dan said after the win, “Even when she qualified on the grass at Balfour she seemed to be stronger. She’s got a great cruising speed and looks relaxed. The other feature she’s got is gait speed, and she doesn’t have to grind to get to the front. She seems to be able to do it, and then they leave her alone which is great.”
“She’s the best filly we’ve raced in our own name,” he added.
Dan was able to see Bonnie Joan’s first foal after he was born at Macca Lodge, and Julie said when the colt came home to the farm he was right proud.
“He’s a cracker, just stunning and Danny was very very proud of him. I’m not on the farm, but he rang me and said the colt was a real beaut. He’ll probably be called Tuapeka Dan but we haven’t done that yet,” she said.
Dan loved a feed of oysters and he loved to go skiing with the family.
“Dan, Chris, Peter and Jim (their brothers) did like to go fast.”
In his last days Fr Dan had many visitors. Along with other friends, the committee of Southern Bred Southern Reared called into the Lodge to say their goodbyes to him as did Brian West and the Whitelocks.
“People round New Zealand came to see him in the end. They all had to go and see his foals. He was pretty proud of them,” said Julie.
“Caroline, Brian West and I and a few other friends were lucky enough to go and see him a few weeks ago and spend the weekend with him. It was a very unique time to spend with him, just before the lockdown,” said Braeden Whitelock.
“It was extremely difficult saying goodbye to him. He was just a lovely kind generous man.” said West.
People from all around New Zealand are sad to say goodbye to Dan Cummings. He had a wonderful presence, and he made his mark in the best possible way on all those he encountered, no matter what the circumstances.
We were all very fortunate to know him. Rest in peace Father Dan.
‘The complete and utter history’ of Monty Python
Saturday 4th April 2020
“He was a nice horse from day dot. He always had ability, was nice to work with and had a good all round game.” This is how trainer Phil Williamson summed up the career of recently retired open class trotter Monty Python when spoken to today.
The veteran of 119 starts has been a great example of trotting longevity, racing over eight seasons for Williamson and The Griffins Syndicate.
“He hasn’t had a single injury as I can recall, and he retired sound, and he’s running round like a gazelle.”
Over eight seasons of racing the Pegasus Spur gelding earned a tick over $300,000.
“He probably wasn’t a star but ran against some stars and he beat a lot of them on occasions.”
I asked Williamson what Monty Python’s career highlights were for him.
“His Group One efforts for third in two Dominions and second in a Rowe Cup. I think being three quarters of a lengths behind Speeding Spur – that was a terrific effort considering he didn’t like the Auckland way round.”
The ten year old has been retired to a large dairy farm south of Oamaru, twenty minutes from the Williamson stable.
“He’s on a nice big farm and with a farmer that has two or three other horses. He was galloping round the hill as we let him go on a 100 acre block so he’s got the good life. Being on a dairy farm he’ll have good pasture. Whether they try to get on him to ride remains to be seen. He’ll probably be fine with that as he’s a big strong horse.”
Monty Python winning the Southern Lights 2017
Williamson has a half-brother to Monty Python in the stable. He’s a three year old by Quaker Jet and he too is owned by the Griffins Syndicate along with the Seafield Trotting Syndicate.
“He’s a very big horse needing time. He’ll win races but he’s not of the same quality of Monty Python. He’s okay though.”
Williamson says the Griffins Syndicate has been one of the luckiest syndicates he knows.
“They’ve had a run of pretty nice horses. They’ve been blessed alright.”
“Monty’s” fact sheet
Monty Python: 2009 bay gelding by Pegasus Spur fourth foal out of Juliana (Sundon)
Born: 13th December 2009
Breeders: Keith and Bevan Grice
Lessee: Griffins Syndicate, R I McIntosh, G L McIntyre (as at 24-12-2019)
Trainer: Phil Williamson
Qualified: Oamaru 8th September 2012 winning by two lengths.
Lifetime record: 119-15-17-21 $300,592
Wins: New Zealand (12) and Australia (3)
Biggest paydays: 2018 Rowe Cup –second ($25,500), 2017 Dominion Handicap – third ($20,590) and 2019 Dominion Handicap – third ($20,590)
First win: Winton 27th February 2013
Last win: Gore 8th February 2020
Biggest winning streak (4): November 2014 – January 2015.
Biggest season: 2019 39-6-1-9 $161,604
Biggest winning margins: Ascot Park – August 2015 (nine and half lengths), Ascot Park -November 2014 (nine and a quarter lengths), and Winton February 2013 (six lengths- first win)
Biggest handicap win: (55 metres) Gore February 2020 (last win)
Winning drivers: Brad Williamson (8), Matty Williamson (6), Chris Alford (3) and Gavin Laing (1)
Group wins and placings New Zealand:
- 3rd 2016 Group Three Summer Trotting FFA at Addington
- 1st 2017 Group Three Southern Light at Ascot Park
- 3rd 2017 Group Three DG Jones Memorial at Bank Peninsula
- 3rd 2017 Group One Dominion Handicap at Addington
- 2nd 2018 Group One Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park
- 2nd 2018 Group Three DG Jones Memorial at Banks Peninsula
- 3rd 2019 Group One Dominion Handicap at Addington
Groups wins and placings Australia
- 3rd 2018 Group One Interdominion Trotting Championship at Melton
- 3rd 2019 Group Three Cobram Trotters Cup
- 3rd 2019 Group Two South Australian Trotters Cup
- 1st 2019 Group Three Cranbourne Trotters Cup
- 1st 2019 Group Three Horsham Trotters Cup
Ascot Park and Southland Track Records:
- Ascot Park: 2700 metre stand for four year old and older entires and geldings (3-26.3) 30th January 2016.
- Ascot Park: 3200 metre stand for four year old and older entires and geldings (4-06.6) 12th March 2017.
Best tracks by wins:
- Addington (5)
- Ascot Park (4)
- Winton, Gore and Omakau (1 at each)
Monty Python winning his last race at Gore earlier this season
Training in a Covid19 lockdown
Saturday 4th April 2020
Like all Harness Racing trainers, Phil Williamson of Oamaru is in a holding pattern at the moment – just waiting for Covid19 to get to a stage where racing can resume.
“We’re in jog mode. Some horses have had some time off and we’ve carried on through with others with the hope that when they make a decision to get back to racing we won’t be too far off,” he said.
Stable star Ultimate Stride is one horse Williamson is keen to get back to the races.
“He’s not quite ready to race but if they race in May or June he’ll be ready.”
In his first season of racing as a two year old Ultimate Stride won on both sides of the Tasman, claiming stakes of close to $150,000.
Ultimate Stride on Harness Jewels Day 2019 – Photo Bruce Stewart
“He’s come up great. He’s a quality horse and it’ll be exciting to have him back racing. I’ve heard the Sires Stakes races (for horses that are now two and three years old) will be held in the new season, which will be exciting. We’ll definitely be there with Ultimate Stride and Leaf Stride (Love You – Sun Mist) if they have those kinds of races.”
Leaf Stride – Photo Bruce Stewart
The stable’s open class trotter Majestic Man is also being jogged. He’s proved to be particularly good at racing right handed and he’s missed racing in some of the richest trotting races in Auckland at the end of the season.
“He’s in the same holding pattern. He was going to go to Auckland for the Rowe and Anzac Cups but obviously they’ve been shelved. He’s in light work and just waiting on the green light as we are with our whole team.”
Williamson says one of the stable’s main challenges is proving to be the lack of availability of a blacksmith.
“My blacksmith comes from the other side of the Waitaki Bridge which is deemed outside of our region. So he can’t come across; but it’s also deemed not to be essential. They (MPI) say you can work horses with no shoes on. You can to a degree, but when you’re working on grit tracks you’ll have no feet left after a certain amount of time.”
Williamson says he’s talked to HRNZ about the issue.
“I can’t get going without my blacksmith. I can only get so far into jogging without shoes before I have to stop. It’s a problem for me because there are three blacksmiths in the area and they’re all across the river.”
Hopefully HRNZ will have some luck in convincing MPI that shoeing horses is a essential service.
It’s the End Of The Season – But Not As We Know It.
Saturday 4th April 2020
HRNZ Chief Executive Peter Jensen is cautiously optimistic that harness racing could resume later this season, but he fully understands that the Covid19 situation changes by the day.
“We’re looking at resuming racing at the end of May or the beginning of June but that’s very much subject to the alert level status. I’m very keen to give people some certainty but it’s very difficult to do in such a changing environment,” he said.
Under Covid19 restrictions Jensen says HRNZ has made the decision to limit racing when it resumes, on a regional basis. He says how that looks will be communicated over the next week.
“So there won’t be licensee movement between those regions. I read today that we may come out of Alert Level 4 on a regional basis so obviously we want to maximise the opportunity to race, but taking a regional approach.”
Jensen said the regional plan hasn’t been completely finalised yet.
“What I can tell you is that we’ll only be racing on one course in Southland. It’s not 100% confirmed but that’s likely to be Ascot Park.”
Jensen says that whilst it’s likely that horses will be able to move between regions to race, for example Southland horses could to travel to Canterbury, trainers and drivers would not.
He says HRNZ Handicapper Andrew Morris is currently working with the Regional Racing Managers to assess how many horses are still in racing stables and/or are on the active list.
“We’re just getting a sense of what decisions they’ve made about their teams. If we were for example to resume at the end of May, what sort of horse numbers will we have? This information will allow us to know what sort and how many races we can schedule to maximise the horses for wagering.”
Jensen says that when racing does return it will have to be done cost effectively.
“That decision will be made in conjunction with RITA but you’ve got to understand there are venue services costs and club costs that don’t vary much whether you run five or ten races. So the challenge for us is to make it cost effective.”
Jensen says from feedback he’s received from trainers, a reasonable number of horses remain in work.
“I saw a note today from a trainer saying he’d turned out his team that were ready to race for ten days but he was keeping the other horses ticking over. I think that’s the sort of approach we’ll see from a number of trainers. That’s why we’re saying we probably won’t be racing until the end of May because we know we just can’t turn the tap on.”
Jensen says that all the meetings scheduled for the rest of the season have been scrapped.
“We’ll rework the calendar from when racing resumes until probably the end of September. The focus will be on two things; maximising the opportunities for horses to race, and maximising the wagering opportunities.”
Jensen says its HRNZ intent to race the end of the season Sires Stakes races early in the new season, but this too is yet to be finalised.
Return to Racing
(15th April 2020)
There’s been lots of zoom catch-ups over the past few weeks with plenty of talk about how harness racing returns once the Covid19 restrictions are downgraded.
Although HRNZ officials are talking about a return to racing at the end of May or early June much will still depend on what the virus does and whether certain regions can return to racing sooner than others.
Racing looks as though it’ll initially be restricted to a small number of race tracks throughout the country; Alexandra Park and Cambridge in the north and Addington and Ascot Park in the south.
There’s also been discussion around introducing dual code meetings to make up more complete race days and this would include harness and greyhound races but there’s still a lot of discussions to be held on this.
Southern Harness CEO Jason Broad says at the moment, because of travel restrictions, there are no greyhound meetings south of Christchurch but there may be enough dogs in the Southland and Otago region to tag on a small number of greyhound races to a harness meeting.
It’s also been suggested that from the resumption of harness racing until the end of September that trainers will only be able to nominate their horses on-line. Broad says most Southland based trainers are doing this now so it won’t be an issue.
He also says they’re also looking at having open nominations.
“You’ll nominate for a trot, maiden and rating mobile and we’ll make the best fields we can out of the nominations. We could end up with a fillies and mares race if there’s sufficient nominations,” he said.
Broad has surveyed the local harness trainers to assess how many horses are on their ‘active’ list and says there’s about 120 in this area which is encouraging.
He says there’s a number of horses that require a qualifying trial and some trainers have suggested that an official workout and trial meeting be held prior to the race meetings getting underway again in the south.
“I’d be keen to have a trial workout to give those horses a decent run and this will give the punter a bit more confidence on the horses preparation. This will have to be held at Ascot Park in the interim it seems.”
Broad also confirmed that the Southern Supremacy Stakes, Southland Oaks and Southern Belle Speed Series Final won’t be held this season or carried over into the new season.
There was some talk about holding these series finals but Broad says the funding for such races is no longer available.
A new calendar for the end of the season and initial part of the new season is still to be confirmed by RITA so there’s still a bit of work to do.
Southern Harness Website Proving it’s Worth
(9th April 2020)
In 2007 Southern Harness Racing Clubs made a joint decision to support the development of a harness racing website which would promote the southern racing industry. Hence www.southlandharness.co.nz was born.
In 2018, to reflect the broader catchment from Tuapeka south, the website was renamed southernharness.co.nz and was given a fresh and updated design whilst still retaining all the popular features that had been developed.
The demise of newspaper and magazine publications means the traditional avenues for information, news and results have shifted to online websites.
This took some adjusting to for some, who were not aufait with computers. However over the years the internet has become the norm, and this is reflected in the increasing numbers of people utilizing southernharness.co.nz
In particular, the two year old Southern Harness Website is proving very popular and now has over 10,500 users and this number in increasing by the day.
The 10,583 users have viewed a total of 84,802 pages on the site and each user has viewed an average of 2.6 pages.
The biggest month to date was January 2020 with 2,277 people using the website. February recorded 1,787 and March 1,670.
28,243 users reside in New Zealand, 1,376 in America and 1,318 in Australia. There’s also good traffic from Canada and the UK.
The main devices used to view the site are desktop computers (14,129) followed by mobile phones (12,149) and tablets (5,436).
The most read story to date has been “Tuapeka Dan” – the tribute to the late Father Dan Cummings.
The tipping sheets and trainer audio are very popular too.
In these Covid-19 lockdown times, when perhaps people have more time to browse, it’s noticeable that users have been digging deeper into the archives, perhaps for the first time, or are reacquainting themselves with articles, results, breeding facts and statistics of interest.
In 2007 a website may have been seen to be a stretch of the imagination for some. Now it’s an undoubtedly essential tool for promoting harness racing in the southern region to the world.
A Curly Story
Not too many horseman have managed a champion sire, driven a champion mare, sold a millionaire pacer, had a personal request from the Prime Minister, and raced and drove a horse at the same race meeting that ran fifth as a trotter and two races later won as a pacer.
Well Southland harness racing and sporting identity Curly Thomas has, and it was a pleasure to catch up with him recently – by phone of course due to Covid 19 – and hear some of the many stories he had to share.
Graeme (Curly) Thomas was born in Tuatapere in 1939, the son of Bazil and Val Thomas.
“After I was born they took me back to a tent where they lived. Dad was a bushman. Later he got his own contracting business and we lived out by the Invercargill Cemetery on Rockdale Road for most of our lives,” Thomas said.
Although his parents didn’t have any association with horses his grandfather Billy McRae certainly had.
“He was a legend mate. He used to ride horses in the saddle trots. He also trained horses at Dunsdale (near Hedgehope in Southland). They also used to make the Hokonui Whiskey.”
Thomas went to Surrey Park Primary School before heading to Tweedsmuir Intermediate then onto Southland Technical College (Tech).
As an after school job Thomas worked for Jock Purdue where he began his grounding in horsemanship.
“I hated school. I left when I was fourteen. Bill McCaw the All Black was one of my teachers.”
In those days Thomas said he was never far from trouble. “I had the welfare and the Police after me for not going to school so I went out to Bob Lawrence’s Mataura Island stud farm for a year. I learnt more up there than at any time in my life.”
Lawrence’s stud stood Italian trotting stallion Baffelan. His best daughter was Lady Baffelan which won four trotting races. She was the beginning of a family that Peter Van Der Looy had great success with, from horses like Thurber Command (7 wins), Smarty Pants (10) Sherlock and Kincaid (6) and later Vanderal (14). (Brent Shirley also had success with this family through his broodmare Satire Franco).
“Before me (at Lawrence’s) guys like Les Norman and Robert Cameron were there. So I had to try and fill some bloody big boots. The biggest lesson I learned there was to keep my mouth shut.”
After working at Mataura Island for a year Curly headed to the Makarewa Freezing Works, although he still kept his hand in, working with Gil Shirley in the mornings before work and for him full-time in the off season.
“My first job at the Works was in the gut room. Then I went up to the chain when I was sixteen and worked there for the rest of the time.”
The Makarewa Freezing Works
In those days you were paid in cash and Thomas vividly remembers nearly losing his first pay (12 pounds) in a coin game of Two Up.
Editor’s note: Two-up is a traditional Australian gambling game, involving a designated “spinner” throwing two coins or pennies into the air. Players bet on whether the coins will fall with both heads up, both tails up, or with one coin a head and one a tail (known as “Ewan”). The game was traditionally played with pennies.
“We lived in the huts which we called China Town. Luckily I lived with two mates that I went to school with, Freddie and Jimmy Harris. On the last day (of the week) we were waiting for the bus so we went round to play Two Up. I’d never played it before. Anyway I got down to two pounds then got back up to ten. That was it. I put the bloody ten pound in my pocket and never played ***** Two Up again. They used to play for thousands of pounds in those days.”
Strikes were also a regular occurrence in those days and Thomas was Union Delegate at Makarewa. He remembers one day getting a phone call from Blue Kennedy the Secretary of the NZ Meat Workers Union.
“He said ‘I’ve got a fella that wants to talk to you.’ The fella came on the phone and said its Norm here. I said who? He said, ‘Norm Kirk. He said Mr Thomas, its election year and I think you might be hurting us a bit by being on strike all the time. Do you think you can get back to work?’ I said “Sir, we’ll get back to work tomorrow.” He said ‘What?’ “He didn’t believe me.”
Thomas then called a meeting but the rank and file weren’t convinced.
“I said we’ve been asked by the big fella from up above to go back to work. They thought I was bull****ing them and they wouldn’t go back. So I had to call another meeting and say “listen, the big boss is Norm Kirk and we go back to ******* work. The only guys that voted against going back were four old communist guys.”
Curly is very much indebted to the help he received while at the works.
“Gordon Sutherland was a boardwalker. He was an eighth army man, Teddy Hayes from Riverton and Jack Martin. Jack taught me everything about the Union. He was a brilliant man.”
Throughout the early part of his life Thomas also had an interest in boxing.
“I wasn’t that bloody good but I was lucky. I was strong and I could knock them over with one punch.”
He was trained by Walter “Chow” Murdoch and for a time was ‘King of the Ring’ at Makarewa.
“That’s when you took all comers in the boxing ring.”
Follow horse trainer Jack Lynch was also in the local boxing ranks in those days.
“He was alright but I knocked him out. I knocked most of them out except Bill Kini and another fella from Wellington.”
Thomas was also recently reminded of another boxer he crossed paths with.
“My brother-in-law wanted to know if I ever fought a guy called Sugar Bristow. John (brother-in-law) said Sugar Bristow was the most feared man in boxing in Vietnam. He was at the freezing works when I was there as well and I fought him at the Civic Theatre and knocked him out.”
He also remembers winning a Southland Boxing Championship.
“Gil (Shirley) was coaching me then. We went along as spectators and he talked me into it when I got there. I ended up winning the title but spent the night in hospital.”
He also did a bit of wrestling, helping out local wrestler Warren Hubber.
“I used to train with Warren before he won a medal at the Commonwealth Games. He had no one else to train with so he got me in.”
A big part of Curly’s early life also revolved around rugby. At that time the province was very competitive and featured a number of All Blacks. Curly was a front row prop and was part of a very formidable Pirates forward pack which included Greg Spencer. Curly started playing senior rugby when he was sixteen, initially playing at lock.
“Nelson Gutsell (Blues Club) was around in those days but the best guy I propped against was Hughie O’Neil. He played 100 games for Marist and played for Southland as well. He was a man’s man and he was the best.”
It was during that time that local radio station 4ZA rugby commentator Ollie Henderson called Thomas Chop Chop, a name that derived from his method of dealing with his front row opposition that he may not have been getting on that well with.
“One day he came out (in his commentary) and said there goes old chop chop, one, two three. After that everyone in Southland gave be ***holes. The next time I saw Ollie I said “Listen you rotten ******* my name is Graeme. Call me that or nothing. From then on he always called me Graeme when he was on the radio.”
And playing for the Invercargill Town sub union team, Thomas always got a great thrill in beating the highly rated Eastern side.
“They could beat everybody else but they couldn’t beat us. They had about ten Southland players in their team like Watson, and Robin Archer.”
He also remembers playing rugby against the Invercargill Borstal teams.
“Everyone was sacred to play them. When I was fourteen an old school mate Rex McDonald and I used to go down there every Saturday after we played our game and play against them. In those early days we weren’t frightened of nobody.” Thomas had a soft spot for the detainees and later Ascot Stud provided casual work for those who were allowed to take on outside work.
Thomas was part of the Southland Trotting Rugby 15 that annually played against the Southland jockeys.
The team included; Back row: Gil Shirley, Don McRae senior, Ray Todd, Dave Fairweather, Curly Thomas, Peter Rosewarn (Blacksmith) Jackie McIntyre, Owen Crooks, Front Row: Brian Pankhurst, Cliff Irvine, (Unknown), Henry Skinner, Stan Hamlin, Frank Sheridan, Doug McNaught and Andy Laidlaw.
The trading years:
Through the 1970s and 1980s Thomas was very involved with selling hundreds of horses to America and Australia.
Perhaps the most notable pacer he sold was Miracle Mile winner Sokyola which he sold to Lance Justice for $50,000. Sokyola went on to win seventy eight races and $1,890,990.
Sokyola and Lance Justice winning the 2004 Victoria Cup
“I sold the most horses out of New Zealand for three or four years. I sold about three to four hundred thousand dollars’ worth a year. I’d see them go at the races, make sure they were sound and had no tricks. Then I’d get people to come over and trial them if it was for big money. When the Americans came they’d buy a dozen at a time.”
One American he had an association with was Marvin Proven.
“He saw this horse racing and fell in love with it but he wouldn’t buy a horse unless he drove it. He said ‘Curly, (I’ll buy it) even if I drive it on the grass with no hopples on.’
Curly said that the New Zealand trainers worried that the Americans when trialing them, would drive them too hard. He said “I set the thing up. He (Proven) went round the paddock twice, came back and said ‘I’ll buy it.”
Proven famously bought Australian pacer Cocky Raider which beat Lucky Creed in the 1970 Australian Day Cup at Harold Park.
Editor’s note: With three furlongs to run Cocky Raider, which had started off 24 yards was still giving the leaders ten lengths at the bell. His driver let him go and he joined Lucky Creed at the top of the straight. With the crowd raising a frenzied crescendo the two champions went head to head with nobody sure which horse had won. The judge ultimately settled for Cocky Raider by a half a head. That win prevented Lucky Creed from achieving its twenty fifth consecutive win. At the time it was accepted as the most exciting race ever staged at Harold Park (One Hundred Years Of Trotting 1877-1977 – Greg Brown)
Cocky Raider won his first race at Bathurst in November 1967. He won thirty nine races (including a dead heat) from seventy eight starts and was named 1969 Harness Horse of the Year. He was sold to America for $112,000 but he never raced there.
Other well-known trainers Thomas was associated with over the years, were Australians Lance Justice and Trevor Warwick. “They were the best of the best.”
Thomas was also a pioneer when it came to shipping horses overseas.
“We brought a plane into Invercargill airport to ship out 15 horses. The name on the side of the plane was Phar Lap. We did it a couple of times.”
In 1964 Curly and Gil Shirley joined forces and bought 100 acres at Oteramika Road which would become Ascot Stud.
“We bought the 100 acres for twenty thousand pounds and everyone said we were mad, and that we would go broke.”
Ascot Stud in the early days
Ascot Stud later expanded to become 300 acres when Thomas and Shirley were able to buy neighbouring properties.
Surprisingly the first stallion they stood at Ascot Stud was a thoroughbred called Zarabanda.
“He came down by float before we were ready for him and we had to put him in the boxes at Father (Tom) Keys.”
Ascot Stud stood a number of thoroughbred stallions over the years including Talismano, Whistling Willie, Great Western and Persian Hope.
Alex Chisholm and Whistling Willie
Talismano with Curly Thomas and Whistling Willie and Gil Shirley
Whistling Willie was by far the most successful leaving two good horses in Stormy Seas and Judge Obadiah.
Stormy Seas trained in Southland by Ray Pankhurst, won the 1970 Dunedin Guineas and JB Reid Cup. He also raced successfully in Australia when trained by S.B.Brown, and finished 5th in the 1972 Melbourne Cup. (Won by Piping Lane). Stormy Seas was owned by well-known Invercargill Butcher Alex Milne whose butcher shop was located on Elles Road.
Stormy Seas after winning the Cumberland Handicap at Randwick in April 1974. He was ridden by Roy Higgins.
Judge Obadiah won seventeen races including the 1978 Wairio Cup. He also ran third in the 1976 2000 Guineas at Riccarton with only Vice Regal and Silver Lad beating him home.
But it was the standardbred stallions that Ascot Stud had the most success with.
Blue was the first Standardbred stallion to grace the property initially, standing for a fee of 40 guineas. He was the fastest yearling in the world over a mile in 1957, running the distance in 2-9 and 1-5th. He was unbeaten in 6 starts at two and also won the 1958 New Zealand Derby. His best winner was Bobby Blue which won eight races for Gore trainer Keith Barclay.
But it was Adios Butler stallion Majestic Chance that was to have the biggest impact at the stud over the forty three years it operated. Majestic Chance served over 1,300 mares in his time and produced stock that won over two and a half million dollars in New Zealand, and a stack more in Australia and America.
The purchase of the stallion was initiated from a conversation that local Southland Times racing writer Norm Pierce had with Thomas and Shirley.
“I said to him one day “Can we get a son of Adios Butler” who was all the rage in America.”
Majestic Chance was secured in 1969 by Ascot Stud as a four year old, and imported to New Zealand by Dr John Sullivan and Noel Taylor. He was the first son of World Champion Adios Butler to be imported to this country.
He was bred by Eddie Cobb and was held in high regard as a two year old by the New York trainer. However he didn’t make the race track due to a chest injury inflicted by the shaft of a sulky.
Owned by Curly and Gil’s wives Anne and Vera, Majestic Chance was very well marketed in the province early on, with full page advertisements taken out on the Southland Times racing pages as well as stud lift outs, and he served 100 mares in each of his first two seasons.
Gil and Vera Shirley and Anne and Curly Thomas
Majestic Chance stood initially for just $150 and it wasn’t long before his progeny started to show up.
His first winner was Kawarau Gold which won the 1973 Kindergarten Stakes at his first start.
Majestic Chance proved early on that he could leave precocious juveniles and he crafted an outstanding record in the Kindergarten, leaving other winners of the time honoured race including Parlez Vous (1974), Mel’s Boy (1981) and Bionic Chance (1986).
Those early winners was just the beginning with Majestic Chance leaving good colts and fillies and two New Zealand Cup winners in Lunar Chance and Bonnie’s Chance.
Thomas says over the years Majestic Chance was a pleasure to deal with.
“I said to some of those buggers in Gore that he was so quiet I could get inside his back legs. Old George Orr still has me on about it to this day.”
At the end of his career he also stood for a season at Vance Lodge before he came back home to retire. He died in May 1998 and was buried on the property facing towards the city.
As a stallion he fashioned an outstanding record.
Majestic Chance – the stats
- In his first season at stud he served 103 mares which produced 71 live foals.
- In total he served 1,355 mares producing 929 live foals.
- He produced 7,414 starters that won 624 wins for stakes of $2,769,138.
- In the 1981 – 1982 season he became the fourth Southland based stallion to head the New Zealand Sires list following Dillion Hall, Hal Tyrax and Young Charles. He was named 1982 Sire of the Year. In the season he produced thirty eight individual winners which won a total of eighty races and $352,097. Some of his winners that season were Bonnie’s Chance, Conga’s Chance, Mel’s Boy, Peter Foyle, Steve’s Chance and Take Aim.
- His busiest season was 1975-76 when he served 158 mares leaving 105 live foals.
- His biggest winners were; Bonnie’s Chance (32), Bionic Chance (18), Emcee (18), Lunar Chance (17), Majestic Charger (13), Jilaire’s Chance (12) and Mel’s Boy (11).
- His leading winners stakes wise were; Bonnie’s Chance ($355,000), Bionic Chance ($323,630), Emcee ($205,005) and Tartan Clansman ($163,050).
- His fastest progeny were; Sole Chance (1-55.4), Majestic Charger (1-55.8), Nojestic (1-55.8), Starling (1-55.8), Congo’s Chance (1-56.2) and Bonnie’s Chance (1-56.2).
- Left four Kindergarten Stakes winners; Kawarau Gold (1973), Parlez Vous (1974), Mel’s Boy (1981) and Bionic Chance (1986).
- Left two New Zealand Cup winners; Lunar Chance (1975) and Bonnie’s Chance (1982).
- Dam sire of Prince Rashad (21 wins), Long Fella (11 wins), Microscopic (11 wins), Onedin Pick Pocket (11 wins) and Role Model (10 wins).
“All the old trainers down here had a nice horse when Majestic Chance was around. I was talking to Ross Wilson the other day and he had a horse called Mister Majestic. He won six races and he sold him, and said he never had a mortgage in his life again.”
Other Standardbred stallions Curly and Gil stood at Ascot Stud were Blue, Parlez Vous, Joe Reward, Direct Flight, Good Point, Hi Lo’s Forbes (sire of 1970 New Zealand Cup winner James), Express Direct, Ermis, Nordel Skipper, Peppy Fulla, Honkin Andy (sire of Honkin Vision) Meadow Bret, Paul Evander and Adios Vic in the twilight of his career.
Nordel Skipper was bought to outcross with Majestic Chance mares.
“Gil bought him when he went to America.”
Nordel Skipper had moderate success at stud leaving cup horse Skipper Dale (18 wins) and Viewfield Prince (9 wins and 1-53.9 USA).
Over the years Curly Thomas has been associated with some nice race horses as a driver, trainer and seller.
The first horse he had success with Anak, a gelding by Major Peterson which won six races.
“Old Bob Lawrence gave me a mare called Southern Adonis which he put in foal to Major Peterson for me and the foal was Anak.”
He provided Thomas with his first winning drive at Winton on 30th December 1961.
“I started him in the second race as a trotter (finished 5th) then started him in the fourth race as a pacer, and he won. He was a natural trotter.”
Anak was 8/8 in the betting and beat Throwaway (W.V.Cosgrove) and Kent Lad (D. McNaught). The winning margin was three lengths with Anak paying eight pounds seventeen shillings and six pence. The winning stake was two hundred pounds.
He was then converted into a trotter and went on to win a further five races at Gore, Winton, Forbury Park, Hutt Park and Addington.
“He was a wonderful horse. I was so lucky to get him early on.”
He also remembers racing him on both nights at the Wellington Trotting Club’s meeting at Hutt Park in September 1962.
“On the first night Anak went into a pace and broke. I got him trotting and all of a sudden I heard this voice outside me say ‘I’ll beat you home for a pie and a bottle of drink young fella’. It was Maurice Holmes. He drove Dianthus Girl. ‘I said, ‘You’re on and I trotted away and left him to it.”
Anak ran fourth and Dianthus Girl ran last.
“On the second night this horse came through the tape from the back and it was Dianthus Girl (off 60 yards) and Maurice said to me ‘If you don’t’ win tonight son I’ll boot your bum.’ Gil said to me afterwards that Maurice had a betting syndicate going in those days and they’d all probably be on.”
Anak won, paying six pounds.
Almac was another horse Thomas fondly remembers. By Majestic Chance, he was bred by Alex Milne and had four starts as a two year old in New Zealand before he was sold. He ran third when driven by Eddie Sims in the 1977 Kindergarten Stakes, won by Fancy Matilda. He was then exported to Australia and renamed Black Irish. He went on to win 38 races in a 98 start career winning $272,946.
“I tried to buy him for a fella in West Australia. Eddie Sims ended up buying him off old Alex Milne. He turned out to be a champion.”
In Australia as a sire, Black Irish has left 122 live foals for 44 starters and 22 winners.
Another horse that crossed Thomas’s path was the mighty free-legged pacer Robalan after the horse’s dam Elsinore was gifted to Thomas and Shirley.
“Gil trained Glenda Hanover for the old fella (E.S.Broad) He had too many mares so he gave our wives Elsinore with Robalan at foot.”
After Robalan, Ascot Stud continued to breed from Elsinore and sold a half-brother to Robalan by Majestic Chances (Shawn Adios) for $20,000 – a record price for a yearling.
Majestic Chance with Curly Thomas, Elsinore with Mrs Nola Agnew and Shawn Adios with Gil Shirley.
Curly also trained Live Or Die mare Bonnie Harvest.
“Graeme (son) got her with Jamie Searle. She was buggered but he got her up and won a trotting race and then she was the fastest pacing mare over a mile in a year.”
Bonnie Harvest started racing as a five year old trotter. She won once from thirteen starts in that gait. Thomas won with her at Ascot Park in March 2009. She’ll be best remembered for her win at Winton in February 2010 when she paced a mile in 1-55.7, a new track record. She won her last start at Ascot Park in February 2012 and is now at stud.
Life Sign gelding Barney Rubble was another horse Thomas trained. He won his first and only start at Ascot Park in May 2012 and was then sold to Lance Justice.
Barney Rubble and Graeme Thomas at Ascot Park
“He’s been worrying me a bit lately. I think I’d like to get him home. We sold him for $80,000 and he’s won over $200,000 ($275,639). I just want to make sure he gets a good home. You know how something runs in your mind sometimes.” Barney Rubble won his first five starts in Australia and is still racing. He’s started 192 times for 36 wins, 17 seconds and 14 thirds.
He’s currently racing in Tasmania in mainly claiming races.
As a trainer Thomas has trained 51 winners with his best to date being Grace O’Malley (7), Bard From Snipping (4), Hurry Curry (4), Bonnie Harvest (4) and Out Of The Red (4). Out Of The Red was his first winner in October 1996.
Grace O’Malley and Peter Hunter
Out Of The Red won eight races and was raced by Curly’s two sisters Vivian and Nola. He’s still alive aged thirty, and is being looked after by Fred Service.
As a driver Curly is perhaps best known for his winning drive on champion mare Bonnie’s Chance when she won her first race at Ascot Park in December 1978.
Bonnie’s Chance with Richard Brosnan
In all he’s driven fifteen winners. His first was Anak at Winton in October 1961, and his last was Quiet Honk at Ascot Park in November 1992.
Curly Thomas and Gil Shirley at Ascot Stud
Curly acknowledges that a number of harness racing people helped him over the years. In particular, Colin Baynes, Steve Lock, Kelvin Franks and Jimmy Bond.
“Colin Baynes gave me a lot of advice and I appreciated that. I’d also like to acknowledge an old mate Jimmy Bond. When I had my knee operation he came and got my horses and looked after them.”
Curly married Anne Killeen in 1966. They have five children Mary-Jane, Graeme, Brendon, Anne- Marie and Donna.
Mary-Jane and Graeme are the only members of the family with an interest in racing. Mary-Jane races and breeds horses under the Go Ziggy Syndicate and Graeme still helps his father.
Ascot Stud was sold in 2005 to developers Ascot Heights Projects and a large portion of the old 300 acre property now has new houses on it.
But Curly and Anne still own part of the original farm where they’ve built a new house, and have a three furlong track and eight boxes. Curly is currently training two horses including a daughter of Bonnie Harvest which he has a bit of time for.
“I think I may have the best horse I’ve ever had. She’s a three year old filly by American Ideal and she’s got a heart score of 125. I’m very careful with her. She’s been jogging for three months so I’m doing it the old way. I’ve had the hopples on her a couple of times and, I’m frightened to put them back on.”
He’s also breeding from Grace O’Malley which is in foal to Majestic Son.
Now in his early 80s, Curly Thomas says life’s been pretty good to him. He’s enjoyed all of the good people he’s met and is still involved in the industry, albeit on a smaller scale.
“I’ve had a great life and I won the art union when I married my wife,” he said.
Back to Tacking
18th April 2020
Southland Farrier Brendon Franks is glad to be back on the job.
Franks shoes for Southland’s two largest harness stables – Nathan Williamson and Brett Gray and he says both barns, under the Civid19 Level Four restrictions, have a small number of horses still on the active list and therefore requiring shoes.
Farriers were not deemed as an essential service when Level 4 lockdown came into effect, but that restriction was recently lifted, allowing Franks to get back to work.
“There’s only a certain amount of time you can leave shoes on a horses feet. They could spring one or stand on a nail, or they could start to grow into the feet as you get stones up in the heel,” he said, adding the horse’s wellbeing is paramount.
He says he’s staying close to home. This week he shod four horses at Brett Grays and five at Nathan Williamsons.
“They’re all keeping their horses half fit hoping we’ll get an announcement, because the horses are three parts there aren’t they.”
Franks says there are strict rules to be adhered to when he’s visiting stables. “I’ve been living on Dettol spray. I put plastic gloves on the first day to see how it would go but they fell apart after four washes. When I get to the stables I spray myself with Dettol and put plenty on. I actually like the smell of it.”
One horse Williamson has in his jog team is talented trotter Chinese Whisper which Franks and his wife Julie have a share in.
“He’s ticking over. He always looks big. Dark Horse and Chinese Whisper are like pets to Nathan.”
Chinese Whisper after his first win at Ascot Park in March 2019
According to Southern Harness records, about 120 horses are currently on the active list. When MPI give the industry permission to race and a revised racing calendar is released by RITA, trainers will have the green light they’re waiting for to allow them to start fast work
Like everyone else, the southern harness racing industry is hanging out for Monday’s Covid19 announcement.
The Young And The Restless
20th April 2020
I thought it would be a good idea to have a catchup with a couple of young harness industry workers to see how they’re faring during the lockdown period. As I write this, we’re at Level 4 for another week, and are likely to move to Level 3 in seven days.
My interviewees are Rory McIlwrick and Chelsea Faithful.
Chelsea says she’s certainly missed not been able to work horses.
“It was nice in the first couple of weeks not having to get up early. You don’t realise how much you need sleep until you get it,” she said.
She trains a small team from the Winton Racecourse and hasn’t been able to keep her horses ticking over.
“It’s extremely frustrating because the racecourse is closed. Hopefully they open the public racetracks so I can start jogging my horses.”
She had also been preparing to start training her two most recent recruits.
“They got picked up a couple of days before lockdown started. They came in and got shoes on. I was getting ready to start jogging and then they locked it all down. That was a bit frustrating.”
But she’s also used the time to catch up on some maintenance around the stables.
“I’ve pulled down fences and put up some new ones. Just odd jobs like that.”
She’s also got back into her hobby of drawing and painting.
“Art was my best subject at school. I finished one (see below) and then I started drawing Dark Horse but haven’t finished it yet. It’s good to have the time to get back into drawing – something I wouldn’t normally have time to do.”
Nicki Wards ex pacer ‘Steen’ after winning the Champion ribbon at the Winton A&P Show- Artist Chelsea Faithful.
Recently she’s been able to return to Nathan Williamson’s stables which has helped her get back into what she loves.
“Every second day I’m back at Nathan’s doing the boxes. Ollie (Kite) and I have turn about. Nathan’s got a few jogging and a couple he’s breaking in. It was unfortunate because he had about seven horses ready to start fast work when Covid19 came along. Coming back to work has been good and having a few laughs.”
McIlwrick is a self-confessed drifter, well known for travelling around and setting up where he can find work, which is generally between Canterbury and Southland.
He was in the south when Covid19 Level 4 was announced and he’s settled down in Southland until lockdown is lifted and racing can resume.
“When you’re locked inside you’re just hankering to get out there. You really just want to be racing, but it’s a situation you’ve just got to deal with,” he said.
Rory McIlwrick at the Wyndham Race course with Sovereign Banner
He’s been occupying himself with a variety of things.
“I’ve attempted to learn the guitar. I down loaded the app, got the guitar, played it once and thought maybe this isn’t for me. I’ll carry it round on my travels and I’m sure someone will know how to play it. I can definitely cut a shape on the dancefloor though. Singing and dancing are the two things I’d rather be learning.”
Rory says movies and social media contacts have also been high on the priority list.
“I’ve been watching Netflix and Tiger King. It’s all good.”
However he says he’s missing the race day driving and the daily contact with the people in the racing industry.
“Of course you’ve got Zoom and House Party which helps to keep people in contact, and a bit of Snapchat. I zoom everybody. I’ve called my mum a bit more often to get in the good books. I miss talking a bit of rubbish really, and even the trips to the races you start to miss. It’s all the banter.”
He’s also found himself getting involved in a fun zoom punters club with his cousin and some of his mates, and betting on races in Australia.
“That keeps us interested. We’ve been tuning into that and everyone has been getting a bit of a yell on.”
On the serious side he’s also had a number of conversations with his cousin in Christchurch who runs a painting and plastering business, and employs fifty staff.
“To be fair he was probably flying before Convid19 so it’s a bit of a setback for him like it is for all small businesses. It’s great that the government is helping and he doesn’t seem too stressed yet. He’s lucky to have contracts for Housing New Zealand and Signature Homes.”
He’s also in regular contact with harness racing’s Williamson family in Oamaru.
“Look, they’re all pretty interesting but Phil is probably the one. He can tell you a story and it’s different each time he tells it. He adjusts it each time. They’re all good buggers. Of course Bev is always there looking out for everyone and making sure everyone is never hungry. But it’s always good to give Phil a bit of banter to get him fired up.”
McIlwrick says he’s discovered Oreo biscuits during lockdown but is hanging out for a milkshake.
Ready To Race?
21st April 2020
As Level 4 lockdown looks to be moving towards Level 3, the racing codes are starting to plan for racing again.
In a copy of proposed dates released today, greyhounds will be the first code to start on the 11th May, followed by the harness code on 29th May and gallops in early July.
The first harness meeting will be held at Addington, then locally, Invercargill HRC will race at Ascot Park the following day (Saturday 30th May). This will be a dual code meeting featuring some greyhound races.
Throughout June, Auckland TC and Cambridge HRC will race on alternate Thursdays. Addington will race every Friday and Invercargill every Saturday.
In July, the strategy will change when galloping meetings begin.
Auckland and Cambridge harness racing will switch to alternate Wednesdays, Invercargill races to every Thursday, and Addington will continue to race on Friday.
But officials reiterate that the calendar still remains subject to change and government direction.
In Southland three greyhound races will be programmed per meeting, with harness events making up the balance of the card.
All meetings will be held at Ascot Park and at this stage stake levels are unknown, but these should become clear after the HRNZ board meet on Wednesday.
This is the first time ever that harness racing has been held in Southland for the majority of June and all of July.
Normal southern winter harness racing is held at Forbury Park in Dunedin.
The first and only gallops meeting in the south during this revised calendar will be the Southland Racing Club on Saturday 17th July at Ascot Park.
Provisional dates for the 2020-2021 racing season will be released in the middle of May.
Jan on Hand
24th April 2020
As trainers wade through their gear in preparation for the restart of the Southern Harness season, some may have noticed things are not looking so great.
The good news is that Hamil Saddlery in Winton is back in business and is set up for trading under Covid-19 Level Three.
“If there are repairs to be done trainers must phone ahead and make a time to drop (gear) off outside downstairs door. I will call them when the repairs are completed and arrange for pick up,” says owner Jan Hamilton.
Jan will be at the shop in Winton daily between 10:30am and 3.00pm or by appointment.
She says for trainers requiring new gear the process will be the same. Deliveries can also be arranged.
Brett Gray – 178 Wins and Counting
25th April 2020
For the past three years Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray has been training full time, and he’s really hit his straps.
Prior to that he was juggling two jobs; working the night shift at Blue Sky Meats as a boner and training horses during the day.
To date he’s trained 178 winners – 131 pacers and 47 trotters. 165 of those winners have come in the last ten seasons. Not bad considering that when he left school at fifteen Brett had only a small interest in the horses.
“When I was about twelve I used to go round to Hamish Hunter’s and help after school, and during the school holidays. I was more into motorbikes and being a lad. But when I went to Hamish’s fulltime I decided I’d like to be a driver. He’s just a great guy to work for and very respected. I couldn’t have wished for a better boss.”
As a junior driver Gray drove 61 winners, the first being Son Of Afella mare Texas Girl trained by his father Murray at Ascot Park in April 1992. He drove her to win three races in a row at Ascot Park, Forbury and Addington.
“I was very lucky to get started driving a horse like that.”
His biggest win was on Cairn Legacy in the Group Three 1995 Sweetheart Stakes at Cheviot.
“I liked driving but I didn’t really miss it. When Dad got a nice horse he generally sold them. It got a bit hard with the good ones going out the gate.”
Tony Herlihy and Ricky May were also around in those days so winning the junior drivers premiership was never on the radar.
“AG (Herlihy) and Ricky were the men back then (laughter). Tony had great patience. He was just a freak of a man and Ricky was the same.”
During that time Murray trained Cup Class pacer Giovanetto. The Fitch II entire won eighteen races and $371,625.
“I had only just started driving when he was coming to the end of his career. He always gave you a super feel, he was one of those X factor horses. Holmes DG was like that too. I qualified him.”
Holmes DG was a half-brother to Giovanetto and won 32 races and $1.9 million.
Gray worked for Hunter and his father until he was about twenty five.
“Dad was an amateur and was also shearing back then.”
Brett then decided he needed to start earning good money and like many trainers in the south he found work at the Freezing Works.
“I was talking to Brent McIntyre one day and he got me a job at Blue Sky Meats so I was doing the night shift in the boning room and working about six horses.”
He said he was always going to get into training fulltime but wanted to get financially established first.
“I knew how hard the game was. I did enjoy working at the Works and doing the horses. It was probably a far better lifestyle, but in time I was planning on doing the (fulltime) training thing.”
He worked at Blue Sky for fifteen years before moving into fulltime training three years ago.
“I did a jail sentence there (Blue Sky Meats). Brent told me to go for the good money and get it while you can. There’s a big difference being a boner to a labourer (money wise). There were quite a few of us trotting guys there – Wayne Adams, Ray Faithful and Snow Devery. ”
Gray’s first season as a trainer was 2001/2002. At that time he and wife Gina were living at Makarewa.
“I used to jog in the paddock at home and fast work at Tony’s (Tony Barron’s). Tony and Cheryl were good to me like that.”
His first training winner was Golden Holmes at Ascot Park on the 24th November 2001.
Gray’s been training for eighteen seasons and has won the Southland Trainers Championship twice, in 2017 and 2018.
Brett receiving the Southland Trainer Of The Year in 2017 from Gordon Lee
His best season as a trainer was in 2018 when he prepared thirty four winners.
The biggest winners have been trotters Smokey Mac and Jen Jaccka who both won seven races under his care.
“Yep, I’ve had a bit of luck with trotters and I’ve got a few nice ones at the moment. They seem to be my thing.”
Over those eighteen seasons he’s been supported by a group of loyal owners including Charlie and Ailsa Smaill and he’s trained fifty one winners for them. His first was Jaccka Frost in April 2003.
“When I first started off Charlie had a couple of horses with me. Charlie and Alisa got me going so I’m forever grateful for that. Charlie’s given me great advice and guidance in life.”
Ben and Karen Calder have also been great supporters of the stable racing horses like Mr Kiwi, Mr Mojito, and On Ice.
Nathan Williamson, Mr Kiwi, Brett Gray and Ben and Karen Calder
Recently Penny, John, and Kenny Baynes have joined the ownership ranks and provided Gray with some good winners.
“Penny and Kenny have sent me quite a few horses. They have nice stock so I’m grateful having them in the stable too. Kenny asked me a couple of times to train a horse and I knocked him back a couple of times (laughter). I trained one called Too Cool and she won a race (Gore – December 2017) and the next minute the horses started coming through the gate. Penny, Kenny, and John have been really good supporters of the stable.”
Baynes’ racing winners include Too Cool, Convair Hustler, Full Noise, Richard The Third, Stratofortress, The Interceptor and Afterburner.
Too Cool winning at Gore
Australians Merv and Meg Butterworth have also supported Gray. They’ve bought a stack of horses out of Southland with some staying here to race while others have been shipped north or direct to Australia.
“He’s really kicked things for me. I sold him a few horses. One was a horse called Jaccka Lonny. It wasn’t going too good so we bought it back, and he ended up doing a good job here. It (the relationship) just started from there. It’s a good relationship and I have about three of his horses here at the moment. Merv and Meg are great people. They’ve been super and great for the game too.”
Brett Gray and Merv Butterworth at Ascot Park
Winners for the Butterworths include Jaccka Loony, Sky Commander, Pavarotti, Mr Mojito, Born To Boogie, Loma Jaccka, Zealand Star, Cuchlainn and Son Of Brahma.
Like all trainers Gray has noticed how much the Standardbred has changed over the years, becoming more refined.
“They’ve got more athletic like thoroughbreds. A lot of pacers back in the day were converted into trotters. Those days are gone now. The trotters just get up and run. They’re just so natural.”
One of the keys to Brett Gray’s success has been his relationship with driver Brent Barclay, who’s driven 98 winners for him. The first was Frampton Bromac in January 2009 at Ascot Park.
“Brent has been a big asset to me. We get on good and I never give him any instructions.”
Gray also has good stable staff. His cousin Craig O’Callaghan provides great support on weekend race days. “Craig’s our main man. He comes at the weekend to run the ship. I’d be lost without Craigo.”
Craig was a junior driver back in the late 1980s when he worked at Drummond for his neighbour Graham Bond, and his first winner was Burn Ahead trained by his uncle Murray Gray.
Well known breeder and horseman Russell Morton also works at the stables.
“He’s been our rock. He was around when Dad was going. He’s always got great advice.”
Chris Walsh, Russell Morton, Brett Gray, Craig O’Callaghan and Brent Barclay with Pick Six Telfer after his win at Winton.
There’s plenty of good support from family too. Brett married Gina in 1996 and they have two children, Nick who’s at High School and Maison who’s studying to be a midwife.
Like all southern trainers Gray is looking forward to the return of racing to the south at the end of May, and one horse that’ll be ready to go will be quality three year old Cassius Bromac. The He’s Watching gelding won at Invercargill and was placed in two of his other starts this season before being stuck down by a virus.
“He’s just about ready to go. He got very sick over Christmas. He won at Ascot Park and the next start (Gore) he went terrible. When we got him back home he was coughing like hell. He just couldn’t shake it. We sent him to Diane’s (Cournane). He lost a lot of weight.”
Afterburner is another horse he has a high opinion of. The three year old trotter was impressive on debut at Wairio last month, winning easily by four lengths.
Afterburner winning at Wairio
“He’s a nice sort of a nag. Potentially he could be the best trotter I’ve had. I really rate him but he probably hasn’t done enough yet. He’s got a nice relaxed attitude and I really just don’t know how good he is.”
Afterburner returning to the birdcage
During this Covid19 enforced break, many in the harness industry have been mulling over ideas as they prepare for future changes in the industry. Gray feels it could bring with it some opportunities.
“I hope this turns into a good thing. It’s time to hit the reset button, we know what needs to be done. Down here in Southland we’ve been leading the way. I think we need to make decisions before they’re made for us.”
Gray says he’s read the Messara Report, has researched the report’s author and is impressed.
“If you look it up, he’s been a genius and he’s been great for New South Wales racing. I think he had the right idea. To a certain extent we do have to centralise down here. Even if we get down to a couple of tracks. Now’s the time. If we don’t do it now I worry for the future. All these young fellas that are coming along like Tristan, (Larsen) we want to have a future for them.”
Horse Numbers Looking Good
30th April 2020
129 horses could be available to race when harness racing is set to resume in the south at the end of May.
Data released by HRNZ says of the 129 horses available, there are 37 non-win pacers, 42 pacers rated up to R55, 13 rated between R56 and R85, 11 non-win trotters, and 25 one win or faster trotters.
The largest clusters are understandably with the larger operations; Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis (14), Brett Gray (13), Kirk Larsen (9), Amber Hoffman (8) and Nathan Williamson (8).
Horses with the highest ratings in the ‘comeback’ list are; Spirit Of St Louis (R85), Born To Boogie (R75), Full Noise (R69) and King Cassidy (R66).
CEO of Southern Harness Jason Broad says if we get under Level Two on 11th of May, workouts and trials will be programmed at Ascot Park on either the 14th or 15th of May and then on the 21st or 22nd.
The first race meeting in Southland will be Saturday 30th May and all meetings on the revised calendar will be held at Ascot Park.
At this stage stakes levels are unknown.
This will be the first time ever, that harness racing is held in Southland for the majority of June and all of July.
007 – Jimmy Bond
26th April 2020
A recent accident with horses at his Mataura property has unfortunately brought to an end the lengthy and successful career of popular Southland horseman Jimmy Bond.
“Its history now I’m afraid. It’s not very pleasant because you can’t put any weight on it,” eighty year old Bond said of the cracked hip he sustained when a horse pushed him to the ground two weeks ago.
Although Bond hasn’t held a trainers license since 2014, he’s held a stable hand license and has continued to help his son Lyndon who trains from the family property.
Jimmy Bond was born on the West Coast, the son of Jim and Vida Bond.
The family of three boys and two girls grew up in the small settlement of Blaketown where Jimmy attended primary school before heading to Greymouth High School.
“Mum used to like to have a bet on the gallops. As a family we always went to the race meetings on the West Coast like Omoto, Victoria Park, Kumara and Hokitika. When I was a boy I used to sell race books at some of the meetings.”
While attending the trots at Victoria Park, Jimmy showed an interest in horses and would help visiting trainers gear up.
“I got to help an old fella called Jack Slack. He only had a couple of horses, a trotter and a pacer. He invited me back to Christchurch with him to work in the school holidays. He lived just across the road from Addington Racecourse on Lincoln Road.”
A regular visitor to Slack’s stable in those days was Southland trainer Jack Walsh of Robin Dundee fame.
“Jack also offered me a job for the school holidays so I went south.”
When Bond was at Walsh’s he had a good trotter named Cabra (Dillon Hall) which won ten races. He also trained a mare called Lauder Lady (U Scott) which won nine races.
“She was owned by the Hamiltons in Central Otago. She was a very good mare. In fact she beat Dignus one day at Addington. Jack Litten had Dignus and he was a bloody good horse. Lauder Lady used to pull very hard and old Jack (Litten) yelled out to Jack (Walsh) ‘pull up Jack we’re finished.’ He thought he had another round to go. Jack (Walsh) was only a little light fella. He wouldn’t have weighed more than seven or eight stone. Lauder Lady never used to go away but she did this day and she killed them.”
Bond left school when he was sixteen and worked for twelve months in the parts department at Grey Motors.
Then he moved south again when Walsh offered him full time work before moving back to Greymouth, but he remained connected with the harness industry.
“I went over for the Easter Cup one year. Jack Smolenski was working for Cecil Devine at the time. There was a big smash in the Cup and Cecil got hurt. I knew Jack when he was down here at Peterson Lodge. Jack came chasing after me after the smash and wanted me to work for Devine because he was the only one there at the time. So I went there.”
At that time three times New Zealand Cup winner False Step was in the stable.
“Thunder was there as well but he was on his last legs. I was there for twelve months. I left on the day I was twenty one and worked for a builder for two years.”
He reconnected with Southland harness racing at the Queen’s Birthday races at Ashburton and accepted a job with Winton trainer Derek Dynes.
It was there that he was associated with the good pacing mare Deft, and champion three year old Tactile.
“She (Deft) was a big mare. Tactile was her half-brother and he was a small compact guy whereas she had a bit of scope about her. She was quite a rangy mare, she was pretty good. She ran second to Lordship in the Easter Cup.”
Deft provided Bond with his first win as a driver at Winton in December 1962. She won by four lengths over a mile and 5 furlongs.
Deft finished her career with ten wins and gained notoriety later in life by being the dam of champion Noodlum which won twenty eight of his forty two starts, including fifteen in a row. Deft also left Olga Korbut which won eight races including the 1975 Sapling Stakes.
He also remembers Tactile well.
“As a two year he had two starts at the trials for Ken Balloch and got beaten by a horse called Bubbles – a filly that Clem Scott trained. Little did they know Tactile was about to find a new lease of life.
“Four or five days before the trial we were having barrier practice at Derek’s place. He had a wee track down by the river. There was a run of about 100 yards down to the wee track from the stables. Anyway we were having barrier practice just outside the stables with a horse Bryce Buchanan was driving called Porus (Fallacy – Aegean). They thought the world of him but he was a terrible rough going bugger. He wouldn’t line up this day, and I was on Tactile alongside the fence and Derek was leading Porus up to try to get him up to the barrier. Tactile was standing there quiet as a lamb. Porus pulled sideways and Derek let the bloody barrier go and it hit the fence with a hell of a roar. Tactile bolted. The cart hit the fence and tipped me out and he ran down to the little track down by the river.” Bond eventually caught Tactile no damage done. “After that he was a different horse and never looked like getting beaten.”
Bond also took Tactile to Australia.
“He went on the boat from Bluff and I was supposed to travel with him in an officer’s cabin. They decided at the last minute they couldn’t do without some official, so I had to fly over.”
Bond said when he arrived in Melbourne Tactile was suffering from seasickness.
“I never thought we‘d get him to the races. His first start was in Adelaide and we flew from Melbourne to Adelaide in a DC3. I had to put a bag over his head to get him on the plane. They just had a horse box strapped in the middle of the plane around mail and other goods. The pilot had a shotgun there and he said ‘If this horse plays up you’ll have to put him down.’ No way was that going to happen. I’d got some tranquiliser off the vet in Melbourne and I’d given it to him and he was as quiet as a lamb.”
The South Australian Derby was the first of the Australian Triple Crown and by that stage trainer Jim Dynes and driver Doody Townley had arrived.
Heats were run on the first night with the final seven days later.
“A horse called Minuteman won his heat well and should have won the final. He was a couple of lengths clear at the corner but he broke and ran off the bloody track and Tactile got through and won it.”
Tactile went on to win the New South Wales, Victorian, New Zealand and Great Northern Derbys.
“I only had one drive on Tactile at Balfour when he was in the big race. I was damn lucky to get a drive there.”
Another horse Bond drove successfully for Dynes was Garrison Hanover gelding Killadar. He won five races, two with Bond in the sulky.
Bond worked for Dynes for five years and while he was there he met Colleen Tait. He and Colleen married in 1969.
Bond was about to link up with yet another trainer called Jack.
“Jack Hughes rang me and wanted me to go up to Pukekohe and work for him. It only lasted three months. While I was there I was lucky enough to drive a horse called Gerrand. I won three race driving him.”
Gerrand won nine races for Hughes and training partner Len Bayer.
Bond had also taken a horse north from Southland called Airfare (Flying Song).
“He couldn’t gallop quick enough as a four year old to keep up with the horses down here (Southland). They all thought I was bloody stupid taking him all the way to Auckland.”
Bond got a job in a market garden in Pukekohe while continuing to train Airfare. Les Purdon allowed him to be based from his stables and because Jimmy didn’t have a training license at that stage, Airfare raced under the Purdon name.
“At his (Airfare’s) first start we ran fifth and probably should have won. Then I took him to Wellington for the three day meeting. I was unloading the float and a sharp bit of metal was sticking out. It gauged a hole in my hand so I had to find a new driver. Luckily I found Peter Wolfenden. I told Peter the horse was tough and not to be afraid of going at the six hundred. He won by twelve lengths. He came out on the second day and won again. On the third day Peter had a horse in the race so I drove Airfare and he ran fifth. We went back to Pukekohe and he kicked the box, and got a big leg and it took him a month to get him right. At his next start he ran second at Alexandra Park.
“The horse that beat him returned a positive, but we never got paid the stake. He won on the second night and Brian Meale bought him off us. We came back to Southland after that.”
On returning to Southland Colleen’s father Dave Tait and Davey Kerr found a suitable property for Jimmy and Colleen to purchase. It’s still home. Jimmy began his Southland training career in 1971.
“We worked on Davey Todd’s track for a couple of years.”
His first winner as a trainer was Phoebe Brigade at Winton in December 1971. The Light Brigade trotter previously trained by Les Purdon started off a thirty six yard handicap and trotted the two miles in 4-37.6.
Young Al (Young Charlies – Peteria) was the first good horse he trained. He was broken in by Gore trainer Les Stevenson.
“Les passed him onto me. He was at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in the walking race. I think he finished fourth or fifth. I remember taking Young Al to Addington one day when he beat Al’s Holiday which was owned by Noel Simpson, trained by Jack Litten and was driven by Maurice Holmes. We reckoned we had a real victory that night.”
Young Al won by a length and a half and paid $17.30 to win.
Bond also planned to take Young Al to race in Auckland in the New Zealand Messenger in Auckland and he floated the gelding north in February 1974, accompanied by a three year old from Harry Cox’s stable Special Hanover.
“Young Al had run sixth on the first night and had won well on the second night and was one of the favourites on the third night (FFA).”
Because both Young Al and Special Hanover had had two hard runs in the first two days of the carnival, Bond decided to head to a beach near Wellington with Murray Bradford and Paddy Diack, the owner of Special Hanover.
“I took Young Al and he walked straight into the water up to his belly but Special Hanover wouldn’t go in. Old Paddy was trying to lead him so Murray came out and got him into the water by a couple of feet. A little wave came in and Special Hanover jumped it, knocked Murray over, and pushed him under the water, then took off out into Cook Strait. He was about a mile out and old Paddy was running up and down yelling out ‘come back boy’. We were lucky he turned round and came back in. We were going to have to get the Coastguard.”
On the final night of the Wellington Carnival at Hutt Park Young Al struck trouble early.
“A horse that drew on the inside of us ran up the track and took his legs from under him and put him down on the track. George Shand (Mighty Gay) who wasn’t supposed to be on the second row came over the top. George’s cart shaft went through the leg of Young Al. That was him finished. We had to bring him home.”
He did recover from the injury and he returned to racing the following season. He finished his New Zealand career winning at Ascot Park over a mile in 1-59.6.
“He was the first horse to go under two minutes at Ascot Park.”
He was owned by Jim and Murray Bradford and won six races for the combination and that started a relationship with the Bradford family that was to produce a string of winners for Bond.
The Bradford winners that followed included Cle Velle (6), Young Em (2), Ata Lord (6), Pebble (3), Crafty Kooba (10), Miss Patron (1), Sly Agent (2), Atal’s Fella (2), Steady Boy (3), Cram (2) and Minty (2).
Crafty Kooba was the best the family had produced. He was by Timely Knight out of the Sly Yankee mare Sly Dancer and was bred and raced by Murray.
He lined up for his first start at Gore in December 1983 as hot favourite, beating Sue McCoy by a half a neck with eight lengths back to the third horse. Twelve days later he was beaten by a long neck at Ascot Park by Sir Rival in the Kilkelly Brothers Futurity Stakes. Back on his home track at the Boxing Day meeting at Gore he won a heat of the Southern Supremacy Stakes. Five days later he won another heat of the series at Winton. He then ventured to Timaru, running third in the Timaru Challenge Stakes behind Freightman and Liquid Lightning before returning at Ascot Park to win the Group Three Southland Juvenile Stakes.
After running seventh in the Cross Stakes at Addington Crafty Kooba won his next two starts racing three and four year olds in the Festival Stakes at Gore and the Wyndham Stakes at Young Quinn Raceway. He returned to that track seven days later to win the inaugural Southern Supremacy Stakes beating Sir Rival by one and three quarter lengths. He paid $1 for a win and $1 for a place.
He was then taken to Auckland for a two race campaign running fourth behind King Alba, Roydon Glen and Kanturk on the first night
“It was just an ordinary run. We needed the run and we thought that would top him off for the Derby.”
In the $100,000 Group One Great Northern Derby won by Roydon Glen, Crafty Kooba finished eleventh.
“I said to Murray when we were up there that the horse wasn’t right. We’d won the Supremacy on a wet track. I reckon it took its toll. When he got home he was crook so it was a true representation of his worth that time.”
He finished his three year old season running eighth (off 20 metres) in the Group Three Tanqueray Stakes at Gore.
As a four year old he won three races from eight starts. His last start in New Zealand was a winning one in the Group Two Four Year Old Championship at Forbury Park and following that he was sold to America.
Crafty Kooba after his last win in New Zealand at Forbury Park
Crafty Kooba winning in America
A regular stream of winners followed as Bond mixed training with fulltime work at the Mataura Freezing Works where he worked for thirty five years.
“It was the only place you got paid. I was a legger on the chain but I’ve been every place at the works; had a go at everything. If you had horses you had to work somewhere because you have to feed the buggers.”
Another nice horse that Bond trained was Party Ahead gelding Timmitu.
“He won at Invercargill and Colleen nominated him for a heat of the Sires Stakes at Ashburton. He ran fourth behind Inky Lord and then he was sold to Australia. They bought him on the day.” He went on to win fourteen races in Australia.
Auchen Bay’s win in the 1981 Invercargill Cup was another favourite win for Jimmy. The chestnut gelding beat quality mare Sweet Jessica by a length in the two mile feature.
Jimmy Bond had a very long driving career but sadly it came to an end on the 22nd February 2014 at Wyndham.
“I drew two on the gate (Aye One) and I think there were three horses on the second row. Blair Orange (Rosie Lindenny) lost control of his horse at the start as the gate was just about to pull away, he broke and half pie came in. He had one of those metal carts on and I didn’t, and his cart went underneath me and lifted me straight up and tipped me out. The horse behind me came over the top of me.”
Bond was knocked unconscious and taken to Southland Hospital by Ambulance.
“I woke up at Woodlands.”
The accident broke ten bones and he sustained fractures to his ribs, collarbone, cheek, pelvis and a bruised lung. He was in hospital for six weeks and during that time Jimmy’s good friend Maurice Kerr came over from Gore to help work the horses.
In his long career Jimmy Bond won 168 races driving, and he trained 120 winners over forty two seasons.
His best winners were Crafty Kooba (10), Young Al (6), Cle Velle (6) and Ata Lord (5).
Over the years he’s been supported by wife Colleen who forged her own very successful career as an International Netball Umpire and his two children Lyndon and Dana.
Lyndon trains from Jimmy and Colleen’s property, and has taken over the famous brown colours with blue dots.
He’s making his own way in the training ranks with trotter Crusher Collins winning three races in the Bond colours this season. The mare is leased by members of the Bond family while Jimmy owns promising square gaiter Tweedledee.
So plenty to keep the senior statesman of the Bond Family busy in a well-deserved full retirement.