Bags Of Winners
Invercargill Lawyer Cleland Murdoch (also known as “Bags”) is among a small group of the legal fraternity in Invercargill that have an interest and or investment in harness racing.
The likes of Mary-Jane Thomas, Murray Little and Lester Smith are all lawyers, race horse owners and breeders in the province.
But it must be said that Murdoch is the biggest and the most successful to date.
His initial interest in the horse industry was in the thoroughbred code back in the boom years of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.
“Initially I was more interested in gallopers because when I was a kid Southland had Rex Cochrane, Ted Winsloe and Bill Hillis. The best trainers in New Zealand. We also had Kurdistan and Bellborough. I used to follow the gallopers more than the trots. I was brought up in the Eiffel Tower era,” he said.
But that changed when he and a few mates bought a mare off Southland trainer Johnny Henderson.
“I was friendly with Mike Hughes (Tour of Southland winner) and he arranged to buy a mare called Cheeky Lass with a foal at foot by Knowing Bret, and she was in foal to Knowing Bret. I think we paid $6,000 for her. Mike, Peter Kerslake and I went a third each. The foal at foot was Mike Adios which was my first winner.”
Mike Adios wasn’t initially trained in Southland.
“Nifty Norman arranged to send him to Derek Jones and that was my first win as an owner. He won a penalty bearing trial at Addington so I never even saw it.”
Mike Adios beat fourteen other rivals at the Canterbury Owners and Breeders Trials with a winning stake of $1,000.
“He had some issues so we brought him back down here. He was trained by Murray Brown and he gave Murray his first win as a trainer.”
Brown has trained 69 winners for Murdoch whether it be individually, through shared ownership or in syndicates.
Murdoch has also had winners trained by Ali Malcolmson, Billy Heads, Tim Butt, Dave Anderson Hamish Hunter, Ken Barron and Phil Williamson.
Fast forward thirty two years and Murdoch is still breeding and racing plenty of horse flesh with shares in a good number of racehorses such as Sam Galleon, Swamp Major, Northview Dave, American Magic (American Ideal – Cher’s Magic),Triple VC, Ideal Art, Arnold and Elle Ko (Highlanders Syndicate).
He’s also breeding at the top end of the trotting market with Past Chairman of HRNZ Gary Allen.
“I got to meet Gary when I was the president of the Invercargill Harness Racing Club and going to the trotting conferences. Over the years Gary and I have become close friends and are breeding from C J Galleon (which we own) and also on an alternate years, Rae Galleon & Niamey which Gary owns in partnership with Trevor Casey.”
CJ Galleon has left James Galleon (Washington VC) which qualified at Gore, winning by fourteen lengths and pacing 9.2 seconds under qualifying time. He was sold to Australia for big money and has since won eight from thirteen starts for Gary Hall in Western Australia.
“The Halls really like the horse. I think he has had some injury issues. We’ve got a full brother at home. Brent McIntyre (Macca Lodge) actually saved the mare from going to Gore and he’s bred a foal out of her and she’s going back to Washington.”
On the trotting side of breeding with Gary Allen, they bred alternate years from the Sundon mare Rae Galleon which is a full sister to Belle Galleon the winner of eleven races – owned by Trevor Casey and Allen. and also Niamey (Chiola Hanover – Game Flyer) which is also owned by Casey and Allen.
Niamey has left Pocaro (Group One 3 year old Ruby at Ashburton – 13 wins), Springbank Sam (20 wins) and Daenerys Targaryen (15 wins including the Group One Seelite Redwood Classic at her first start), and the promising Sam Galleon the winner of four of his eleven starts.
“Gary and I have a half-brother to Sam Galleon by Majestic Son entered in the sales and we’re sending the mare to Love You. She’s had seven foals for seven winners including two Group One winners and one of her daughters Pocaro won a Group One race and has also left a Group One winner. We’re also breeding from Galleons Respect which has left the very promising King Soloman and have a half-brother to him entered in the sales.”
Over the years Murdoch has also managed a few syndicates, including the Watch Your Step and Highlanders Syndicates.
“Racing horses with syndicates is a lot of fun. If you happen to win a race it’s usually a big day. When you win a race on your own you put your chest out and think I’ve done alright but that’s about it. Syndication is the way to go. It’s sharing the risk because it’s got too expensive. Some of our leading trainers are charging a daily rate that’s getting up there with Australian galloping trainers.”
And it was through a syndicate that Murdoch was involved in the purchase of the American bred mare Watch Your Step in the early 2000’s.
“We bought her off John Stormont – an Auckland bloodstock agent who’d bought a few horses from Murray. He bought a very good horse off us called Onedin Sapreme which we sold for big money. John rang Murray up one day and said he had this American mare whose mother was a half-sister to Beach Towel.”
Murdoch recalls that the Syndicate paid about $60,000 for the mare who had an In The Pocket colt at foot (Stopwatch) and was in foal to the same sire.
“We sold the first one for about $50,000 and we thought this was easy. We sold the next one for $15,000 ( Announcement).”
Announcement won eight races for Ashburton trainer John Hay. Stopwatch and Announcement both went on to win races in America.
The Watch Your Step syndicate is still going and sold a Bettor’s Delight colt out of Cher Magic (Christian Cullen – Watch Your Step) for $55,000 at last year’s sale. The group have a Well Said colt to sell at this February’s sale. The mare is booked to American Ideal.
“We also have a horse called American Magic out of the mare at Murray’s which qualified last year as a two year old. He’s a pretty smart horse and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t put the hoof in the till.”
One of the stars of the Murdoch portfolio is the Art Major four year old Swamp Major which was bred by good friend Trevor Ryder and is trained by Ken and Tony Barron.
“Trevor was going to buy a filly from Sandy Yardley out of Hot Shoe Shuffle.. He asked me if I was interested in going in. I hummed and harred. We were duck shooting one day and Murray Brown said why do you fella’s want to buy a horse out of Hot Shoe Shuffle. You’d be better off to buy one out of Trevor’s own breed. We sat down over a couple of cups of tea, we did the deal and bought Swamp Major as a weanling.”
From eight starts last season he won three races and was only out of the money once.
“He’s potentially as good a horse as I’ve had.”
Murdoch is also breeding from a number of his own mares.
They include Northview Desire an unraced mare by Real Desire. Ray Green trains her first foal Northview Hustler which he rates.
The race track performances of Ideal For Real in Australia and He’s Watching in American have helped Murdoch to make up his mind about sending Northview Desire to American Ideal. Both Ideal For Real and He’s Watching are by American Ideal out of Real Desire mares, as is Northview Desire.
Ideal For Real has won thirteen races from twenty one starts. He’s unbeaten in his last seven starts, winning the Group Two Breeders Crown for four year olds at Melton in August while He’s Watching was unbeaten in eight two year old starts and named USA Two Year Old of the Year. In those eight starts he set five track record and two world records.
One mare that has sentimental ties is North View Lass (Live Or Die – Trans Lass). She descends from Cheeky Lass and has a two year old Badlands Hanover colt called Northview Cam (named after Cleland’s late father).
He’s also breeding with Murray Brown from Judes Cullen (Christian Cullen – Highview Jude), Cher Magic (with The Watch Your Step Syndicate). Her foals include Chers Bettor Babe (4 wins) and Chers Magic Jet (Australian) and she has a Bettors Delight two year old colt and a Well Said yearling colt.
Of the many racehorses he’s bred he rates Northview Punter as the best. He won twenty seven races in Australian winning $500,260. He finished third in Group One WA Pacing Cup, second in Group One Freemantle Cup and won 2014 Group Three August Cup.
“He was a lovely horse and I sold him for not much money. That year I had another two year old called Northview Cardle. He was showing a hell of a lot of promise and we trialled him after the sales and sold him to Australia for huge money. If I had sold this horse before the sales I wouldn’t have sold Northview Punter because I didn’t make any money out of him.”
On the trotting side of his ownership Murdoch’s first winner in that gait came at Roxburgh in April 1988 when Cilla’s Son (Alias Armbro – Sure Mart) trained and driven by Ali Malcolmson won. Despite being unsound he ended up winning five races for twenty four starts. Murdoch also had success with King Galleon (King Conch-Galleon’s Best) which won eight races.
Those successes have heightened his interest in the square gaiters.
Last year there were only 540 trotting mares bred from – down from 700.
“The Australians have been raiding our best families. I personally think that we have to do our bit to encourage them (owners of trotting mares). What also worries me with those mares is that Love You’s book is full, Muscle Mass will probably get over 100 mares or so, so what happens to the rest of them?” The lack of a variety of quality fresh or chilled semen is a concern. On the other hand, breeders have access to some incredible stallions at very discountable prices.
Murdoch views the recent changes to Southern Harness’s stake structure as a move in the right direction.
“We’ve got our dates in the early part of the year right by racing fortnightly until the end of October and weekly after that. Stakes are heading in the right direction but I’m not happy with the differential between trotters and pacers for maiden races.”
On an administration level he’s on the NZSBA Executive having also served a term as President and he’s also Vice Chairman of the Sires Stakes Board.
“At any one time we (Sires Stakes Board) have funds well in excess of seven figures under our control. In response to some criticism about the Sire Stakes Series being very elite – the reality is that it has become elite because the standard of our horses is just so good.”
He says the Sires Stakes Board has helped fund five new races worth $40,000 which were run last season and will also be run this coming season. The Board is the major player in age group racing.
“There’s never been a better time to breed a horse. I own or have an interest in about eight mares that are going to stud this year. Speaking to people like John Stiven, he’s got about 16 going to stud.”
Cleland Murdoch continues to make a significant contribution to Harness Racing both on the local Southland scene and nationally – with bags of enthusiasm.
By the way you’ll need to ask him why he’s called Bags, and why he raced a horse called Wide Awake Bags. I forgot to ask!