John Higgins

Coast To Coast Higgins

John Higgins (Higgie), has been an Insurance Agent for forty two years and he’s been around Standardbreds for slightly longer. He’s lived in Invercargill for over forty years but does a fair amount of his business in Central Otago and his beloved West Coast. In fact every December and January he heads to the Coast and takes in the racing on the summer circuit.

Higgins was born in Westport where the family are well known, having bred and raced horses for many years.

One of thee Standardbred families they’ve had success with was started in the early fifties when Jim (J.E.) Higgins bred Kingcobra mare Pitterpat. She was out of a Jack Potts mare Red Queen. Pitterpat won twice.

“Uncle Frank and Uncle Jim had a farm. They had stables and used to do a lot of horses with Dad (Sid). My Grandfather was a legal bookie. It was like the old days – a lot of the work was done in the billiard saloon. Trotting was really strong in Westport. There were the Higgins and the Reedys,” said John.

Pitterpat’s first foal was Honest Master filly Coolit. Coolit left Patsy Marie (Schell Hanover) and her claim to fame was beating the ‘boys’ Bionic Adios and Fouroux in the 1980 Methven Two Year Old Stakes. She was trained by Higgin’s cousin Bob Higgins.

John went to school at St Pauls School in Dunedin and that’s where he became more hands on with horses.

“I used to go to Forbury Park and help around there. When I came to Southland I mucked around with horses at Jock Purdue’s. I also helped Bryce Buchanan and Gary McEwan. I then went out on my own doing some pre-training.”

His first horse was King Red. He was by Ferndale Bachelor out of Ann Frank. Ferndale Bachelor was a colonial stallion by Bachelor Hanover out of Queen Ngaio making him a half-brother to Waratah (Johnny Globe) which won eight races and Trio (Lordship) which won sixteen. Queen Ngaio herself won ten races. She was by Light Brigade and she was trained by Felix Newfield. As a four year old she won five races – four in a row including two on the same day at Oamaru in October 1958.

In 1989 Higgins also part-owned a daughter of Queen Ngaio – a Garrison Hanover mare called Reassurance. Higgin’s bred from the mare for a few seasons and raced one of her progeny Georgia Rose. Georgia Rose was trained by Buchanan and ventured north to Auckland and raced in a number of two year old fillies races. She won once at the Franklin meeting in the hands Michael Langdon. At that point Michael’s father John had taken over her training. She was then exported to Australia and won another five races there. As a broodmare mare in Australia, Georgia Rose has left Alberado (Albert Albert) 18 wins, Modern Warrior (Modern Art) 14 wins and Bettor Atom (Bettor’s Delight) 15 wins.

In the late 1980s Higgins also purchased with Buchanan, Heather’s Bo (Bo Scot Blue Chip – Heatherloch). Heatherloch turned out to be a prolific breeder leaving Scottish Loch (7 New Zealand wins plus 30 American wins), Yankee Loch (20 trotting wins) Scotch Cloud (12 USA wins) Cloud Over (30 USA wins).

“Bryce and I bought her (Heather’s Bo) at the sales and paid about $20,000 for her which was dear at the time. She had arthritis so she never raced.”

Heather’s Bo did leave Eileen Monica which won seven races and Patches (Live Or Die) which recorded 17 wins.

Later on Higgins started to breed from the Bo Scots Blue Chip mare Patsy McCreedy which was a descendant of the old mare Pitterpat. Patsy McCreedy left good pacer Padraig (Holmes Hanover) which won five races for Murray Brown before heading to America where he won another 14. She also left Starship gelding White Star Rocky which won two races in New Zealand before winning another eleven races in Australia.

Lyse Doucet, a Holmes Hanover mare out of Patsy McCreedy, is still being bred from by Higgins. She’s left seven foals so far with the best being Eilis Rose. She was by Courage Under Fire and Higgins raced her with John Thompson. She won four races in New Zealand for Murray Brown. She was exported to Australia in 2012 and ended up winning another six races there, recording a best mile rate of 1-53.9.

“She used to break up and had bloody issues here. One of the reasons we sent her to Australia was mile racing.”

She was brought back to New Zealand to breed from and she has a three year old American Ideal filly called Ideal Millie, an unregistered Art Major filly and is in foal to A Rocknroll Dance.

Incidentally, John Thompson recently owned the winner of the Group One $1,000,000 Kingston Town Stakes, Pounamu. He also owned the 2000 Caulfield Cup winner Diatribe. He races his horses in the colours of black with the silver fern.

“He was from Queenstown originally but now lives in Sydney. I got him started with pacers and he got into gallopers in a big way.”

Booster (Badlands Hanover), which won seven races and his full brother Sniggihdis (Sid Higgins spelt backwards), which had ten New Zealand and Australian wins, are other winners out of Lyse Doucet.

She’s also the dam of the promising Liberty Dance – a Mach Three filly with Mark Jones that ran second once in two starts last season as a two year old. She was the favourite in last season’s Sweet Lou Leonard Memorial Stakes, finishing sixth. The mare’s latest foal also a filly, is by Somebeachsomewhere.

The Higgins family are also breeding from a full-sister to Eilis Rose in Mary Niven. Her Rocknroll Heaven filly Rocknroll Nevin has won two races to date for Higgins’ brother Robert. He also owns her next foal by A Rocknroll Dance.

John has raced many horses over the years. They were mainly trained by the late Bryce Buchanan and Findlay Road trainer Murray Brown.

One of his better ones was good two year old Badlands Hanover filly Hemisphere. She won three of her twenty two starts including the Group Three Nevele R Stakes for Two Year Old Fillies beating Arden’s Darlin and Delight Me. She also won a heat of the Sires Stakes for Two Year Old Fillies and dead heated for second with Arden’s Darlin in the 2008 Caduceus Classic for Two Year Old Fillies, one and a half lengths behind winner Rona Lorraine.

“After the Jewels she was never the same horse. She did have a respiratory issue which we got looked at at Massey which never came to anything. In saying that we probably pushed her a bit as a two year old because she was a big horse when you look at her now. She probably never matured until she was four or five.”

Hemisphere was out of the OK Bye mare Trans Tasman. She is a half – sister to handy horses Caps Off and Badlands Bute.

“Trans Tasman is out of Te Phyno. Danny Boyle had that breed. He loaned her (Trans Tasman) to me. I’d always supported Nevele R. That’s how I got Hemisphere.”

Hemisphere’s second foal, a filly by Stunin Cullen named Bardot, qualified recently at Rangiora for Benny Hill and he could be Higgins next nice horse.

“They’re not saying much. She’s a nice pacer and does everything right. They think she’s got a lot to learn as she’s a bit of a green horn. Everything she does she seems to improve each time. She’s been turned out at my cousin Joan Adair’s place. She used to own Windbag. We tried a couple of times to get her (Hemisphere) in foal to Christian Cullen but couldn’t. That’s why we went to Stunin Cullen. Hemisphere is in foal to Sweet Lou and she’s got a nice two year old Bettor’s Delight filly which Brent Barclay and Lauren Pearson have broken in and like.”

So for a guy who’s put a bit of money into the Standardbreds it would be nice to see him reap the rewards from Bardot and of course tell the story of a few wins over a few beers between here and the West Coast.

Editor’s note: Since this article was written Bardot has gone on and won her first starts for Higgins.