May 2020

Lockdown Has Got Us Thinking

Bruce Stewart

1st May 2020

With Covid-19 disrupting the Harness Racing Industry, this time of Lockdown has given us the opportunity to rethink, reassess, and take another look, at what our future might look like.

Many people it seems, are thinking that now is a time for us to decide as a group, what we want for harness racing in the south in this new environment. Maybe we can choose to make some decisions about our future ourselves, rather than leaving it up to the powers that be to make them for us. Clearly there will be some hard decisions to make. But it’s important that we all put our thinking caps on, so we can devise a collaborative plan going forward.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a variety of thoughts and questions that reflect some of what may be “in the air” out there in our racing community. They are simply that – starters for a conversation.

Some things on the list might not be practical or even desirable to implement, but they’re included here as they may be able to be adapted, and other ideas may be spawned.

  • Should all meetings just be called Southern Harness with use of individual club names dropped?
  • Is it time to move Diamonds Day to the summer when it could truly become an on-course event worth promoting?
  • With the new end of season programme having been released without a single meeting at Forbury Park scheduled, what is the Park’s future?
  • If Forbury Park is not used, will the dates head south, and would Southern Harness have enough horses to sustain more dates? Of course Forbury gets horses from South Canterbury and Canterbury. Would Canterbury horses travel further south in winter?
  • Will RITA decide that Southern meetings will be held on Thursdays under lights at Ascot Park, with other meetings sprinkled over Saturdays and Sundays?
  • Could racing all year round become a reality in the south, and could Ascot Park become the new winter venue?
  • With an improvement in lighting technology, should we investigate (again) having lights at Ascot Park?
  • Is the current handicap system punter friendly and is drop back properly understood by punters?
  • Would money that’s currently paid out for horses that finish further back than fifth be better used to pay local breeders a bonus? Or could we do both?
  • Do we need to put greater investment into helping young trainers, such as Wyndham has done for Craig Ferguson?
  • Should we run invitation races in the new season (say November) for the points scorers in this seasons Supremacy and Southland Oaks? No group status or group stake, but it could be interesting.
  • How many courses do we require in Southland?

If you would like to share your thoughts on these points or have your own ideas, feel free to email them to me at bwstewart55@gmail.com

Macca Lodge Standing Raging Bull

Bruce Stewart

1st May 2020

Macca Lodge announced this week that it will stand Christian Cullen stallion Raging Bull on farm this coming spring.

Trained by Cran Dalgety, Raging Bull was an outstanding race horse winning five races from just ten starts, and he was second in his five other races.

As a three year old he finished second to Smolda in the Listed Northern Stakes in Auckland, second in the Elsu Classic behind the same horse and second to Ideal Scott in the New Zealand Yearling Sales Open Final.

Raging Bull’s out of the Artsplace mare San Sophia whose five live foals have all been winners; San Rafaella (10 wins from 19 starts and 1-52.3 AUS), Raging Bull (5 wins from 10 starts and 1-56.6), Red West (4 wins and 1-56.6) and Santa Catalina (13 wins and 1-55.6).

His second dam Emory Girl has left eight foals for seven winners including Galleria which recorded twenty two wins, banked $1,814,453 and retired the richest and fastest mare of all time. At two she was undefeated while at three she was voted USA Pacing Filly of the Year.

Raging Bull is owned by Australian Hal David and McIntyre says the horse will suit a lot of Southern breeders and is very fertile.

“I was approached to stand him a few years ago and turned it down. He got about thirty five mares last season, he’s royally bred, had a ton of potential as a race horse and he’s starting to do a nice job with some nice horses floating around,” McIntyre said.

He says Raging Bull is likely to stand at around the $2,000 mark.

“And he’s priced right for those poor hard up people who can’t breed a horse (laughter). That was another reason for taking him. Hey, he’s shown he can leave a nice horse so he’s definitely worth a punt.”

As a sire from a limited book Raging Bull has left twenty eight starters which have won 19 races.

“We served ten mares in Southland last season and nine got in foal. We’ve broken a few in here and they’re lovely horses to work with.”

His best progeny to date are Bare Knuckle (1-51.5 AUS) the winner of eight races and $106,046, Wildwest (1-53.9) eight wins from ten starts including his first eight in a row, Eastanbull the winner of three races and $29,033 and Dark Rage three wins and $25,545.

Bare Knuckle as a two year old at Ascot Park – Photo Bruce Stewart

Dark Rage – Photo Bruce Stewart

Wildwest – Photo Bruce Stewart

“Hal was talking to Gary Hall about Wildwest and they think he’s a grand circuit horse.”

Another colonial sire standing at Macca Lodge is former Southland open class pacer Franco Ledger.

“He’s only had a small book. We’ve got one rolling round here that we really like. But it’s a long way to the track because he’s only a yearling. Peter Hunter’s got one that rolls along not too bad as well.”

Franco Ledger – Photo Bruce Stewart

Another sire McIntyre is excited about is Fear The Dragon. As a racehorse he won five of his eleven starts as a two year old pacing 1-50.4.

He came into his own at three and raced against an outstanding crop including Downbytheseaside.

His biggest win at three was in the $1 million North American Cup in which he defeated Downbytheseaside and Huntsville pacing his life time record of 1-48.8.

He ended his career with seventeen wins from twenty seven starts and had banked $1.5 million.

Fear The Dragon has received tremendous support in Ohio, with 140 mares booked in each of his first two seasons.

“He got fifty five (mares) in foal from about sixty mares (with) frozen (semen) so that’s pretty sharp. We’re pretty happy with that. He got some nice mares.”

On the trotting front, the stud also has Ready Cash stallion En Solitaire on its books. He’s the first son of super sire Ready Cash to be available to New Zealand breeders.

He’s out of the Love You mare Ushuaia Wood and is bred on the same cross as super star trotters Bold Eagle and Face Time Bourbon. Bold Eagle has won forty five of his sixty six starts and his wins include twenty Group One victories. He’s won 4.6 million euros. Face Time Bourbon is the winner of fifteen of his seventeen starts and banked 652,150 euros.

“He’s got about twenty mares including One Over Kenny.”

One Over Kenny won two Group One Rowe Cups, the National Trot and New Zealand Trotting Championship twice and she won six races in Australia including the Group One 2007 Australasian Trotters Championship.

As a broodmare all of her six foals of racing age have won races including One Over Da Moon (22), Ultimate Stride (6), One Over Da Stars (5) and One Over Da Skye (5).

One Over The Son – Photo Bruce Stewart

Ultimate Stride – Photo Bruce Stewart

Southern Harness Stakes Confirmed

Press Release – 4th May 2020

As the bureau for 10 Southland clubs, Southern Harness Racing is pleased to announce that we will be adding funds for stakes for the 10 remaining meetings of the 2019-20 season.

Southern Harness is in the fortunate position that we can draw on funds that have been kept aside for a ‘rainy day’ and we are sure that this will be welcomed by the industry participants who race in the region.

A maximum stake of $10,000 has been set, while a low rating race will carry $7,000. Maiden races will be run for between $8000 and $10,000.

We are delighted to be able to give the industry this support as we all look forward to a return to racing in the south on Saturday, May 30.

Jason Broad

General Manager

Southern Harness Racing

Earl Says Southern Harness Model Is Working

6th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

Southern Harness Board chairman John Earl has always been a straight shooter, never shying away from important or confronting issues.

And he’s been one of the key driving forces behind the success of the Southern Harness model, which has now been in place for four years.

The model consists of ten clubs which collectively run forty four race meetings per season. Southern Harness has three paid staff members, three board members who are voted on by the clubs, and three people appointed to oversee all of the clubs’ programming.

“It’s a small and simple structure that can make quick decisions as changes are being made all the time,” Earl says.

Another strength of the Southern model is it that the clubs are bulk funded by HRNZ.

“It’s created lots of positive outcomes for us because we can adopt tight budgets and clubs know their future is sustainable.”

Earl says the fact that 87% of this fund is returned to owners in the area is a reflection of the positive impact of the model – “As opposed to clubs retaining stake money to balance their books and making profits.”

Earl states that having a single programming group has enabled Southern Harness to use the current rating system to its advantage.

“The system has come under a lot of criticism but no system will work properly if clubs are in competition with each other. We endeavour to do what’s best for our horse population. Self-interest isn’t tolerated,” he said.

Earl says the template Southern Harness is using is working and that the lockdown has proved that. The Southern Clubs lost ten of its original races days, but the revised calendar sees ten race meetings returning to the province between 30th May and the end of July.

“The funding (for these meetings) is more than we anticipated and because the ten clubs have been under the one umbrella we’ve been able to put money aside for a rainy day.”

He says this money will be used to top up stakes to pre-lockdown level for these end of season meetings.

Earl says driving turnover has always been a concern for Southern Harness, as it is with most regions.

“The TABs only input to this problem was to fill the fields up. But this wasn’t enough information for us. Using mobile starts, looking at the stipes reports and using close ratings bands, it became clear to us that this model is working. The punter wants competitive racing.”

Earl says with stakes dropping it might be time to drop the two percent of the stakes pool currently paid to runners that finish further back than fifth.

“I’d like to see this replaced with a losing driving fee. The winning horse should be receiving more stakes. By paying stakes back to fifth and using the rating system, all horses get a chance to be competitive. If they aren’t competitive how can we sell our product to the punter?”

He says Harness Racing’s future is clearly in the hands of RITA.

“Let’s hope with a leaner meaner business model they can generate more profit for us out of their 2.77 billion gross turnover.”

Branxholme Blackie

Bruce Stewart

7th May 2020

In the last few seasons thirty nine year old Branxholme trainer Alister Black has fashioned an excellent strike rate in the Southern Harness scene.

Last season he was the fourth best national UDR rated trainer of the season for trainers with ten wins or more. His 0.3889 was only bettered by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Mitchell Kerr and Barry Purdon.

As part of that season Black also experienced a golden run at premier meetings at Addington. He won the last race on May 10th with Vintage Cheddar, then the following Friday won the first race with Get Lucky and the second race with Vintage Cheddar.

“That night was magical really,” he said.

Alister Black is a born and bred Southlander with plenty of harness racing in his genes.

One of his grandfathers, Arthur Smaill trained at Heriot and geared up twelve winners between 1963 and 1979, with his first, being Dark Shadow at Invercargill in February 1963. Others winners for Smaill included Dark Sun (Garrison Hanover) 3 wins, and Joy which also won three.

Note: Dark Shadow was a half-brother to Lucky Chance – the same family Diane Cournane is still breeding from through Breath Of Life.

Alister’s other grandfather was George Black.

George owned quality trotting mare Sure Mart trained by Henry Skinner. She started racing as a three year old and progressed to open class, winning twelve races. She hit peak form late in her career and as a nine year old won six races and at ten won the 1980 New Zealand Trotting FFA and 1980 New Zealand National Trot. She also ran third in the 1980 New Zealand Trotting Championship at Addington.

She raced in one of the golden eras of trotting with horses like Scotch Tar, Stormy Morn, Framalda, Special Pride, Even Speed and No Response.

As a broodmare Sure Mart left Cilla’s Pride which George trained to win six races, Cilla’s Son won five for Ali Malcolmson, and George’s Wish won three for Owen Crooks.

Once George had finished training, his daughter Dorothy who part-owned Sure Mart, took over the red and white racing colours and her husband Tony O’Brien used them in the 1990s when he trained for seven seasons.

O’Brien trained three winners (all out of Cilla’s Pride); Dorothy’s Choice (Yankee Jolter), Cilla Elite (Armbro Invasion) and Cilla’s Whiz (Gee Whiz II).

During this time Alister attended James Hargest High School.

“School wasn’t the place for me unfortunately,” he said.  When he could, he helped out round the O’Brien stables where his interest in harness racing was spurred.

So as soon as he could Alister left school.

“My first job was at Kirk’s (Larsen), then I went to the North Island and worked for Doug Gale at Helensville for twelve months. I came home and worked at Jaccka Lodge for a short time and then went to Alan Paisley’s.”

Black started driving at the trials in 1999 and he obtained his junior drivers licence in 2002. He drove for six seasons as a junior, winning 48 races. His first winner as a driver was on the OK Bye mare Shoshoni Sunrise at Ascot Park in September 2001.

“She was a bit of a trick really. She wasn’t very good from the stand. The only time I got her away from a stand was in the Roxburgh Cup (which she won). She used to pull in the warm up but had a lot of high speed. She wasn’t very brave but very good saved for one run. As a junior I did okay, but I wasn’t top of the tree, I’ll give you the tip.”

As a broodmare Shoshoni Sunrise’s first foal was Washakie which won thirty two races, including eight Group One races, and he banked over one million dollars in stakes.

His biggest win was the $200,000 Queensland Pacing Championship. He won the Group One MH Treuer Memorial five times (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013).

Washakie

In his driving career Black has driven sixty one winners with Alan Paisley providing twenty one of those.

In 2003 he meet Sheree Hamilton who also has plenty of harness racing in her genes. Her father Peter Hamilton is the eldest son of Ron (88) and Maureen Hamilton (86). Ron trained for many years in Southland. Sheree’s mother is Marcia Legat, daughter of Craig and Wilma Legat. Craig was a stud master and trainer in Southland with his best horse being Gaines Minbar gelding Shapiro which won four races.

Ron Hamilton trained 61 winners over a long career, including cup class pacer Trevira a son of Vonnell. Vonnell became an excellent source of winners for the Hamilton family, leaving Trevira (16 wins), Trilobel (9), Tokorangi (8), Tricotine (4) and Lirelle (4).

Easter Cup winner Trevira with driver Gavan Hamilton

Alister and Sheree were married in 2006 and have two children, McKenzie who’s twenty, is in her second years as a nursing student at SIT and Riley who’s twelve and attends Southland Boys High School.

“He’s a lot better at school than I was so that’s a good start,” laughed Alister. ‘He’d love to be a race commentator. He’s filled in at the Winton Workouts a couple of times. On race days he’s always up in the box with Davey (commentator Dave McDonald,” added Sheree.

Sheree Black at the head of Vintage Cheddar with son Riley

The Blacks now live in Makarewa and while Alister looks after the horses full time, Sheree works at Vet South, and prior to that at the Café at Southland Hospital.

“It was good. I used to start work at 5:30am and get home at two. Alister used to go to work at three. We didn’t see each other for about eight years,” (laughter).

Black took out his training licence in 2005 and was able to wear his grandfather’s colours which he’d inherited from his Auntie Dorothy. He trained a small team at that point, as he was working at the Makarewa Vension Plant. He continued to work there for eight seasons.

In 2010 he was offered a training position with Ian and Lindsay Thomson. The Thomsons had sold their sheep farm at the peak of the dairy boom when land prices were at their highest and they bought a 107 acre property at Branxholme where they set up a track and training facilities.

Alister’s first winner from the property was Rome which won at Forbury Park in 2010.

“It was a horrible night. There was flooding at the Taieri from memory. Ian and I took him up in the truck. He sat parked and got the job done for the Sinnamons. I was driving him at the time and they sent him down for me to train. That was a pretty special night really.”

His first winner as a trainer/driver was Bolton Earl at Gore in December 2011, which Black part owned with Peter Duggan.

“It was a cheap Tuesday and a very poor field. I think there were only about four of us left in after the first 100 metres.”

Since then there’s been steady stream of winners.

To date, Black has trained 68 winners, 58 of which have been owned or part owned by Ian and Lindsay Thomson.

“Two of the greatest gentlemen you’d ever meet. We’re very lucky to have them in this industry. To be fair I wouldn’t be in the game if it wasn’t for them. They’re really like family to Sheree, McKenzie, Riley and I. It’s unbelievable what they’ve done for us and the game.”

Alister Black and Lindsay and Ian Thomson

Black is employed by the brothers but is still able to train a small number of outside horses.

“I’m allowed two or three of my own. I’ve got a small group of owners and a syndicate.”

The Thomsons are very much hands on at the stable.

“They do ninety percent of the work. Craig Milne and Paul McIntyre come and help as well.”

Craig Milne and Alister Black working horses at Branxholme

His first winner on the big stage at Addington came in March 2013 with two year old trotter Successful Way. But the talented young trotter never reached his full potential as he was beset with problems and he only started another twelve times in his career.

Successful Way

“He had a bad wind complaint. At the time they couldn’t operate on it. He was only getting about fifty percent oxygen.”

Abraham Jones was another trotter Black didn’t see the best of. He recorded two wins and a handful of placings from just twelve starts as a four year old.

“That was a hard pill to swallow. A virus went through the stable. We turned them all out and he had a paddock accident. We tried for two years to get him back.”

During this time the Thomsons started to invest in good stock and the winners came through more regularly.

The stable’s biggest winner to date has been Get Lucky which won last season’s Listed Sales Series Three Year Old Final at Addington.

“It was a heartbreak the year before when he ran off the track. To come back at three and win it was very good.”

Get Lucky

Black does all his own shoeing.

“I do ninety percent of it but Timmy White looks after Get Lucky.”

He says he’s learned most of the tricks of the trade by trial and error.

“Back when I was at Paisleys I used to shoe the joggers and Johnny Tressider used to have a look and tell me what I was doing wrong. The rest I’ve just studied and I’ve also read the odd book.”

Black doesn’t drive much at the races these days. The regular stable driver is Oamaru based Brad Williamson who started driving for Black in 2015. His first winner for the stable was Ossessione at Gore.

Brad Williamson’s first win for Alister Black – Ossessione at Gore

“Allan Beck was doing a lot of our driving but he was committing to Des Baynes and it was hard to get him. Ian and Lindsay are fans of having one stable driver. They don’t like chopping and changing so that’s when it all started.”

Williamson has driven thirty six winners for Black.

“It’s been great. He’s always positive. One of my pet hates is getting fifth and being unlucky. Brad is quite an aggressive driver which is great but he can also give them a trip.”

Although Kilowatt Kid has been sold, Black still has a strong team going through their preparation for the new season.

Four year old Get Lucky is the stables leading man when it comes to trotters. He only started twice this season for a third and a seventh at Addington. As a three year old he won four races including the Listed Sales Series Three Year Old Trotters Final at Addington.

“He was having a couple of health issues. We were just starting to get on top of them and the lockdown happened. He was going the best he’d gone in twelve months. He’s had five weeks off, he’s back in now, done a week’s jogging and we’re getting him ready for Hannon Memorial Day at Oamaru.”

Vintage Cheddar is the highest assessed horse (R93) he has in the stable and he’s the winners of eight races including this seasons Wairio Cup.

Vintage Cheddar winning the Wairio Cup

“He’s looking massive. I reckon he’s put on another forty kilos. I’m very excited about what’s coming up. Our main goal this year is the New Zealand Cup. I’d be rapt to have a runner there and what will be will be.”

Vintage Cheddar

Lawrence won three races this season – twice at Ascot Park and once at Winton and Black expects him to go well in the new season.

Black is very pleased with Lawrence’s progress, being very consistent. He’s pleased he’s had a lot of seconds as the then doesn’t go up in the ratings. “In the Country Cups grade down here I reckon if they can handle that grade for twelve months and come back, you’re a lot tougher and better able to handle it. He’ll do a nice job this year.”

Lawrence

Ian and Lindsay Thomson have also become regular buyers at the yearling sales and in the last three years Black has joined them on the buyer’s bench.

“The brothers pick out what they like. I pick out a few and we go round and have a look at them. They’ve got to have a pedigree. I’m big on pedigree and conformation. The Standardbred now is going so much faster.”

In 2019 the brothers purchased three yearlings, Ohoka Agent, Keep On Dreaming and Inclusive.

Of Ohoka Agent Black says “I don’t mind him. He just might take a little bit of time.”

He states Keep On Dreaming is quite a nuggetty Bettor’s Delight colt, that has a bit of gas.

Inclusive is a half-brother to Get Lucky and was purchased for $42,000.

“He’s just bowling around. He’s very big and a wee bit immature. Probably won’t see him until he’s a late three year old.”

Black says horses to follow in the new season are Vintage Cheddar, Keep On Dreaming and Don’t Ask. Don’t Ask is a rising three year old trotting filly by Father Patrick out of CR Commando mare Star Commando.

“She goes nice. From when I broke her in as a yearling I said to Lindsay that I wouldn’t mind a stable full of these (Father Patricks). She’s just so natural.”

There’s clearly plenty of horse power in the Black stable, preparing for the new season.

CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY ON LINDSAY AND IAN THOMSON

Sad Loss for Stiven Family

Very sadly John and Judy Stiven have had to endure the loss of their son Lee, who died in Scotland on April 23rd, aged 25 years.

Lee Stiven and Pearl

John and Judy are prominent members of the Southern harness racing industry, breeding their horses from Arden Lodge in Tapanui.
John is a founding member of Southern Bred Southern Reared and is unfailingly positive about the SBSR brand and it’s potential.
Our thoughts are with John and Judy, David and Cindy, Scott and Danielle and Kate as they find a way to move forward in the loss of their precious Lee.

Lee, Judy and John with Countess of Arden at Ascot Park 22nd September 2018

Lee and Forever Arden

“Lockdown Has Got Us Thinking” Responses.

Saturday 9th May 2020

Responses received in relation to this website’s article “Lockdown Has Got Us Thinking”  (published 30th April 2020)

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL ARTICLE

From Peter Mead   (Editor has created bullet points)

  • Clubs are taking the financial hit from the capital expenditure overruns and overly ambitious projections of future income by the TAB governance. Covid-19 enables RITA to implement change for the TAB on the basis there is no alternative.
  • RITA have indicated they will have to make difficult and at times unpopular decisions and we know there’s likely to be fewer venues for racing.
  • Harness racing in Southland so far as I can see has flourished under Southern Harness Racing. Central to this success has been the willingness to put aside narrow local interests in favour of the bigger picture of regional harness racing prosperity. Can this be done in relation to the number of courses?
  • Regardless of the code the governing body owes it’s existence to it’s constituent clubs. Recognising this the code will always prefer a bottom up to a top down solution. RITA is less constrained but does favour change collegiately rather than unilaterally. Do we look for a bottom up solution in which we have major input or wait until eventually one is thrust upon us and bemoan the result as not being what we wanted? How many courses? Well not four, but maybe more than one!
  • Invercargill city is home to 55% of Southlanders. It’s Ascot Park track is located immediately adjacent to the residential area of the city and the course is used by the other two codes – thoroughbred and greyhound. It appears the obvious first choice. Invercargill city is however not located centrally within the region. Furthermore, it could be unwise to put “all one’s eggs in one basket.” Possibly two tracks for harness racing would be the best option.
  • But which of the other three? None of them are very far from Invercargill. Gore 65kms, Wyndham and Winton just over 30 kms away. The close proximity of Wyndham and Winton to Invercargill limit both as the other track. While hardly distant either, population and economic realities favour Gore which has the added advantage of also being used by the thoroughbred code. Based on present totalisator licences and usage, designation of Ascot Park and Gore could look something like:- Ascot Park – (15), Northern Southland (3) Riverton (1), Wairio (2) and Winton (7) – Gore – Gore (6), Wyndham (6)
  • The split relative to Southland’s population is over weighted towards Ascot Park. To achieve something close to a 55% – 45% split, Invercargill would have to give up 6 dates. 3 each to Gore and Wyndham. Whether the urban/rural split is necessary or desirable is another matter.
  • Ending racing at Winton and Wyndham does not necessarily mean these courses have no future. The land on which they have been established is not owned by either of the Clubs. Winton is a Crown Reserve and Wyndham is part of the Wyndham Recreation Reserve. Consequently, there is no possibility of either being sold or disposed of and the proceeds being used towards funding improvements at other venues as proposed by the Racing Industry Bill at present before Parliament. Both courses generate significant income for the clubs from farming/grazing activities, track fees and facilities rental. These could continue with the possibility of further income being derived from non-racing activities.
  • This additional income does require the adoption of a totally different approach. Not one solely racing centric but one encouraging the use of the reserves by a wide variety of users. The effect is twofold. Income previously non-existent contributes to the upkeep of the track, grounds and facilities and the clubs’ income. And the racecourses become locally viewed as an important community asset which is hugely beneficial when funds are being sought from public funders.
  • Both tracks could continue as training venues and possibly the only Southland locations for workouts and trials. The establishment of facilities to assist with training such as what Wyndham has already undertaken could also be extended. It doesn’t have to be gloom and doom.
  • Southern Harness Racing has been an extraordinary success story during a time when racing has not been flourishing as it once did. It has achieved this success without any Club losing it’s identity or uniqueness. However, with just 2.2% of NZ’s population, individual club names get lost in the marketplace so why not embrace Southland’s distinctiveness by all clubs racing under the Southern Harness banner.
  • Those of us associated with racing have experience with losses. We know we can’t dwell on the past and we know we have to turn the page if we are to have a future. Have we the necessary courage to do so?

The Person below wished to remain anonymous

  • Read your article on Harnesslink and then Mick Guerin’s about Winston Peters being sick of the infighting in the racing industry and it occurred to me that given what Southern Harness has achieved representing the interests of the harness racing clubs, it might be time to expand the approach to include the thoroughbred and greyhound equivalents with the aim being to set up a model to manage all southern racing under a collective umbrella.
  • There would be many advantages. For example, given the current and projected shortage of horses, triple code meetings would allow for full fields.
  • A streamlined administration would reduce costs.
  • A collective southern racing model would set the standard for other regions to follow. In the meantime greater funding would flow through because this is what the funders want to see in terms of a working collaborative approach. Probably some negatives in there as well but entirely surmountable given the right mindset.
  • Good time to float the idea while everyone is thinking about the “new normal.”

Editor welcomes further responses.

Southerners At Menangle

Bruce Stewart

9th May 2020

Two horses with a strong southern connection are earning some good Australian dollars in New South Wales at the moment.

Trotter Super Fast Pat, and pacing mare Havtime, both of whom began their careers in Southland, now race out of the Menangle stable of KerryAnne Morris.

Super Fast Pat

Super Fast Pat, which was bred by Central Otago identity Ginger Woodhouse and developed by Winton trainer Lauren Pearson is currently progressing through the grades under the care of Morris.

He’s had six starts for the stable, finishing tenth in his Australian debut.

“We didn’t have his gear 100% right at his first start. We went back to what they had on him in New Zealand and ever since then he hasn’t looked back. He wears an under draw, a head check and a nose flap to help him concentrate. Most of our trotters here don’t have head checks and we try to use jog brindles,” said KerryAnne.

Super Fast Pat steps up a grade tonight when he takes on some of the better graded trotters on his home track.

“He hasn’t been pushed to his limits yet. He’s got to step up in grade. Tonight will be a good test for him because it’s his first Saturday night race. It’s a standing start and there’s a few nice ones in it.”

Morris says both she and husband Rob are happy with where the five year old’s at.

“He’s in a really happy place at the minute and very comfortable with the way we’ve got things set up with him. He has got a few quirks but when he puts it together he’s a very nice trotter. Fingers crossed he can continue that tonight.”

Morris says Super Fast Pat’s style of trotting is very deceptive.

“Rob has said to me that you can think you’re going a 30 second quarter and it’s a 28 quarter. He said he just gets over the ground a lot better than you think he is.”

She says the wide open spaces and smaller fields suits a lot of the trotters that come from New Zealand.

“It seems to help them a lot. With the long straight (at Menangle) you can really get them balanced up.”

And the she says Super Fast Pat will get better as he gains more race day experience.

“I think after a bit of a let up, when we get him going again we’ll probably see a better horse. He probably needs to get a wee bit more seasoned to race against the better trotters but I can’t see why he won’t do that.”

From twelve starts for Winton trainer Lauren Pearson, Super Fast Pat recorded three wins with the last being a New Zealand record of 2-56.6 for a 2400 metre mobile at Winton when he won by seven and a half lengths.

Super Fast Pat breaking a New Zealand record for trainer Lauren Pearson and driver Brent Barclay – Photo Bruce Stewart

Pearson was very patient with the gelding, knowing he could easily lose the plot. There was no doubting his raw ability and he was always destined to race in Australia where there are more mobile starts for trotters on a regular basis.

Under the care of KerryAnne Morris, Super Fast Pat from six starts, has won his last four races in a row.

He was bred by Ginger Woodhouse and was raced by Woodhouse and Neil Edge in New Zealand. He races under Edge’s name in Australia.

“Neil’s a terrific guy. You never hear from him. He just likes to watch his horses going around. He sent over Our Smart Caesar and he did a good job for us.”

Super Fast Pat is out of the eight win Sundon mare Turbo Pat.

Rob and KerryAnne Morris

Another horse with a southern connection in the stable is quality mare Havtime.

The four year old Mach Three mare is owned by Murray, Malcolm and Sarndra Little and has been in New South Wales since former trainer Barry Purdon took her to Australia in February.

“Barry brought her over for the Ladyship Mile. I think he spoke to the owners and it just made a lot of sense to leave her here in Australia. She had a low assessment and there were a lot more opportunities here for her. There’s a few more mares races for her with a little bit more money up for offer.”

Since being in Australia Havtime has won three races from nine starts and paced a mile in 1-50.0. Her lifetime record is now nine wins and $339,957.

Her biggest win in Australia has been the Group Three Tanyia Harris Four Year Old Mares Stakes at Menangle where she beat Our Princess Tiffany and Belle Of Montana. She ran a good sixth in the $200,000 Group One Ladyship Mile won by Bettors Heart.

“She showed in the Ladyship she was right up there with the better mares and we were very happy for Barry to leave her with us.”

In her last start at Menangle last weekend she ran a close second to Sounds Of Terror – beaten by half a head.

“We thought she should have won last week. Rob believes we may have been a wee bit light on her. She’s a funny horse. There’s a happy medium with her. You can have her too revved up or you can have her too quiet. Last week Rob thought he had her too quiet. She’s a lovely mare who has good gate speed and she loves to race. I can’t wait to see what she can do later on down the track.”

KerryAnne says she generally has fifty horses in work and likes to aim at winning 100 races each season. She recently passed the 1000 lifetime winners mark.

“We haven’t had that pinup horse but we get our fair share of winners from our bread and butter horses.”

One of her best horses was Charlaval – a Four Starzzz Shark gelding which won the 2016 Gold Coast Derby beating Southland bred Stanley Ross Robyn. Charlaval won eighteen races and earned $345,181.

Other good horses the Morris’s have raced are Aztec Bromac (20 wins) and Iam Mr Brightside (34 wins and $445,000.

It was great to talk to KerryAnne and we wish her all the best for tonight.

House Sending Team South

Tuesday 12th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

Canterbury trainer Michael House has confirmed he’ll be basing a team at Ascot Park for the revised Southern winter circuit which starts on Saturday 30th May.

House says he’s got fifty horses that will be ready to race when racing gets underway again at the end of the month. He’s looking at racing this team at Alexandra Park, Cambridge, Addington and Ascot Park.

House says he’s got twenty horses base in Auckland that are fit and ready to go and he’s committed to his Auckland staff until the 1st August.

He’s also committed to heading south and racing a team of about a dozen at Ascot Park.

“You guys have ten days racing in a row and I’m half thinking that I might bring down another half dozen horses out of Auckland,” he says.

House says the highest rating horse he’s bringing south is a 67 ranked trotter. The has a number of other trotters ready to make the trip as well as two maiden pacers and a handful of pacers rated between 58- 53.

One horse he’s bringing south is Art Major colt Jaw Breaker who last raced at the Northern Southland meeting in early March running second to Croesus.

The plan is to send stable employee Megan McIntyre down for two days a week to help with gearing up on race day.

“She’ll just go for a few days and then come home.”

House says he has the horses and the transport organised but would like a local horseperson to look after the team while they’re down here.

“If I could find a trainer that hasn’t got a lot on and wants a couple of months work I’d employ them. I’ve got to have a local that takes a bit of ownership. Someone to feed up and do the weekends.”

The horses will be based at Ascot Park using the courses stable block which cater of fourteen horses.

“I heard about the stakes so I rang Jason (Broad) and got the barn organised. I’m not going to trial any horses I’m just going to race them fortnightly and space their runs.”

Maurice Arthur Skinner

The southern harness  racing community has lost a beloved character from it’s ranks, with the passing on Saturday of Maurice Skinner.  Sincere condolences to his wife Val, and children Judy, Neville and Shelley and their families.

It was a pleasure to be able to interview Maurie in 2018. He was  87 at that time, with many stories to share. Val supported his memories and together we spent a very enjoyable time revisiting his harness racing interests and career through the decades.

Maurice had a great wit and a generous spirit and we’re very sorry he’s left us.  With permission from his family I’ve brought his story out of the archives section of the website for us all to have the opportunity to remember him again. See below.

Former Hedgehope and Winton trainer Maurice Skinner and wife Val are enjoying retirement and both have fond memories of the industry they’ve been involved with for years.

Maurice, who is now 87, doesn’t get to the races at all these days but it doesn’t stop him from enjoying it on the tele and reminiscing about the good times.

And he’s still getting around with that wicked laugh and the pigeon toes that are too late to be reshod.

His memory isn’t too bad either but sometimes it just needs prompting and Val is very good at that.

Maurice is the oldest of three children of Arthur and Flo Skinner.

He was born in Mataura and brought up in Tuturau and Tisbury where he started school. They moved to Hedgehope in 1936 to a 213 acre farm which was to produce many winners over the years.

Arthur, or Pop as he was known, developed a five furlong track on it and started to train a few horses. As the years went on he became a successful trainer with one of his best being the good trotter Worthy Admiral, which he bought for twenty five pounds. Worthy Admiral ran second in the Rowe Cup twice; in 1957 he was beaten by Tapuwae by a length – driven on that occasion by Roy Purdon – and the following year driven by Doug Grantham, Recruit beat him by a nose.

Arthur Skinner also had some association with Rowe Cup winner Quick Silver. She won seven of her sixty starts mainly for Arthur, but the record books state she was trained by Wally Tatterson when she won the 1954 Rowe Cup.

Pop and Flo brought up three children and both the boys Henry and Maurice became jockeys with Maurice joining the ranks in 1942.

Maurice, Arthur and Henry Skinner

“I became a jockey when I was twelve. I was with Andy McKay who trained three or four horses just past the Riverton racecourse. I served my time. He trained Excellency who was a top three year old,” he said.

McKay trained Excellency during her two and three year old seasons. At two her wins included the 1946 Welcome Stakes at Riccarton and the McLean Stakes at Wingatui.

At three she won the Middle Park Plate at Riccarton over a mile. Later in her career she won the 1949 New Zealand Cup when trained by Fred Ellis.

Maurice also worked for a while for ‘Ripper’ Boyle. And he ended up riding twenty two winners as a jockey.

Hakim winning the Trentham Steeplechase with Maurice Skinner aboard.

Returning to scale.

Brother Henry was riding at the same time and were both attached to the Maurice Corkery Riverton stables until increased weight forced them to switch to the trotting game.

“After four years I also got a bit homesick and wanted to go home,” said Maurice.

During those early years he took a break from racing and did a stint driving Railway buses in Te Anau which is where he met Val whom he married in 1956.

Val’s father Tom (Plato) had begun working in Te Anau in 1929 helping to build the road to Milford Sound. Home for him in those days was a tent and a paillasse stuffed with straw. Val’s mother Evie (nee Lloyd –originally from Stewart Island) joined him in 1935 after they married and home for themselves and their seven children for six months was a tent on the Te Anau lakefront with an open fire, with a camp oven for cooking and only kerosene lamps for light. They later moved into a public works house.

Back to Arthur. He took out a professional licence in 1951 and his first winner was trotter Factotum which scored at the Birchwood Hunt Club’s meeting in 1952.

At that point Maurice took out his professional drivers licence and a horse called Johnny Smith, trained by his father was his first winner at the Gore meeting on Boxing Day 1961. He was by Irish Orator out of Matareri and was 12-13 in the betting. He won by a head and paid seven pounds to win. Maurice drove 4 winners in his first season.

In August 1966 Maurice joined his father in a training partnership and drove most of the team. Arthur also drove for a while before a bad smash at Roxburgh in 1961 unfortunately halted his driving career.

Together the partnership trained 33 winners with Maurice’s first winner in partnership with Arthur being Fort Nelson in October 1966 at Forbury Park.

Maurice Skinner rates him as the best horse he ever drove. Fort Nelson was owned by Drummond farmers Ian Kincaid and Cyril Keen and started his career with a fourth in the 1966 Kindergarten Stakes won by Holy Hal.

Arthur Skinner was quoted back then as saying “He’s a tough young horse that needed to be ironed out.” Maurice agreed. “He was an outlaw to start with. If he didn’t want to do it, he wouldn’t do it no matter what you tried. He was the best and fastest pacer I trained and drove.”

Skinner recalls that Fort Nelson had to be practically broken in each time he was brought back into work but as a four year old all those traits had disappeared. There was always plenty of buyer interest in Fort Nelson and he was nearly sold when he was two.

“There was a discussion about selling him. I think the price was about four thousand pounds,” Val said.

As a three year old he was taken north to Auckland in December 1966. He won on the 24th and repeated the dose three days later. Then four days later he ran second to Governors Frost in the 1966 Great Northern Derby beaten by a head. He then returned to Addington and won on January 2nd – four starts in ten days.

One of Fort Nelson’s other wins was in a heat of the 1968 Interdominions in Auckland. He ran 8th in the final which was won by the Australian pacer First Lee. The field included some of the New Zealand pacing greats such as Holy Hal, Chequer Board and Humphrey.

Fort Nelson winning a Interdominion heat in Auckland

Fort Nelson winning at Addington

He also won a heat of the Easter Cup before finishing third to Allakasam and Stewart Hanover in the final. His New Zealand racing career ended in April 1968 at Gore when he ran third behind Humphrey and Stewart Hanover in the Southland Invitation Stakes.

His final tally was eleven wins from his thirty five starts in New Zealand.

After his run at Gore Fort Nelson was sold to an American syndicate headed by New York trainer Eddie Cobb.

“He was the first horse to be sold for $100, 000,” said Maurice.

Records show he was sold for $80,000 with a $20,000 contingency. He went on to race 31 times in America for 7 wins – earning his new owners $139,552.00.

According to Maurice’s son Neville the new owners of Fort Nelson couldn’t get the horse going early on and wanted his dad to head to America to sort things out.

“He got his passport ready but they phoned three or four days before he was due to go and said they’d finally got him going,” Neville said.

Another good horse Maurice was associated with was King Suva which won five races.

“He was owned by Bill Hickey and Allan Duncan from Central Otago. They’d come down to the races, have a few drinks and then went back to Omakau. Those were the days when drink driving wasn’t a problem.”

Another good horse was Fab and his win in the National Handicap in August 1973 was his seventh in eight starts. It graduated him to Cup Class and was a nice birthday present on Maurice’s forty third birthday.

Fab started twice in the New Zealand Cup – both times driven by Skinner. He finished 12th in the 1973 Cup won by Arapaho which beat Globe Bay and Young Quinn and he was 12th the following year in a cup won by Robalan.

Skinner rated Haughty Romeo highly and he was one of the country’s top three year olds. At four he had three wins and four minor placings leading into the Messenger in Auckland. In that race he finished seventh. He had five more starts that season and was put aside to have a splint removed.

Haughty Romeo was raced by Rewa Burns, wife of long time secretary of many Southland clubs Peter Burns. He ultimately won nine races – 8 of those under the guidance of Maurice.

Maurice Skinner and Haughty Romeo

Over the years there were many good horses. Maurice drove Kawarau Gold trained by Frank Oliver and his win in the Kindergarten Stakes was the first for stallion Majestic Chance.

Others included Maori Maiden, Mark Antony, Tetarney for Joe Morgan, Ben Rodden for Graham Hale, Lynsalle, Kawerau Chip and Dream Ahead which was raced by Shelley, Val and Judy. He also drove Spanaway which won five of twenty starts including the 1967 Gore Cup, Dollar Man which won four races and Gaylee which won six.

He also trained Ann’s Globe early in her career. She was owned by Harold Jenkins (father of Ray Jenkins) and was to become the dam of good trotters Globe Pride (8), Golden Blue (9) and Tobago (15)

Another highlight of Maurice’s long career was training Balgove Boy which was his son Neville’s first driving success in October 1978.

Maurice was Southland Trainer of the Year for the 1967-1968 season with 18 winners, eight more than Harry Cox.

He prided himself on getting trotters winning and Brown Maiden a mare bred by the late Colin Baynes, provided Skinner with a great source of square gaiters over the years.

She left Adiantum which won eight races, seven of those for Maurice.

“With Adiantum you couldn’t do anything with him at all. There was this fella Mainland down the road and he told me his father said if a horse didn’t go they used to put a bag over his head so he couldn’t see. That’s how we got him to go.” Neville was riding him on the lead one day with the bag on his head, and I lent over and took the bag off him, well did he buck after that. Poor Nev didn’t stay on for long.

The process amused many visitors to the Hedgehope property.

“Charlie Anderson was down at our place one time. He was the caretaker at Addington. He was working in my garden and Morrie was getting out of the stables with a horse with a bag over it’s head. Charlie couldn’t believe it. They spent hours and hours with that one horse,” said Val.

Another trotter he has fond memories of is Classic Countess. She won five races and became the dam of New Zealand Cup winner Bee Bee Cee (14 wins).

“Those owners were my favourite syndicate. Russell Morton, Kevin Dukes, Ernie Atkin and Peter Grace. They worked at the smelter and were just genuine guys, Southlanders. We won with her at Gore on Boxing Day. It was a wet shitty day and they all arrived at Hedgehope. They had a great night at our place,” said Val.

He also had great success with the progeny of Princess Way. She left Arbitrator (3 wins), Gregory Peter (6), Arlington (3) and Whizz Way (4) which were all trained by Maurice. Her best foal however was Sundon’s Way. Over five seasons on racing he won fifteen races and recorded lifetime earnings of $316,723.

Whizz Way is now owned by Neville and local retired vet Peter Williams. She’s left good trotting winners in Appian Way (6 New Zealand wins), Idid It Myway (14 wins) and Any Old Way (7 wins)

In amongst all the horses Maurice and Val had three children Judy, Shelley and Neville. Shelley now works for McConnell and Dowell in Auckland as a PA. The company manages big construction projects and they’re responsible for the Auckland Tunnel and Frankton bridge projects.

Judy and her husband David run the Night and Day store in Balclutha while Neville works for Corrections at the Invercargill Prison.

Neville and Judy still have an association with Standardbreds. They raced an ill-fated Alley Way which unfortunately died out of the blue. Neville holds his trainers license and Judy is on the committee of the Tuapeka Trotting Club.

In all, Maurice Skinner drove 238 winners, last driving in the 1998 season. His best seasons as a driver were 1980 and 1982 (20 wins in each year) and his last winner was Whizz Way in December 1997.

As a trainer he trained 150 winners (59 trotting) in his own right between 1970 and 2000. The first winner he trained on his own account was Southern Hanover which won at the Northern Southland meeting in November 1969. It was the Van Hanover geldings only win. It’s interesting to note that amongst the beaten lot that day were Kiwi Direct which became the dam of Direct Kiwi (13 wins), Vonnell the dam of Trevira (16 wins), and Trilobal (9 wins).

Over the years Skinner drove against some of the legends of the sport. Locally, names like Robert Cameron, Doug McNaught and Ken Balloch whilst on the national scene he competed regularly against Peter Wolfenden and Jack Smolenski. He rates Maurice Holmes as the best.

“He was a hard case. He’d be sitting inside of you and the next thing he’d push you out. He did it a few times until one day I nearly put him over the running rail. He yelled out hey boy, hey boy. He didn’t do it again.”

Over the years Maurice he was involved in some bad accidents.

Val relates, “He got chucked out at Addington one night driving Gaylee. He landed on the running rail. He was black from his waist to the tip of his toes.”

Maurice decided to retire from driving pacers in December 1992 after his brother Henry was involved in a bad smash at the Riverton Trotting Club meeting at Ascot Park.

Maurice had suffered a serious accident ten years earlier also at the Riverton meeting when Paul Revere fell. He ended up with three cracked vertebrae, a broken collar bone and serious rib damage. He was side-lined for two months. Ironically the race was the IR Kincaid Memorial. Ian Kincaid had been one of the owners of Fort Nelson.

“They kept him in (hospital) overnight. He came home the next day and he could hardly walk. They rang me up a week later to say ‘I hope Mr Skinner is resting because we’ve relooked at his x-rays and he’s got three cracked vertebrae,” said Val.

Many young horseman went through the Skinner stable over the years including close friend Owen Cameron.

“He’s still like our second son. He was there for seven years, coming straight from High School,” said Val.

Cameron’s first winner was the Les Norman trained Valiant Prince which was owned by his father. Second that day was Smithfield driven by his boss (Skinner).

Brendon McLellan was another who learned the trade from Skinner.

“He came from school as well. Snow was great but by God you couldn’t get him out of bed in the mornings.”

Others included Ken McFarlane, David Larkins and the Barron brothers who came out at weekends. Not all were perfect students.

“We had one fella who was hopeless. I was talking to Dick Prendergast who said ‘how’s ya staff going.’ And I said I’ve got one there that’s bloody hopeless and Dick said so have I. He said why don’t we swap. We did, and we got the worst one,” said Maurice.

Outside of trotting Skinner enjoyed white baiting and he owned a stand on the Aparima River near Riverton for twenty years.

“We had a lot of fun there. Some of the neighbours were the Mulqueens from Colac Bay and Ritchie Folster.”

Maurice was also a great follower of the Midlands Rugby team and up until recently he looked after the scoreboard and clock at their home ground in Winton just down the road from their home.

Maurice is one of the true characters in the Southern Harness scene, always happy to offer a bit of advice along with a bit of cheek. One of his favourite pastimes is to sit on the swing chair under the back porch, handing out sound advice to Val who still enjoys her garden.

 

Major Shake Up for Racing In The South

15th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

As was expected, racing throughout the country  received a major shakeup today with the release of the draft dates calendar for next season which starts in August.

Locally in terms of harness racing, neither Gore, Wyndham or Roxburgh will hold race meetings during the coming season. Dunedin’s Forbury Park has also been left off the calendar with no meetings scheduled.

The Gore, Wyndham and Roxburgh clubs still have dates. But Gore and Wyndham will race at the two Southland venues to have survived the shakeup – Ascot Park and Winton. Roxburgh TC is set to race at Cromwell.

Although the Tuapeka Club is part of Southern Harness, it’s stated it will now race at Oamaru. However  it’s likely the Tuapeka members will  attempt to convince RITA they would prefer to race in Southland.

When I spoke to Harness Racing New Zealand CEO Peter Jensen today, he said Covid19 has had a huge impact on New Zealand and racing and that it has forced the industry’s hand.

“We all know that our income comes from wagering and there’s been very few opportunities lately. That’s meant a very difficult time and the Minister of Racing referred to that when he announced the support package,” he said.

The pandemic has exposed the industry’s precarious position and it’s brought with it the need for change.

“Covid19 has revealed starkly the issues the industry has structurally, and he’s (Racing Minister Winston Peters) made it pretty clear that they have to be addressed.”

The Messara Report has also made it clear there’s a need for venues  to be rationalised.

“The thoroughbred code have been ahead of us in that regard. We’ve been looking at it but Covid19 has bought those plans forward.”

The calendar has allocated Southern Harness with a total of fifty dates compared to forty four in the current season and Jensen says for the sake of the draft these needed to be put against a club (Invercargill HRC).

“We’ve made it clear to Jason Broad today that those dates aren’t allocated to one club.”

Nineteen of the forty nine Southern racing dates fall on a Thursday, nine of which are in the first three months of the season (August, September and October).

Between the beginning of April and the end of June all of the southern dates are on Saturdays.

Of the fifty dates twenty five fall on weekdays, nineteen on Saturdays and six on Sundays.

The Winton HRC loses two dates, Gore one, and Wyndham one. But they may be allocated dates that are currently under the Invercargill Harness Racing Club name – they have twenty five dates in the calendar,  ten more than this season.

Jensen says he understands the impact on the industry and on the local communities that the loss of racing at Wyndham and Gore will have.

“People that are affected are passionate about harness racing and have made a huge contribution to the industry, and we completely understand that so you wouldn’t expect anything else.”

He said it was very hard to reduce the number of tracks in Southland.

“Hugely difficult. Those tracks had a great tradition and it was very difficult to pick two tracks out of four. But we needed to consolidate as we’ve done in other regions. It’ll be very interesting to see what the submission process says from those two clubs.”

Forbury Park has also missed out in featuring in the new seasons calendar.

“I’m sure the club will have an opinion on that. I think it’s been clear for a long time that those meetings (at Forbury) have been              supported by horses from Southland and Canterbury. The fact  there’s so much travel involved means it’s imposing a lot of costs into an industry that can’t afford it.”

The new season also extends the Southern season and Jensen sees this as a positive.

“We think there’s the capacity to do that and the submission process will tell us whether we have got that right or not. There will be more meetings in Canterbury and that’s to match the horse population.”

At this point there’s no word on stake levels. These are likely to be struck once the racing dates have been confirmed.

Racing has been retained in some of the regions especially around Christmas at venues like Central Otago, Nelson and the West Coast.

“They’re very important to us. They expose us to a lot of people that we just don’t see at any other time of the year. For many it’s the first opportunity to be exposed to Harness Racing. They could be our future supporters or participants.”

Sadly there’s no place for the end of season Harness Jewels.

“That’s not venue related. There’s just so much uncertainty about what funding will look like. Until we’ve got more certainty on what that will look like it’s proposed that the Jewels won’t be run next season.”

Jensen stated the dates released today are only in draft form, and that submissions can be made for change.

“I want to emphasise that it’s a genuine consultation that’s led by the RITA dates committee and there’s a full month for people to take a breath, put some facts together and get their submissions through to RITA.”

 

Horses For Winter Racing

17th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

As the south gears up for winter racing it seemed a good idea to ring a few trainers to see what horses they’re preparing.

Nathan Williamson

Winter team:

Delightful Deal (R60), Flight Crew (MR49), Longueval (MR49), Major Watson (R59), Chinese Whisper (R58), Ruby Seddon (R54), Svelt (R40), Betterthanraza (unqualified), T Bone Rawhide (R54), Delight N Gold (MR 40), Unsurpassable (MR50) and Barika (MR48).

Horses to follow:

“They’re all pretty forward but they’ll all benefit from racing. I’m really pleased with Delightful Deal and Longueval. They’re probably the two most forward. Delight N Gold should be forward as well. Neville Cleaver bought him just before lockdown,” said Williamson.

Delightful Deal

Brett Gray

Winter team:

American Eyretime (MR49), Born To Boogie (R75), Cassius Bromac (R54), Hazer (R54), Honor Before Glory (MR42), Nota Bene Denario (R63), Ronnie Pickering (R49), Stratofortress (R53), Afterburner (R55), Brandy and Dry (MR 48), Full Noise (R69), In The Groove (MR49) and Richard the Third (R54).

One to follow:

“Definitely Afterburner. I’ll get a better idea in the next week or so after the trials and perhaps another hitout at Winton,” said Gray.

Afterburner

Kirk Larsen

Winter team:

Duke Of Dundee (R50), Forsure (R55), Hayden Bromac (MR45), Ideal BB (MR 49), Targaryen (R51), Andover The Keys (MR48), King Of The North (R55), Tolkein (R50) and Fast Frankie (MR50).

One to follow:

“Forsure won his last start and has come on quite nice. He’s always shown a bit but just had to learn about the game. He was always going to make it one day but it was a matter of looking after him on the way through. He feels like he’s starting to work it all out now,” said Larsen.

Forsure

Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis

Winter team:

Betterthanbrie (R60), Chuckles (R54), Freddiesam (R54), Mach’s Back (R66), Amore Lancome (R62), Bella Sara (R60), Beta Than Love (MR 50), Dark Rage (R54), Lite Percussion (R56), Love On The Rocks (MR47), Major Meister (R55), Major Sass (R55), Zircon Lass (MR50) and Madrik (MR50).

Horses to follow:

“All our horses have come up quickly. Love On The Rock is one to follow. He’s gone some good races and hasn’t been to the beach before but he’s been out there the whole time now. Madrik is one of our better horses. Chuckles is also worth following,” said Ellis.

Love On The Rocks

Phil Williamson

Winter team:

Humble Ladd (R73), Only One Way (R62), Davey Mac (R55), Ultimate Stride (R65) Miss Crazed and Leaf Stride (MR50) and a handful of other maiden trotters.

Horses to follow:

“Leaf Stride. He’s a big gangly horse that needs time but he’s a quality horse. Ultimate Stride is ready to go and will probably come to the first meeting. He’s come up really well. He’s just a quality horse. In saying that it’ll be his first race in ten months so it won’t be easy,” said Williamson.

Ultimate Stride

First Trials Held In The South

23rd May 2020

Bruce Stewart

A record number of horses were seen at the first harness trials at Ascot Park yesterday.

With ten race meetings programmed at the Park in the next ten weeks, trainers were getting a line on their horses prior to the winter series which starts next Saturday.

Three well-bred two year old trotters qualified in the first heat. Andiamo, an Andover Hall filly out of five win Sundon mare All Shook Up won from Jannah Jaccka (Muscle Hill-Jocy Jaccka) and Jasmine Jaccka (Muscle Hill – Jess Jaccka).

Snow Devery looks to have a nice two year old in He’s A Rock Star. The two year old gelding by Rock N Roll Heaven won easily by five and a half lengths running the 2200 metres in 2-49.5 (5.8 seconds under the required time). Arlo Maguire (Sportswriter-Miley Maguire) and Tommysonaroll (Auckland Reactor-Scraprattle N Roll) both from Clark Barron’s stable also qualified.

He’s A Rock Star winning for Snow Devery.

Another Barron runner, Young George won the next heat by two and a half lengths; qualifying in 2-49.0.

Young George and Ellie Barron

Honor Before Glory, which was purchased recently by Australian buyers Merv and Meg Butterworth, won for new trainer Brett Gray and stable driver Brent Barclay. He looked to knock off at the end ofthis heat but still won by five lengths. A new runner to the Nathan Williamson barn Delight N Gold ran second for Ollie Kite.

Honor Before Glory and Brent Barclay

Ideal Glacier looked forward when winning her heat by two lengths for Ellie Barron.

Ideal Glacier winning in the Barron colours

Flight Crew came with a good run down the middle of the track to beat pacemaker Zircon Lass by a head. The Panspacificflight filly is a new recruit to the Nathan Williamson stable.

Flight Crew just gets up

Quality trotter Madrik impressed when he won the Non-Winners Trot by two and a half lengths. He’s one of only four foals by Coktail Jet stallion The Best Madrik. Debut winner Afterburner is also by The Best Madrik.

Madrik winning easily for Kirstin Barclay.

Other winners today were: Rydgemont Milly, the Nathan Williamson pair of Longueval and Major Watson, and John and Katrina Price’s mare Pearl Harbour.

Denice Swain – Pioneer

Sunday 24th May 2020

Bruce Stewart

Thirty years ago, Southlander Denice Swain was a pioneer for women in a harness racing industry that was dominated by males.

From her Ashburton base in the nineties she stood tall, gained respect, and fashioned a very good training record. Being the first woman to enter a horse in the New Zealand Cup is one of her many achievements.

Denice Swain far left with one of her many winners Pickapocket

Denice was born the oldest of seven children, to parents Ray and Rhona Swain who lived at Lumsden.

“Unlike other girls of my age I didn’t have a pony in the paddock at home. It was an expense we couldn’t afford so we used to break in and ride wild ponies instead,” Denice said.

Her love of horses began as a ten year old when using binder twine for reins, she rode a pacemaker bareback along a railway track with her father in the cart.

“Dad used to get me to ride the pacemaker bareback while he would follow with a colt in the cart. It got quite scary at times because we’d be going really fast.”

The family also enjoyed the success of racing horses, and Auto Tryax was their best.

Owned by her mother Rhona, Auto Tryax won seven races, his first at Wyndham in November 1961, trained and driven by Stewie Sutherland of Duntroon.

Auto Tryax’s sister Beautilima won twice and left a string of winners for the Swain family in Honest John (8), Johnny’s Brother (8), Sam’s Smile (6) and Minilima (5).

From an early age Denice built a wealth of knowledge about horses, skills she would use later.

In the early seventies she moved to Australia with her partner Jo E King, whom she had met when he was working at a sawmill in Balclutha. “He was an entertainer and wanted to try his luck over there.”

They lived in Melbourne for eighteen months followed by twelve years in Sydney. While there, Denice started going to race meetings, but she could never afford to train horses across the Tasman.

“I would have liked to (train there) but getting a piece of land to train from would have been too expensive so I waited until I came home to Invercargill before I took out a licence.”

Denise began her training career in Invercargill in 1984, holding a probationary licence and training out of stables just off Findlay Road once used by galloping trainer Ray Pankhurst.

“I started breaking in horses for other trainers but was constantly asked to train them.”

The demands for her to train became more constant, so she took out a professional licence.

Her first winner was Sweet Song at Forbury Park in April 1986. The win was a family affair with Denice’s brother Robin driving the mare she part owned with Neville Ross.

Denice though, was feeling the effects of the Southland weather which was markedly different to Sydney’s.

“I was working horses in the mud, rain and hail one day and local vet Dick Hopkirk who had a few horse there as well, said I should think about moving to Ashburton where it was warmer. He got hold of a good friend Graham Sherman, another vet, to help.”

The Ashburton Trotting Club was very proactive in helping with the move and Swain, with the help of Hopkirk and Sherman moved north to become the first trainer in the Club’s newly erected barn at the racecourse.

“They redid the track, it was a lovely place to train. You could get your horses up a fair way before you took them to the races.”

However Swain said that initially she found the move hard. “I called back home often because I got lonely at times.”

Her first winner from the new stable was Congo Magic driven by Ricky May at Methven, in December 1988.
During this time Swain continued to break in horses, and one that came through her hands was the smart colt Clever Dillion which had been sent north by Bud Baynes.  “It helped build my reputation.”

In those early days she broke in horses for some big name owners and trainers including John Seaton, Kevin Townley and Bud Baynes.

“I loved the babies because there’s a lot of TLC. At the end you could walk that horse anywhere and it would come with you because it had so much confidence in you.”

Denice started creating an impressive record and 1991 was the memorable year that she became the first ever female trainer to have a runner in the New Zealand Cup when she produced Clancy, raced by Colin Baynes and his family to finish a gallant second to Christopher Vance.

Clancy had been sent to her by Baynes and training partner Robin Swain in May 1991 after winning eight races for the partnership.

“I noticed he wasn’t finishing his races off the way he should so I got him scoped when he got here and found that he had an infection.”

At the beginning of the 1991 season Swain had Clancy primed to go and he won at Addington twice before running third in the Ashburton Flying Stakes – beaten by Blossom Lady and Inky Lord.

At his next start he won the Hannon Memorial in a record time and he graduated to Cup class.  Swain said the road to the Hannon and New Zealand Cup wasn’t an easy one with Clancy.

“He’d jumped on himself while he was jogging one day and got an infection in the hoof.” Part of the healing regime were regular visits to the beach, and bathing in salt water. “I thought I had it right.”

Owner Colin Baynes was prepared to head north from Knapdale to see Clancy run in the Hannon. “I said to Colin that the horse would probably need the run so he didn’t come. He won, but yuck came out of his foot again.”

Mike De Filippi and Denice Swain after the Hannon Memorial

Swain says if Clancy hadn’t had the foot problem he would have been more competitive in the Cup.

“The horse’s second (in the Cup) gave me a real boost in confidence that my training method worked.”

Clancy running second to Christopher Vance in the New Zealand Cup.

Clancy won four races for Swain and $162,850.

Four years later she was to line up her second New Zealand Cup runner Just Royce, owned by Noel Morrison of Christchurch. He too had to settle for second, beaten by a neck by Il Vicolo.

“John (driver John Hay) just told me the other night that Master Musician interfered with him at the 200. I wasn’t confident. I was standing by the tree at the top of the straight. Then I heard his name being called and I thought oh my god. I couldn’t have got to the birdcage if he’d won (laughter).”

Just Royce winning at Addington 7th March 1995

Saturday February 11th 1995 was another special day in Swain’s career when she won three feature races at two venues.

The Orator started the successful run, winning the Southern Supremacy Stakes by six and a half lengths. In the next race Just Royce won a heat of the Four Year Old Classic. Both were driven by Denice’s brother Robin.

At Addington a few hours later Oneinamillion, bred by Robin and Mandy Swain and trained by Denice, won the two year old feature.

“I didn’t like the next morning. I had a cold cloth over my head.”

Another fond memory is winning the 1993 Victoria Trotters Derby at Moonee Valley with Top Evander.

He won three races under Swain’s guidance before he was transferred to Roy and Barry Purdon with an eye on heading to Australia. Denice retained a half share in the ownership.

“It was the first time I’d been to Australia. (with a horse). I’d sent a tape over to Gavin Lang to see whether my horse would be competitive and he thought he would.”

Top Evander ran second to Melpark Maid beaten by a head in the Derby prelude.

“After the race I couldn’t believe how much pressure he (Gavin Lang) put on himself for not moving at the right time. I said that didn’t matter, it wasn’t the main race (goal).”

Top Evander came out a week later and beat Melpark Maid in the Derby. He came home and won two more races for Swain.

Gavin and Graeme Lang with Top Evander

Swain didn’t train many trotters but had a nice two year called Chicotee which was by Chiola Hanover out of Picotee. He won at his first start at Ashburton in February 1991 and was then taken to Auckland, running second to Call Me Chiola in the $90,000 International Classic Series Final.

Over the years Denice formed a close bond with Southland brothers Colin and Bud Baynes.

“Bud always had lovely colts. You could walk anything past them, they weren’t squealers. He was a great stockman and he just knew what to buy. He’d never pay more than about five thousand. I remember one year he bought about five. Every one of them won a race and a couple were real nice horses.”

Swain says she’ll always be indebted to the brothers.

“If it wasn’t for Colin and Bud I wouldn’t have had the good horses I had. You’ve got to have a good horse to show you up and when you’re winning races everyone wants to join the ride. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have done it.”

Swain remembers receiving a letter from Colin. It said he was enclosing a cheque for five hundred dollars that he’d intended to use for sponsorship, but that he’d appreciated her going to visit him while he was in hospital, and also knew from his wife Nellie that Denice was working in the cold at Oreti Beach. He hoped the cheque would help with a few bills.

Throughout the Ashburton years Swain always seemed to have a good horse in her stable.

Vera’s Dream was her first stakes winning filly, and she won the 1996 Nevele R Stakes by five lengths.

“Mike De Filippi drove her for me. I told him to go at the 400. He said ‘that’s a bit soon.’ I said no, just go because she’s a great stayer. She just ran away (winning by five lengths). She was a lovely mare but had trouble with her fetlocks. We never saw the best of her.”

She only had nine starts, winning twice, and she was placed four times.

Vera’s Dream after winning the 1996 Nevele R Stakes

Chiavelli was another good mare.

“I bought her for an Australian owner out of the calendar. I asked Kerry O’Reilly who was my blacksmith at the time, whether she was worth buying. He said yes because he had driven the mother Assisi.  I bought Chiavelli to be a broodmare. I actually time trialed her (1-55.6). In her races she had to be locked away because she was a nervous type and pulled. He wanted to take her over for the fillies’ races in Brisbane so we went. While she was over there a yearling ran into her on the Albion Park track. She got away and onto the main highway and was killed. The worst thing ever.”

Chiavelli won six races for Swain. Her dam Assisi won four races for Paul Newton and also left Scorching (11 wins) and Roman Gladiator which won nineteen races for Robin Swain.

Chiavelli winning at Addington

Smart two year old Oneinamillion bred by Robin and Mandy was another horse Denice enjoyed success with.

“Robin said ‘I’ve got a nice two year old here and can you sell him for me because Mandy wants a new kitchen’ (laughter). He ran a good time with Bob Beck driving and I didn’t know what price to put on him. Any rate I put seventy on him. I told Robin and he couldn’t believe it. I sold him for seventy to an Aussie guy.”

Oneinamillion won his first two starts as a two year old, and subsequently went to Australia where he won another thirty four races.

Oneinamillion winning his first start at Addington

Swain developed The Orator, a Talk About Class gelding out of broodmare gem Sakuntala.

“People said I was wasting my time with him. He was erratic but turned into a successful racehorse.” He won five races including the Supremacy Stakes and Four Year Old Superstars Championship. That was my favourite win. He beat some nice horses (OK Tiger, Vanderel and Il Vicolo).”

Swain believed the Holmes Hanover gelding Out Of Africa was going to be a topliner.

“I thought that was going to be my next cup horse. He started to blow a bit so I turned him out for a spell. They rang me up and said he was going backwards. It turned out he had blimmin cancer all through him.”

Out Of Africa was out of Rhodesian Lilly and a half-brother to the John Lischner trained Tartan Clansman which won nine races.

The Vance Hanover gelding Milton Vance unfortunately never reached his potential either.

“He won at Cup time after breaking at the start and losing a heap (of ground) but he still won. He was a top wee horse but the next year when I brought him in he wasn’t himself and I think he bled.”

He won his first five starts but never recaptured winning form in his subsequent starts and was exported to America where he paced a mile in 1-52.8.  “He was my favourite horse.”

Milton Vance winning on cup day.

Swain also remembers breaking in quality gelding Bogan Fella owned by Ashburton businessman Peter Cates.

“I was breaking him in and I remember Peter saying that he needed to pay up for the Sires Stakes. I said ‘oh god I haven’t got that far with the horse yet.’ I said to him that I’d run him over a mile which he ran in 2-04 so I rang Peter and he went and paid up. Then Mark Purdon came down and took the horse off me (laughter).”

Bogan Fella went on to win sixteen races and $691,518.

Swain also broke in Desperate Comment who proved to be a bit of a problem child.

“He was the worst one I ever broke in. He booted in the cart for two weeks.” In the end Swain called on the services of another Southlander Bob Beck who was also training at Ashburton at the time.

“I decided I needed a heavy cart so I borrowed one off Bob. The cart had car tyres. I was on the tractor and Bob was in the cart and it (Desperate Comment) just kept on booting. It took another two weeks before it stopped. He turned out to be a top horse.”

Desperate Comment went on to win twenty races (his first three for Robert Cameron) and $788,617.

While in Ashburton Swain was surrounded by horsemen with a wealth of knowledge, and over the years she listened and learned.

“Old fellas used to tell me that if you see a horse all muscled up and looking great don’t go to the races because it’s double the time for the ligaments and tendons to strengthen. It’s the things you can’t see.”

And a lot of that wisdom has been passed on to the next generation.

“I tell my young relations ‘make sure you’ve got your horse healthy, learn to read them and go with your gut feeling.”

Denice usually limited her team to about a dozen so she could give each horse plenty of attention.

“I had twenty two once which was far too many. I don’t like horses becoming numbers. I liked to treat them one on one so you could read them properly.”

Denice was a real pioneer in the harness industry but it wasn’t an easy road in the male dominated industry.

“I was pretty quiet and wouldn’t say too much. I had to harden up or wouldn’t have made it. I learned to stick up for myself.”

She said it was the love of horses that kept her going through those tough times.

Of the 124 winners Denice Swain trained in her career, 54 were driven by Ashburton reinsman John Hay. The pair formed a formidable combination in the mid and late 1990s.

Hay says of Swain’s training approach, “Very thorough. The horses didn’t go without anything and she had them very healthy. She could have them pretty ready on race day and they could win at Addington without a trial.”

And he was impressed with her attention to detail. “When you went to her place everything was immaculate – the stables, smoko room. There wasn’t a bit of dirt on the gear or the horses.”

Hay said Denice also liked to celebrate the many wins she had in Mid-Canterbury, and that she enjoyed the odd rum.

Denice says she had a great respect for Hay and his driving skills.

“Old Hay boy. What can I say about him? I used to get him to drive at workouts and trials and I liked to keep him on for race day because he knew your horse. He was a very good driver then and still is because there was no pushout rule and nine times out of ten he would get out. He was very good at reading a race.”

There was the odd time when a few tricks were pulled between the pair. Hay says “We rang her up at 3am one morning and said ‘the cars in the ditch’ and asked if she could bring a rope and come down and pull us out. She came down in her nightie. We were having her on, we didn’t think she’d turn up. That’s the sort of person she was. She’d come to your aid.”

Swain remembers the incident. “Him, Brian O’Meara and someone else. They were all full as I recall,” she said.

Swain remembers a particular game of golf at Methven with her sister Dianne, John Hay and the farrier Lin Trotter (Trot).

“Hay boy was the first to tee off. The green keeper came out of his shed and Hay Boy’s ball took a right turn, he hooked it, it went straight over the fairway and just about took the Greenkeeper out. Trot was on a four handicap. He did the big back swing which looked beautiful but it plopped three feet in front of the tee. It was meant to be a drive not a chip.”

Swain said progress was slow after that and some foreign golfers were hard on their heels.“I said we better move over and let them through and Hay Boy said no. He was like a horse with a bad attitude. You can’t bloody shift him once he’s got a bee in his bonnet. Those two were my partners in crime most of the time. I think I ended up winning the match (laughter). I had a good swing and could whack it a fair way because I played hockey. It was a slow game but it was a crack up.”

“She calls a spade a spade. It was never the horse’s fault. It was either the blacksmith or the driver (laughter),” said Hay.

Denice’s Diary:

First season: 1986

First winner: Sweet Song at Forbury Park in April 1986

Final training season: 2012

Last winner: Don’t Be Cruel at Ascot Park 25th January 2010

Group One placings: Clancy (1991), Just Royce (twice in 1995).

Group Two winners: Vera’s Dream (1996), The Orator (twice in 1995).

Group Three winners: Tricky Bachelor (1992), Clancy (twice in 1991) and Tricky Bachelor (1991).

Leading man: (driver) John Hay (54)

Groomsmen: Mike De Filippi (11) and Robin Swain (10).

Total stats: 736-124-100-69 UDR .2752

Best season 1992 89-17-5-3 UDR .2335, 1995 65-12-11-8 UDR .3197 and 2000 66-12-6-7 UDR .2677.

The last word is given to John Hay. “She was a very good horsewoman,” he said.