The Cirrus Run
This story started out to be about a mare called Cirrus that produced the winners of 23 races over two seasons. But like all good stories, it has many diversions and I found myself wandering off in numerous directions.
Essentially though, the story centres around a breeder who worked as a gardener at Andersons Park in Invercargill and had a small block of land on Bay Road close to Hampton Lodge, where many good thoroughbreds were born. From his Bay Road property with a fixed breeding plan he bred some the most influence mares in Southland’s breeding history.
The breeder name was Noel Drake.
Outside the province you may not have heard of N.J. Drake but as the story is told with the help of Noel’s son Ken and an old scrapbook, things fall into place.
We’ll rewind the clock back to 1931 when a chestnut mare called Auburn Sun was born.
Among other things she was the fourth dam of Majestic Charger the winner of thirteen race and Adios Adieu which won 11. But it’s through Auburn Sun’s Dillion Hall daughter Air Mail that this part of the story begins.
Air Mail was trained by Wes Butt and raced by Arnold Simpson.
Jim Drake, the father of Noel was a stock agent for JG Wards in the late 1940s and Arnold Simpson was a client.
Noel was in his late teens at the time and use to follow Air Mail’s racing career.
“There was only on-course betting in those days so whenever Arnold wanted to have a bet he used to give it to Dad to put on,” said Ken.
Air Mail broke down and was retired in 1953 and a partnership was struck between Simpson and Noel Drake to breed from the mare.
“The arrangement was that Dad picked the sire and paid for the service fee. They sent her to Josedale Grattan (1941 New Zealand Trotting Cup winner) who was a leading sire at the time.”
The resulting foal was Kiwi Grattan. He won at his first appearance in public at the Birchwood meeting in saddle pace. He was trained by Wally Scott and went on to win nine races including the FJ Smith Memorial Handicap at Alexandra Park beating Scottish Command and Girl Brigade.
“Dad raced Kiwi Grattan in partnership with Wally. He was actually the first horse from Southland to win at the night trots in Auckland.”
Her second foal by Italian sire Canova wasn’t as successful.
Canova stood at Greenlane Stud at Lorneville. He raced as a trotter winning 14 races.
“For a while they couldn’t get American sires into New Zealand so they bought Italian stallions in. That was all you had or New Zealand bred horses. Dad would tell you that he was no good and probably put Southland back a few years.”
In total Air Mail left ten live foals and her best race track runner was Kiwi Hanover which won 26 races including the South Australian Cup.
“Dad’s father retired in Australia and Kiwi Hanover ended up in New South Wales where he lived. Quite often we’d get a telegram saying ‘Cheeky’ won at the showgrounds last night. We always called him Cheeky at home.”
But it’s Air Mail’s daughters that feature on the pedigree page of a host of winner’s right up until this day. And it’s from a mare named Cirrus that we pick up the story.
Cirrus was the last foal produced by Air Mail. She died empty at the age of 25 in 1968 six weeks after Cirrus was weaned.
“Dad leased Cirrus to Owen Crooks as a young horse without a right of purchase because he really wanted to keep her. She came home and was sent to stud as a three year old.”
Her first foal was produced in 1971. By Tempest Hanover his name was Devastator. He won three races here and another thirteen in America. He was sold as a weanling, raced in Southland and was later sold to the Kenwood Syndicate.
“I remember when Dad was breeding from Kiwi Air and Cirrus. Those mares were hard fed every night through the winter. When the foals came home from stud we always spent a lot of time handling them. They were always taught to lead on the mares. You could trim their feet before they were weaned. For six weeks before the foals were weaned we would start feeding the mares and the foals so when the foals were weaned they knew what hard feed was.”
Cirrus’s second foal was Motu Princess. She was sold for $1,000 as a weanling at the Southland Standardbred Sale and bought by George Timperley of Coutts Island in the Rangiora District. She was unnamed at that point but Timperley named her Motu (Maori for Island) Princess. She began her career as a two year old in March 1975 at Addington finishing 10th behind a smart Fancy Fred.
She went on to win seven races. Her second win was in a heat of the New Zealand Probationary Drivers Championship at Timaru when driven by a young Colin De Filippi.
As a broodmare Motu Princess left Motu Mister Smooth the winner of eight races including a heat of the Sires Stakes and the 1991 Amberley Cup. He also had success as a stallion.
The mare’s third foal was Hurricane Kiwi which was bought as a foal by Southland trainer Jack Duncan.
“Dad had known Jack for many years. Dad had family from the Caps (Nightcaps) and Jack had originated from there. I went out to the trials one day at Winton and Jack and Mrs Duncan were sitting in front of us. He asked if Dad had any foals and Dad said yes he did have one, by Armbro Hurricane. Jack phoned that night and came out the next day, had a look at the foal and dropped the cheque off that afternoon.”
Murray Faul was brought into the ownership and Hurricane Kiwi qualified as a late three year old. He won seven races here and from only four starts in America, won once.
Born in 1974 a young colt by Armbro Del was to become the star of Cirrus’s breeding career. He too was sold for $1,000 as a weanling at the Southland Sales and once again bought by George Timperley. He too would carry the Motu prefix – Motu Prince.
“I remember when he came home from the stud only three months old. When we started handling him he was an absolute sod of a horse. We had a crush and we used to get the foals in the crush and handle them from there but we just couldn’t get him in the crush.”
Motu Prince won his first race – the New Brighton Two Year Old Stakes for trainer Morris Flaws. He also finished second to Glide Time in both the Welcome and Sapling Stakes and was third behind Lord Module and Locarno in the Cashmere Two Year Old Stakes at Addington.
But it was the following season that he won his biggest prize in the 1977 New Zealand Derby.
“He was trained to the minute. In those days you didn’t have to notify your drivers. The Derby was on Saturday night and there was no driver listed for him in the paper on Saturday morning. My car was parked out in the drive and we were trying to pick up 3ZB in Christchurch. The caller Reon Murtha said “Peter Wolfenden has got Motu Prince away really well.” Dad and I looked at each other and said Peter Wolfenden!!! We couldn’t believe it. He put him into the trail and pulled out at the top of the straight and did the business.”
In the Derby he beat Glide Time by two lengths with Timely Robin four lengths back in third. The beaten runners included Lord Module, Roydon Scott and Main Star.
Motu Prince’s winning time for the 2600 metres of 3-21.1 was a new race record.
Flaws once told Drake “He’s a hell of a horse and he’s got a great motor but you wouldn’t want to go near him.”
He won six races as a three year old ending his season in Gore running third behind Hurricane Squire and Lord Module in the Tanqueray Stakes. At the end of his career he’d won seven races. He also ended up in the stallion barn.
The mare’s next foal was Kiwi Guy (Berry Hanover) which won two races for Jimmy Bond and was later exported to America where he won nine races.
From a breeding perspective Cirrus was by an Adios stallion. Adios horses crossed with Tar Heel bloodline were the golden cross in America in the 1960s and 1970s before Meadow Skipper, Most Happy Fella and Albatross took over.
“Dad thought the Adios cross with a Dillion Hall mare would do the business. All the horses out of Cirrus were by Tar Heel sires. Dad was sure that if he had that double cross of Adios blood across a Tar Heel sire they’re be alright.”
Successful Southland sire Majestic Chance was by an Adios sire (Adios Butler) out of a Tar Heel mare (La Chance). He was one the big success stories in Southland.
Cirrus’s next foal was Bakano and was to be her last in this country. By Armbro Hurricane she won on debut and was Ken Drake’s first runner at the races, and first winner. But that was to be her only win in ten starts. As a broodmare she did leave Cacao which won four races for Frank Cooney.
Cirrus, who was named 1978 Southland Broodmare of the Year, was sold as a 14 year old to Illinois Stud in Coleambally Valley near Wagga Wagga.
In Australia she left Cirrus Star (Most Chance) who in turn left Preux Chevalier filly Three Dawns which won sixteen races.
Although some of the Southland and Australian branches of the family dating back to Auburn Sun have dried up, other strands have continued to flourish.
Cirrus’s half-sister Kiwi Direct had more luck as a broodmare. By Express Direct she won twice – once for Ray Todd at Invercargill in December 1969 when driven by junior driver Ned Black and the following year when trained by her part owner Bill Coats who shared in the ownership with Hec Donaldson.
As a broodmare Kiwi Direct left Direct Kiwi (Knowing Bret) 13 wins, Supreme Kiwi (Knowing Bret) the winner of one race and the dam of Kiwi Supreme the winner of nine races. Kiwi Direct is also the fourth dam of the brilliant Kiwi Ingenuity the winner of eleven races and over half a million dollars for former Southlander Hamish Scott and his partner Kim Lawson.
Kiwi Direct also produced Sly Kiwi the winner of the 1974 Methven Two Year Old Stakes when she beat Noodlum off level marks at the same age. Sly Kiwi (Sly Yankee – Kiwi Direct) didn’t leave any winners on the racetrack but one of her daughters Sly Tabella (Saigon) is the dam of Sly Soky the dam of Sly Flyin. It’s a family that Southlanders Debbie and Mark Smith continue to successfully breed from.
Another half – sister to Cirrus was Kiwi Air which was also bred by Drake.
“She had two white hind feet and they used to get quite a bit of greasy heel. Bert (Bert Lawton from Hampton Lodge) put Dad on the right track. We used to get sulphur from the chemist and mix it with pig lard. Equal amounts. Mum used to put it in the cake mixer and mix it all up. You’d put it on the old girls back legs. She didn’t like it but it used to dry her up.”
One of Kiwi Air’s foals Tempest Air left smart colt Kiwi Dillion (Mister Hillas) which won twice here before heading to America. Henry Hoover (Knowing Bret) was her second foal and he won eight races. Both were raced by Linda and Wayne Pierce.
Gold Ace also stems from this family with the stallion’s fourth dam being Kiwi Direct.
“Dad was primarily a breeder and he got a lot of satisfaction out of seeing foals that he’d sold go on a do well for other people. In later years he got a great thrill out of seeing horses like Kiwi Ingenuity and Gold Ace doing well.”
Another daughter of Kiwi Air, Ima Kiwi left handy horses Golden Wings (5), Trist Mist (4), Admiral Kiwi (6).
And a good indication that the family is still alive and well is illustrated in the latest Sale of the Stars catalogue.
Lot 153 Kenny Rogers (A Rocknroll Dance) has Air Mail as his seventh dam while lot 234 Motu Girls Delight (Bettor’s Delight – Motu Racey Girl) has Motu Princess as her fifth dam. (It’s of interest that one Ned Black is preparing Motu Girls Delight. Remember he drove one of the family (Kiwi Direct) to win in 1969.)
Phew! There were many twists and turns in writing this story. The Drake family although not involved at all in breeding these days still takes an interest in horses especially since the name NJ Drake often appears somewhere deep on the pedigree page. The stud career of Gold Ace will undoubtedly be watched with interest as will the progeny of Kiwi Ingenuity and other mares like Pemberton Shard.
And here’s a long shot.
What about sending a mare to Buy Kiwi Made, a Presidential Ball stallion out of Kiwi Express that Hamish Scott and Kim Lawson own?
Noel Drake had an influence in shaping some top modern day bloodlines. Thanks Ken for sharing your Dad’s interesting story.