Southlander Vin Nally knows he’s pretty lucky to still be handling Standardbreds despite what he’s been through – but that part of the story is for later on.
When hearing about his involvement with horses you can see why the former Southland rugby player never gave up. And we all know the fighting spirit of the Irish. Nally demonstrates this in spades.
The story begins when in 1923, Vin’s father Pat came out from his home country of Ireland as a young man. Even though he didn’t marry until his mid-forties, he had 10 children.
“Dad had a dairy farm on Kew Road in Invercargill that supplied milk all year round to the nearby Southland Hospital. It wasn’t pasteurised and we delivered it from our cans to the vats,” said Vin who can remember being around horses from a young age. ‘He had a team of draft horses so I drove a team of six draft horses as a wee kid. I’ve been around horses all my life.”
When he left school Vin got a building apprenticeship with well-known Southland Rugby identity Ray Harper, who managed the 1980 All Black team when it toured Australia and Wales.
“I worked for Harps for about nine years. Most of the gang were interested in either gallopers or standardbreds. I was about eighteen and hooked up with Ted McDowell. Curly Thomas and Gil Shirley had just bought Ascot Stud. They needed boxes for their stallions and Ted and I built them in our spare time. When it came time to square things up Gil suggested that he’d be quite happy to lend us a mare and give us a free service.”
That mare was Shirleen which was by Jack Potts stallion Colossal. The filly they bred from Shirleen was Litmus.
“She (Litmus) didn’t race. She broke her leg in the paddock – hit a post. Paddy Dunne (local vet) saved her for breeding purposes.”
Super Chance was the first horse the pair bred out of Litmus. He was by Majestic Chance and won five races including his first start at Wyndham in November 1973. He was later sold to America.
“He went two minutes in America – yeah two minutes and it was bloody headlines in the Southland Times,” said Nally knowing that two minutes is no big deal these days but happy to read the headlines back in the day!
Alongside his interest in the harness industry he also played Rugby for the Marist Seniors in Invercargill and represented Southland, proudly getting his blazer. At that point I suggested without any research that he must have been a prop.
“Shit no. I was a loosie. I’d have to stand twice to make a shadow. When I first played for Marist I was eighteen. I only played a few games that season as a fill in locking the scrum with Brian O’Neill. He was a big man and I was the second biggest bloke in the forwards at eighteen. I could hardly get my arm around him.”
Incidentally Vin’s grandson Jack has recently joined the Marist Seniors as a seventeen year old.
“They announced it at the club rooms that he was the youngest player ever to play senior for Marist.”
Jack, like a lot of the Nally boys has spent plenty of time at Vin’s 20 acre property on Orion Road in Makarewa just north of Invercargill. All helping their Da (grandad) with the horses.
“He’s a real good driver. He’s working fulltime now but if I get the odd stroppy one he still comes round and gives me a bit of a hand.”
He currently has twelve horses on the property and former trainer Dave Innes helps him with fast work.
In amongst bringing up a family and a busy working life his interest in harness racing never waned. In 1970 he formed the Dolomite Syndicate which is now forty seven years old and the second oldest syndicate in New Zealand, behind another Southland group called the Setarip Syndicate.
“I was also a foundation member of that syndicate. When I worked for Ray I was invited to join as a bit of a joke. I was the honorary Marist member. They were all Pirates members. Setarip is Pirates spelt backwards.”
And why Dolomite?
“We were around at my place and we couldn’t think of a name. Someone said that’s a nice painting above your head. It was a painting of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. So that’s how we got the name.”
When his rugby playing days were over Nally coached the Marist and Wrights Bush Seniors and through that time he and his wife Jan were also bring up six children and farming three thousand stock units at Springhills.
“It was mixed with sheep, beef and deer with the odd broodmare running around.”
They sold the property in the 1980s and moved to Invercargill where Vin took up work as a stock agent for Southland Farmers.
“I worked for them for about five years and started up the dairy side of the business. I spent a lot of time in the North Island buying lots of herds. Sometimes I’d come home at 5 o’clock on Friday and go back at six on Monday morning. We were short of dairy cattle in those days – we couldn’t self-produce. ”
In the early 90s the Dolomite Syndicate bought Talk About Class filly Highview Jane off Dave Clark, Nally having spotted her one day when he was working for Southland Farmers.
“That’s how the Dolamite Syndicate got into breeding. She got terribly dirty. Allan Beck trained her and they put her on hormones to settle her down. She was dangerous but when we retired her and started breeding from her she was a model prisoner.”
Highview Jane only had eight starts. One of her wins was in a heat of the Southland Oaks. As a broodmare her best winner was Paddy O’Brien which won seven races here and a further five in Australia. Her last foal El Capitan is currently racing and is a handy type in Brett Gray’s stable.
Nally is also breeding from two of Highview Jane’s daughters in Dromsally (Falcon Seelster) and Ballymenna (Badlands Hanover). Ballymenna is the dam of recently retired dual gaited gelding Scarrymcleary.
“Josh (part trainer Josh Dickie) promised me that he wouldn’t go anywhere until he had a real good home for him.”
Dickie first came across Scarrymcleary when he drove him to win a heat in the Australasian Young Driver Championship at Menangle in 2013.
After winning thirteen races as a pacer (8 in New Zealand and a further 5 in Australia) he was converted to the trotting gait by his Australian trainer David Thorn.
“He rang me one night. He said Vin (said with an Aussie twang) this horse of yours is a trotter, did you not know that? I said I’d known that ever since the day he walked. All be wanted to do was trot.”
Scarrymcleary qualified as a trotter in Australia and after having only one start in that gait he returned to New Zealand where he won eight races as a trotter. In total Scarrymcleary banked $251,960 for the syndicate.
Nally still keeps an eye on harness racing in Australia. He recently sold another one of his breed – Sir Galahad (Washington VC – Dromsally) which qualified impressively at Winton and was purchased by Gary Hall Senior in Western Australia.
“He’s got three pins in his pastern at the moment. Hall Snr rates him. He said he’s the quickest and best qualifier they’ve had this year. He said if they get him back he’ll be a super horse.”
Vin is also still breeding from a decedent of Shirleen. Millennium’s First is by Soky’s Atom out of Vindaloo which is a granddaughter of Shirleen. Her latest named foal is Scarface Claw which is an Auckland Reactor colt.
Over the years he’s also formed a close association with New Zealand Racing Board member Graham Cooney whom he first met when Vin was farming at Waianawa.
“He’d been to Lincoln College and shifted out to Wallacetown as a Farm Advisor. He did a lambing beat for my neighbour. We used to swap a few lies. One day he said ‘I see you’ve got a horse there.’ The horses name was Denim and I was just getting him fit around my own paddock. He said that he’d love drive him. I told him to just talk to the horse and hold onto him. I said if you hold him too tight or flick the reins at him he’ll run. Well, the horse spooked at something and Graham pulled back. The horse went round and round in the paddock in ever decreasing circles. I couldn’t do anything because I was laughing that much. Graham played for Wrights Bush and I coached them so we’ve been bloody good mates since.”
And it was through that association that Nally was able to buy into Cooney’s open class mare Nursemaid after she retired.
“We tried to breed her to Soky’s Atom three years in a row and she missed. When she was carrying Maidonthebeach she herniated before she foaled in a serious way. The vets said if you got her in foal again it would kill her. Graham and I did a lot of research on ET and talked to Nevele R and it’s been very successful since.”
Over the years he’s also broken in some of Cooney’s young stock. The first two horses he broke in for him were Devil May Care (11 wins) and Canardly Lover (13 wins).
“I like to get them straight off the mare and break them in and mouth and gait them. I like to do them before they’re 12 months old. It’s easier on man and beast.”
On the racing front Nally currently has shares with Cooney in Tiziano, Groomsman and Maidonthebeach.
But included in this story is an incident that put the brakes on Nally’s involvement in horses for a good number of years. The date was 23rd April 2002.
“I remember it because I missed duck shooting. I was at one of my client’s farms at Dipton weaning high country cattle and the young ones. It was the only time they saw a human being. The cow that got me was 900 kgs on the scales. I was cutting the calves off and pushing one up the race for the vet. Next thing I got hit from behind. I never went down. I turned around but had nowhere to go so I just had to keep sidestepping her. The race was tapered and in the finish she charged and tried to pass. She got me with her shoulder and I twisted around until I got to my hip and was jammed there. I looked down and my legs were tight together. The only problem was one of them was back to front.”
It turned out the accident had wrecked all his joints from the ankle to the middle of his back.
“I said to the guys get me out. They said how? I said grab a chainsaw and cut me out. But there was no chainsaw. I reckon the vet fainted and the cocky was panicking. He thought I was going to get killed. The cow ended up going backwards and forwards trying to get out and all the time my hip was against the rail so it was wrecked. It didn’t break a bone though. If it had broken a bone instead of twisting all the joints I would have been back at work in the fortnight. She eventually heaved back and I got myself over the rail.”
He then told the recovering vet and the startled farm owner to ring an ambulance and to get him into his car so he could drive down to the house to meet the ambulance.
At that point Nally, always the true stockman, was more concerned about the calves being smothered in the race so he told the farmer to let the stock out and that he would meet them at the house.
“I was sore and thought if they were going to swap me from the car to the ambulance to get me to hospital I’d be better to carry on. So I turned out on the road and headed for Invercargill.”
So the hardy Irishman drove his car using two sticks – one to support his twisted leg and the other helping him to drive his automatic car.
“I knew Chris (son) was at home so I pulled up and tooted the horn. He stuck his head out the window and said ‘I haven’t got time sitting around for all your bullshit today.’ He thought I was having him on.”
Anyway Nally spent six and a half years being supported by crutches. But not one to be held back by long deadlines he began planning his return. After about four years of hobbling around he started weaning foals in the yard again – on crutches!!
“It’s been the best thing because it gave me goals. If I’d surrendered to it I would have given up after two years. I think some thought I’d never walk again but with all the advances in science I’m able to walk today. Sometimes I try and run.”
So lots of operations later Vin Nally is well and truly back doing what he loves; handling horses, breaking in young stock and heading to the races (now without crutches). True testimony to his Irish heritage and his hardly Southland upbringing.