ROY'S RUNNERS -our stables
My first stable I shared with my father and then I went to Te Awamutu around 1953 and trained there for about six years. It was quite a good setup and I had my share of success there. But when I came back to Pukekohe I went dairy farming for about two years to raise a bit of cash. I hated that milking twice a day ! We sold the farm and I started training again with four horses from the back of a house we rented in Pukekohe. I was getting a lot of driving then and the training was a backup but we had a bit of luck and got so many horses offered to us I had to make a move.
I bought a place in Clevedon around 1972 which had hardly any facilities for horses apart from an old cowshed to gear them up in. What attracted me was that a track had already been laid there by Monty Baker and once we got organised with the buildings and moved the horses in from the paddocks we started going really well. I had won my first premiership then and things got bigger.
After a few years I bought 37 acres (about 16ha) at Ardmore from Bob Clark and Tony and Mark worked from there. I would be with them and then over at Clevedon when Barry was away,sort of back and forward. That worked ok but there was a lot of money around in the 1980's for horse properties and I sold the Ardmore stable to the Horseplayers Syndicate for big money. Mark and Tony came back to Clevedon. Brian O'Meara was their trainer then and they built a big barn there at Ardmore which included entertaining facilities for owners including a billiard table upstairs.. It was fairly grand for the time.
After the crash, about 1989, they came to me to see if I was interested in rebuying the Ardmore property after it had been passed in at auction for a lot less than I had got for it. I made an offer a bit below that and after a while they came back with an acceptance. Robert Reid was our partner for a while but eventually I bought him out. I had told Mark and Tony who were keen to use it as their base that if I could get it at the money I offered they were in -and so it proved.
Running two stables is a challenge but not that hard if you are organised. I spoke to Barry every night if I wasn't at Clevedon so everyone knew what was going on. One of the big secrets is to prepare the work sheets the day or night before. If the staff can see on the board which are the first horses in they can get straight to them and if the first set is off good and smooth it helps set the tempo for the rest of the morning. (a feature of All Stars operation)
Which was the more successful stable ? Well it worked out pretty even in the end. Some seasons Barry would be ahead and some we would be ahead. But it all worked out ideal for how we wanted to train and most important the horses did really well there.
No 7 Luxury Liner
He was a great horse for us in many ways and a terrific stayer winning both the big cups and winning all the staying races he was set for. But he didn't look any sort of star when he was a younger horse.
He was quite difficult to educate. He took some time to get his gait right and while he won a two year old race he looked like developing into a good handicap stayer. It was really only as he worked through the grades we realised what potential he had. Barry got his heart score done as an older horse and was very high-higher than just about any other horse tested.
Probably just going through the grades was an ideal thing for a stayer like him and why he was so tough later on. Brent Mangos drove him a lot early and when he was placed in his first NZ Cup but Tony was the stable driver by the time he won that race (1988). That was probably our biggest thrill with him. He had won the Auckland Cup and been second twice in the Addington Cup so to finally win it and the way he did it was a thrill too.
Tony had to be patient because Vinny Knight and took off from the 600m with Our Maestro and went past Tony easily and put a length on him. But Tony knew what a great fighter our chap was and he hadn't asked him for his best then. He was still confident and so it proved. They went a hell of a time (4.00.4) and it was a big win. Mark beat him in the free for all with Tax Credit who had run last in the Cup. There was a lot of calls to talkback radio which was booming then but I didn't think people had watched the race right. Tax Credit got the drop on Luxury Linera nd the old boy fought back as he did but not so easy to get back up in a sprint race. There was hardly anything in it. Mark just got the perfect run.
(Luxury Liner won $1.7m only a touch less than Auckland Reactor and won 37 races from over 120 starts. He lost to Our Maestro in the Miracle Mile but beat him in the Treur Memorial in Australia)
Luxury Liner was a grumpy old bugger. He was all right with other horses but he hated people making a fuss of him patting him and that. He wanted to be left alone. Barry was great with him and he got a lot of thrills from the horse's wins.
The horse never broke down or anything. He just wore himself out. He was a horse who gave it everything every start in those big races and if they are not brilliant it catches up with the joints and things in the end. It was a great time for our stable with Christopher Vanceand Mark Hanover coming along at around the same time.
NATHAN'S MAGIC GROUP ONE WITH OHOKA PUNTER
The magic began for Nathan with his first winning drive -an 11 length romp in track record time behind a horse who would go on to win a New Zealand Cup and it continued big time on Saturday night when OHOKA PUNTER, the first open class horse he has trained won "Natalie's Race" the Group One Black's a Fake after a drive of maturity well above his tender years.
"I am still trying to believe its real. My first Group One. I'll never forget this " Nathan said several times after the race won by a horse part-owned by his uncle Tony Herlihy who had the confidence in his young nephew to entrust him with the horse for his Queensland campaign.
In fact Nath was ready to head home when Tony asked him to look after Ohoka Punter during his Queensland stay. That meant he had two horses in work instead of one at Chambers Flat where he has linked up with trainer Ian Gurney as stable horseman with the training a sideline.
He had seen a lot of Ohoka Punter and not always in the best way. Nathan's greatest moments in harnees racing before Saturdaywere as a constant companion of the champion mare ADORE ME whose potential he realised before many others. One of the disappointments there was Adore Me being beaten in the Woodlands Northern Derby against the boys. And the best boy that night was Ohoka Punter and in those days before tendon trouble bothered him he looked a budding champion.
This was a drive Mark or Tony would have been proud of.
Nathan avoided the early rush on the rain affected track and then followed the favourite Hectorjayjay around and took control in the earlier stages of the race,
Nathan drilled the Bettor's Delight horse through even sections at a good butnot breakneck pace until the final half, pushing the button on two 28.6 quarters to prove too strong for the trailer in the run home.
Ohoka Punter is now likely to head back to Sydney and prepare long term for the Inter Dominions in Perth. Time may cause his memory to fade-but never in the mind of one young driver.
Nathan's first win (first drive) was behind ARDEN ROONEYat Rangiora in October 2013 but he was only "lightly raced" in his first season driving five winners. There was no glamorous "free ride" to stardom at Rolleston as has always been the Purdon way. His stints in several states of Australia have turned a talented but rather green young horseman into an assured and confident one.
The only certainty emerging from Saturday was that while it may have been his first Group one winner it most certainly will not be his last.
SOLE COMMAND -(ROY'S RUNNERS 3
"He had ability and a wonderful nature. Mark used to work him before he went to school"
I didn't know Mrs (Mollie) Walker before she came and asked me to train Sole Command. He showed me a bit of promise and I took a share in him partly to help her out. Her son was also in him. I think the mare was nearly 20 when he was foaled. Mrs Walker's late husband Stan had been breeding from the line for years and she wanted to keep it going. He wasn't a brilliant pacer but he had a great attitude and nature and gave his best every time on raceday. Peter Wolfenden drove him in most of his races but in his first two races he was driven by Maurice Holmes. He didn't win but got some money and Maurice told me he thought he would be a nice horse. Of course he went on to win the New Zealand Cup and the Auckland Cup (15 wins 13 seconds $174,000) and was the Horse of the Year. Barry drove him a bit but he was the regular driver of Final Curtain and they often clashed. He also won a New Brighton Cup earlier and that was a big race then.
To be honest the open class pacers weren't great at that time and that helped us a bit. I think the Cup favourite at Addington was Balgove . Peter produced two superb drives in the big Cups. He was probably lucky he got out at Addington under Greg Robinson but that was where his experience and skill counted. In the Auckland Cup he got a perfect trail. Sole Command went to the Interdominions and went great in the heats winning his first two in fast times. I wouldn't make an excuse for the final (favourite) .Though they are probably right to say the slower lead pace didn't suit his style.
Later on I took him to America. He got the virus they all got there after a good start and I set him for the Hollywood Gold Cup which looked a great race for him. After you have not raced for a month over there you have to requalify but they cancelled a set of heats and I was running out of time for lead up races and a bit desperate. I appealed to the stewards and they said if he went over a mile clocked officially they would count that as a qualifier. That saved me really. He went 2.02 which was good going then on your own and he won a race in 1.57 after that which was smart before they posted the sort of times they do now.
I really thought I had him right for that race. Mark was out walking him - I used to walk him every day over there-and he was just too well. He reared, not a big deal really but ricked his back. It was a shame because I knew how well he was. I sold my share in him after that and headed home. He wasn't a champion but a great racehorse in that he was quite easy to train and drive ;was a tough horse , and always tried his best. And it was our biggest winat Addington which meant quite a lot to me from the days when I had been down here a long time before as a youngster with my grandfather Joe Purdon.
MARCH 2016 ROY'S RUNNERS NO 2
"Call Boy won a Derby for me (1958) when I was still battling a bit. He wasn't a top horse but he did the job. Charlie Blackwell, a Waikato owner who was a real enthusiast, had bought him down south from Alec Purdon's stable as I remember. He didn't win a lot of races for us but he did win one that counted. Blackwells still race horses down there.
I had battled a bit in Te Awamutu. It was hard to get new owners there. So when some land came up at Pukekohe I went to see the bank and bought some. I was milking cows so wasn't training many but I got quite a lot of drives which kept us going. It wasn't ideal but you had to do things like that to get ahead.
But after five or six years I wanted to get back to training more and I got a bit of a break when the owner of Takanini Horse Floats offered me a 50/50 deal if I would take over the two trucks and we split the profits. He wasn't getting much patronage with them. Ordinary trainers couldn't get float permits in those days. The big boys objected and nearly always beat you. So this was a way into the business. My main drive was a 9 horse articulator and when we were busy there were usually drivers available for the second one
They were long hours. I remember we would leave home for Cambridge mid afternoon picking up horses out at Waiuku and places. Butt Hair was out there then and if he didn't want to bring his horse home because he had a party after the races so we would bring it home, feed it and fix it up for the night then head home ourselves. Often it was 2 am before you got home and you would have to be up at 5. You could do it in those days and you had to really.
Butt Hair had Governor Frost (Ike Frost ) early on though he was bred down south. He told me he thought he could be a good horse if I had someone to buy him and I got Charlie Hadley interested and took him over. He was quite a small horse, nuggety and good looking and he was a big winner as a young horse. He won the Derby(1968) and a lot of other races that season and he went on to win an Inter Dominion heat here at Auckland. He won 14 all told.He didn't measure up in the final and he met with an accident on the track one day rearing over and that was the end of him. "
Roy used Peter Wolfenden as a driver with Governor Frost.
"I started having trouble with a hip at that stage and I as fairly busy with everything going on. I thought that rather have my horses running against horses driven by Peter I would use him to drive against them. It worked out pretty well"
Pretty well is right. By this stage Roy had progressed to being the third leading trainer in the country with horses like Amend and Southern Silver among others. 21 winners was enough to reach that level then but the hard work was paying off. Within a couple of years he would win the premiership!.
FEBRUARY 2016-"ROY'S RUNNERS" No 1
When Roy began training at Te Awamutu in 1953 he had six horses . During that term he had taken a big rangy Ubakim gelding called Te Koi to the Wanganui meeting for his Dad, Hugh, and won both days.
"I was lucky to get him to train I have to say. Dad had him and then suggested to the owners they give me a chance with him."
Roy won the Thames Cup with the horse but it was not officially in his name as a winning trainer until December 1953 when he won at the big Auckland meeting. He won again at the February feature beating Prince Polka who would win the 1955 Auckland Cup for Noel Berkett, and had a bright future.
"I did pretty well with him. We won six or seven races. But up in the grades there were just no races for him up here especially in the Waikato area. The decision was made to send him south to Wes Butt and he won some nice races with him"
Te Koi's sire UBAKIM was a son of Jack Potts and Abyssinia a well related mare connected to high class horses such as Brava. His half sister Chenault was the ancestress of several stars incuding Locarno and Ostrava-the latter the horse Roy would have success with 30 years later when he changed hands for big money from flamboyant owner Max Harvey and did well.
Like many sires in the north at that time Ubakim did not get the greatest selection of mares but he left some useful horses such as Bounden Duty trained by Jack Hughes who was soon to become part of the Purdon family!. Bounden Duty set a national record as a two year old beating older horses over a distance and he claimed the scalp of Caduceus as an early three year old.
" Te Koi was a good horse to train and the sort of horse I really needed at that time starting out" Roy said.
"I knew when he went south he would measure up to them. Not many in the north did in those days"
In the south for Wes Butt he went to Cup class winning the National Handicap when that was a season feature. He ran in the 1956 New Zealand Cup but after being prominent in the running faded out.
That is not what Roy Purdon remembers him for. He remembers him as the horse who would set him off on a career of unparalleled success in harness racing ranks.
NATHAN PURDON is to widen his experience in the racing business-and hopes to get more drives while he is doing it with his transfer to Ian Gurney's Brisbane stable in the next month .
"I met Ian while I was in Melbourne and he was there with Avonnova and he offered me a position. It will mean a lot more opportunities to drive hopefully and that is one of the main factors.
In a big stable like ours unless you are the No 1 Junior Driver its a real struggle to get opportunities.I don't know how long it will be for. I will see what happens. But it seems a good chancefor me all round"
Ian Gurney has built up a remarkable record from his Chapman's Flat base where he was a virtual hobby trainer for a good while, the family being involved in the earthmoving business.
He had four starters in the Miracle Mile Raglan and Mach Alert being the earlier ones and he turned the career of Avonnova around after buying him cheaply out of a claimer in Sydney in late 2013,. Avonnova had earlier won good races for Steve Turnbull.
Avonnova broke Beautide's 1.52.6 record in the Newcastle Mile this season and was Queensland Horse of the Year last season.
Ian's success has been such his thoroughbred loving family have started investing in standardbreds, and one, Smooth Showgirl, won the $A100,000 Nursery Stakes for fillies last year.
He has taken a share in the Bettor's Delight colt RISHI purchased at the Christchurch sale along with Mark and Natalie and Luke McCarthy as a result of his association with the stable recently.
Nathan does not expect to drive another Adore Me during his trip. He was close to the champion mare from her early days and her career ending injury was a blow for him,
"I didn't want it to end. It was such a great ride. Really emotional. But she never let us down and you can't say that about many top horses. They all have their moments when they are not so good. She was so laid back it was unbelievable and she was such a great mover it was incredible.
"I was sad it was over so soon but there are so many memories and she had done all she had to and more. I don't think I will handle one like that again for a long time if ever"
The All Stars Stable success is based on a rock like base-the great contribution to New Zealand harness racing by the Purdon family. The feats of its various members are incredible. The Press racing writer, David McCarthy, interviewed Mark's father, Roy, on how the Purdon family involvement in harness racing involved in a three article series. These are reproduced below to underline how the magic of Mark and Natalie's All Stars stable developed.
ROY TALKS ABOUT HIS WIFE, BEST FRIEND AND INSPIRATION, MARGARET FOLLOWING HER DEATH 2015
"It would be fair to say the day Margaret and I were married was the day of the biggest win of my career" said Roy Purdon remembering his wife Margaret this week- and how much more she meant to him than the more than 2000 winners he trained on the racetracks.
"She played such an important role in our success but the special thing about her was that she was a real lady. Everything had to be just so with Margaret and it carried over to our horse activities as well which has also contributed so much to our success. She was a wonderful person and the ideal partner. She had her priorities and she was not afraid to make a hard decision to follow them"
As an example, Roy cites Margaret's golfing career. A New Zealand representative on an English tour before she was married she continued to play for 50 years. But she retired from competitive golf when just 24 years old.
"She was still at the top but she wanted to have a family and she was going to do it properly" Roy said "And look at the family we had. Four of them and none ever gave us any troubles. Margaret was responsible for much of that"
Roy recalled that while Margaret, whose brother, Jack Hughes, was a private trainer for many years to Bill Hosking at Pukekohe and on his own account, was not actively involved in training horses herself she was the ideal partner for a harness trainer.
"Training horses is a demanding life style. Early to bed and early to rise and plenty of hard times., a lot of work in the background. Margaret was an early riser all her life and her routine just fitted in perfectly. She raced a few horses but the family was always her first priority. All the family have inherited her eye for detail. She was just a wonderful mother"
Roy who turns 88 next month has found the last 12 months during Margaret's illness hard going and more especially as her life ebbed away over recent weeks.
"I nursed her myself for quite a while but in the end it just became too much. But she had Owen and Gaylene's Pukekohe Private Hospital to go to. The family joke they bought it specially for us !"
"Margaret's illness was quite hard. Until this illness struck she had enjoyed great health. Never took a pill for anything"
"We were married just over 60 years. We were best friends as well as husband and wife. It is a huge thing to lose the friend and wife of a lifetime"
"I will just have to battle on and keep myself busy which I like to do.
But the memories of what Margaret meant to all of us will always be there and always be pleasant"
Roy Purdon Talks About His Amazing Career
Roy Purdon saw his first New Zealand Cup at Addington in 1937, won his first as a trainer in 1977 and in the following years carved out training records both in terms of winners and in premierships never matched in this country by a trainer in either code.
Q The Purdon name is famous in harness racing. How far does the horse tradition to back?
A My grandfather, Joe Purdon, came out from Scotland just after the first War. His first job was lugging chaff bags of coal around Lyttleton from a horse and cart. His sons were my father, Hugh, Alec later a well known trainer, Joe who had the Swamp hotel at Islington for a long time and Jimmy who worked for Vic Alborn at Addington and later trained Gantree which was a top pacer and won a Dunedin Cup. My father worked with James Bryce at Hornby for a while when he had a big stable there but when things got tough in the Depression we moved to Auckland. My brothers Sandy and Les also trained up here.
Q The Purdons, the Youngs, the Bryces the Kerrs-there seems to have been a lot of prominent horse trainers among those who came out from Scotland about the same time. Was there a trotting tradition there?
A I went back about 10 years ago and couldn't find a trotting track anywhere. The only trotting horses were with the gypsies. I think they were just rural folk who had to look after their own road horses and draught horses because they were their only transport and they were too far out of town to call a vet. They learned their own ways.
Q Did you use any of the old remedies they brought out?
When I was 10 I came down and spent a year with my grandfather in Christchurch. It was a great time. He had a delivery business and we went everywhere in horse and gig. Once a month he would go out to Kempthorne Prosser at Hornby with his list and buy up the ingredients he needed and then go around and mix them up in a barrel at Jimmy Young's stable just behind Addington. I got that recipe later from Alec but there were a lot of different ones around trainers had. My granddad used to supply quite a few people with his mixture including F J Smith.
Qwhat were they mainly used for?
Very good for legs and body washes. They could do some marvellous things for legs. Everyone guarded their recipes then. Probably nobody bothers now. They just call in the vets. You didn't do that then unless you really had to or the owners would not be happy.
Q Was that when you saw your first cup?
Yes my grandfather and I went out in the horse and gig which we parked where the houses are now next to Addington. It was a big carpark then. There was a huge crowd. We could hardly move. I watched the race by the finish post sitting on his shoulders. Lucky Jack won it. I would never forget it.
Q How did your own training career start?
It took a while. Things were really tough in the Depression. Dad was delivering laundry up in Auckland. Sometimes I would come down and stay at Islington with my uncle Joe and bike down to Jack Pringle's stables to help out. I always wanted to train but it wasn't until after the (second) war that Dad and I had a go at it. We were at New Lynn then. It was hard going.
Q Not enough horses?
Not for two of us. I used to work night shift at the bus company cleaning out the buses, 11 pm to 7 am and then do the horses. We were breaking in for George Deyell a friend of my grandfather's and then we did the same for F J Smith a leading trainer up here then.
Q He was the one who always looked so dapper with his American driving gear?
He had come out from England and was very particular. The boys who worked there always said that after they had groomed the horses F J would rub a clean hanky over them. Ifthere was any dirt showing at all they would have to do them again.
Q Presentation seemed more important then?
Yes and I think it is a pity the standards have fallen in some areas. We used to groom horses more than once a day and take great pride in it. We would watch others and compare ours and see how we could do better. It was good for their muscles and it also got them used to people being around them and helped their attitude. We don't have the staff for that of course now. But everyone got dressed up on raceday, a jacket and a tie, and it is a shame dress standards on raceday for horse handlers have fallen so far. The Auckland Trotting Club says it will address that this season and it is overdue.
Q When did you actually start training racehorses?
There were five Ogilvy brothers who had a big farm at Mangere, close to the airport. They offered us a grass paddock big enough to put a track in and we converted an old hay shed for stalls.
Q Success came quickly?
No. In those days no bugger knew you. You were lucky to get a drive even at a matinee meeting which they had a lot of in those days. There was no totalisator. Horses were hard to come by and we had other people's rejects. I suppose we handled 12 horses.I loved driving. I started driving the odd winner at the matinees and that helped. You have got to remember there were only 11 meetings a year at Alexandra Park then and there was a lot of travelling if you wanted to get the opportunities.
Q What happened then?
We decided to shift to Pukekohe. We got to know more racing people there and we had a bit of success and at last we started to get more horses. It was a learning curve though. We had six cast offs when we got there but we got up to about 25. We used to charge six pounds a week ($12) then. Now they count the cost by the day. It was another learning curve but it was better than it had been. Then I was offered a property in Te Awamutu next to the racetrack. I was doing well in the driving then and got to know a lot of locals and we did pretty well there. My dad stayed at Pukekohe with my brother. My first winner was a good stayer called Te Koi at Alexandra Park. My dad had trained him and told the owners they should give me a go and they did.
Q The first big winner?
Call Boy won the Great Northern Derby about 1958. He didn't really win it but was promoted on a protest by the stewards. The horse first past the post was driven by Maurice Holmes who often stayed with us when he came up. I was pretty embarrassed but Maurice didn't mind at all.
Q Sole Command's Cup (1977) must have been a big thrill after seeing the race as a ten year old and you part- owned this one as well. Were you confident before the race?
No, but I was never too confident before a big race. You can't be. I had brought Governor Frost down for the cup (1968) and Barry (then in training partnership) drove Final Curtain the previous year and in this one. Mark used to look after Sole Command and got on real well with him. Peter Wolfenden was the stable driver in those days.
Qyou were a top driver and you seemed to give it away. Why?
When I was a kid I injured a hip in a school game and it always bothered me. It made shoeing the horses-and we all did our own shoeing then-a bloody tough job. There were a lot more accidents in races then. There were no wheel discs and horses got hooked up all the time. You could have 37 horses in a race at Cambridge with 20 across the front. I had quite a bit of time off from smashes. I just loved driving but I was having trouble keeping my foot on the bad side in the stirrup with the hip problem. Beside why should I go out and get beaten by Wolfie when I could have him in my cart? He was a very relaxed driver, a natural, never lost his cool in a big race.
Q Who will win today's cup?
A I like Changeover. He has the ability and the best manners. Gotta Go Cullen has had a nice buildup. For a longer price I like Baileys Dream I thought he went very well at Ashburton.
Q What did you think of (son) Mark's decision not to run Auckland Reactor in the race?
A It was the right decision. It is what I would have done in those circumstances. There is plenty of time for him and it would have been a hard race.
Q in your younger days the southern horses went up to Auckland and won a lot of the big races. It must be good from your point of view to watch how that has turned around?
A It has certainly changed. It was all one way traffic then. What happened was that the breeding improved up here. People like Sandy Yarndley were buying into good families and we were getting better sires. We got Vance Hanover up here when nobody down there wanted him. He changed the whole game.
COURTESY OF THE PRESS CHRISTCHURCH
Q Your family has been heavily engaged in harness racing over the years. Did you marry into a harness family?
A I met Margaret through Jack Hughes who was a fellow trainer. Margaret was his sister and a champion golfer. At the time we were going out she had been selected for a New Zealand team to play in England and was going to be away six months. We married after she got home. Margaret still plays twice a week and is on a 17 handicap which is not bad when you are near 80.
Q Were you a golfer?
A As a golfer I was an excellent caddie. I used to say I walked around the stables enough without walking around a golf course afterward.
Q You spoke last week of old recipes and I believe you used one on Luxury Liner when he had a problem just before he won the New Zealand Cup?
Yes that was one of the treatments which came out from Scotland. He was at Jim Dalgety's and while he was working fine he had a dry cough they couldn't get rid of. I told Jim to use Stockholm tar, putting some on a a stick and putting it down his throat. Jim was a bit surprised because the tar was normally used for other things such as crib biters. However he did it and the cough cleared up straight away. I used to use that Stockholm tar for a lot of things.
Q Luxury Liner was by Mercedes who had a reputation as a man eater. What was he like to handle?
No, pretty good. He hated the fuss of raceday and people coming along and patting him all the time made him a bit grumpy, but he was not mean. He was a great staying horse and would probably match most of them today.
Q About that time Chokin came along. How good was he?
A He won two Miracle Miles and a New Zealand Cup and a lot of other good races. Brian Hughes (son of Jack) had him originally and we took him over when he changed hands. He went just over 1:56 at Cambridge as a two year old (1990). They don't go much faster than that now.
Q The best you trained?
A Yes. He had a heart fibrillation issue toward the end of his career but he was a great horse. A filly we had, Pacific Flight, had the same thing and won an Oaks (driven by Mark). She went 1:51 in America. Close behind Cholin was Holmes D G. The only race he couldn't win was the New Zealand Cup though he went close and it probably gave his reputation a knock it didn't deserve. He won everything else including a Miracle Mile. He was a lovely horse to train and drive. Sole Command won an Auckland, New Zealand and Easter Cup.
Q The bonus was you had a share in him?
A I didn't take many shares in horses. You can end up not being able to pay your own bills. But Mrs Walker had bred Sole Command had quite a few horses with us and hadn't had a lot of luck. I took a share in him before he was broken in.
Q You were going great guns at Pukekohe and then shifted to Clevedon. Why?
We were about 300m from the Pukekohe track. The increasing traffic along the road made it difficult to walk the horses there and there was a railway line which meant you had to beat the trains to the track. Monty Baker and his brother had developed this place at Clevedon and when they split up we had a chance to buy it. It had its own track which was a huge advantage. We built up to 60 horses in training there.
Q Did your training methods change with a team twice as big?
A Not really. Barry and I pretty much stuck to the old ways. But we had always done a lot of cantering with the horses and at Clevedon we found we were having a few hock problems. We cut back on the cantering and jogged them 40 minutes instead.
Q What about feed. Did you make any major changes?
A Once again we pretty much stuck to what we knew. The man made feeds like Mitavite were just sort of coming in then. We fed chaff bran and oats though these days chaff seems to be on the way out.
Q Why is that?
A People just don't make it like they used to and it is hard to get. It is only a filler and the bran and molasses mixed with it gave it a taste. Horses love molasses.
Q You must have had to make changes going to a large glamorous team full of stars compared with your earlier days?
A Probably but a lot of them are gradual. You adjust as you go along. I got to meet a lot more people though who were either outside racing or inside but experts in other fields and I learned a lot from them about a lot of things.
Q You had Barry Owen and Mark all wanting to drive and you son in law Tony Herlihy came along too.
A That was quite difficult to manage at times. That is why after we had been at Clevedon for a while I bought another property which was in Ardmore but only about a mile and a half (2.4km) from Clevedon. Barry managed the Clevedon operation on his own then.
Q Tony must have been a natural?
A His uncle Arnie Gadsby was my foreman and Tony used to come up to Pukekohe in the school holidays. Then Arnie, a great bloke and a fine trainer (Captain Harcourt) went out on his own and Tony left school and went to work for him. It started from there and then he and (daughter) Suzanne were married. Tony had a great temperament for it and became the stable driver after Wolfie with Barry going well too.
Q Tony seems to be going as well training now?
A I think he will do very well. He is training at Ardmore here and I am just the mucker outer these days. He has his own ideas and they are working. He has as bright a future training as driving.
Q What were your feelings when Mark decided to come to the South Island to train?
A I supported him and John Seaton was a great friend of his. But I suppose I was also a little bit envious. I always wanted to go south to train. When you are married with a family and have commitments you can't always do what you want. I am not complaining but I wouldn't have minded doing what Mark did myself if things had been different.
Q You said before the Trotting Cup you favoured long walk up starts for those sort of races. Any change now?
A In places like Europe they walk in about 25m to a start and they all hold their place all right. Over there too a friend of mine was telling me he saw a mobile race run as a handicap with 10m and 20m positions the drivers had to stay in. I think it needs looking at.
Q You won more training premierships (21) than anyone else in harness racing here. Does one of them stand out?
A I think the first one (1971). I was a great friend of Derek Jones and we were also great rivals in good way. He had knocked me off a couple of seasons before and there was a lot of banter going back and forward. I had the say that year and it felt good.
COURTESY OF THE PRESS CHRISTCHURCH
Q Things changed a lot working 20 or 30 horses to the big teams you had in your heyday. How did you cope with all the paperwork?
A Margaret always did the books and I did the nominations. Nominations were a hell of a job back a few years ago. You had to fill out the particulars of every horse every time it started. Its breeding, all of its owners with the joint interests, the form and all the rest of it. You posted that off to the club secretary and had to make sure they arrived in time . Sometimes I would have 30 sheets of paper to fill in. I hated that part of it. Nobldy was more pleased when they brought in phone nominations than I was.
Q The carbon fibre wheels are the latest new thing in harness racing. Quite a lot of things changed during your time. Did they have a big impact?
A Yes, some of them did. But one thing has never changed-how much horsepower you have got between the shafts. Nothing can change that.
Q Auckland have introduced different sets of colours for stablemates in a bid to spark public interest. What do you think of that?
A I can't see it working quite honestly. People feel quite strongly about colours. It is not just their own. They like to be able to pick the stable colours out in a race. Changing them around all the time is not the answer.
Q You did not want to do it with your stables?
A No. I really liked the system in America where the driver has his own colours. It makes it easy to identify where the horses are in a race.
Q Some people, Mark Jones is one, have advocated that here. Can you see it coming in?
A No, for the reasons I said before. Stable and owners colours are a touchy point with people still.
Q You trained a huge number of top horses. What was the best horse you have seen?
A Highland Fling (NZ Cup 1947-48) He was an excitement machine. People would watch him to see if he would go away with the field-he never did -then watch him make up these huge stretches of ground. I remember one day Leo Berkett took him out for an attempt on the mile record at Addington He jogged once around, Leo Berkett yelled out “right'' and off they went- no pacemaker. He ran about 1:57 that day which was phenomenal then. Cardigan Bay broke his record with a pacemaker but it was about 20 years later. He was a freak Highland Fling.
Q Talking of Auckland you were under pressure at one stage to dissolve the partnership between you and Barry?
A It wasn't Auckland's doing, it was the Trotting Conference (now Harness Racing New Zealand). They came up with the idea that because we were working out of two different properties, even though they were fairly close, that we would have to have two separate licences. It was silly. There were other trainers then in partnership much further apart than we were. I would probably have gone along with it to keep the peace in the end to be honest , but Barry dug his toes in and said they couldn't do it and he and I were going to stay together. In the end they dropped it.
Q Bracketting horses went out while you were at the top?
A I think I might have had quite a bit to do with that. Sometimes there would eight horses nominated at Alexandra Park and four of them would be ours. If one was part-owned by Jim Dalgety for example and another one was leased off him they had to be bracketed and all the horses ran for one ticket. That meant instead of having eight horses to bet on they might only have four or five. Some other big stables were in the same position. So they dropped the brackets and I think the pressure from some of the clubs did it.
Q You have trained far more winners than anyone else in the history of racing in New Zealand. How much did the records keep you going?
A Not really at all though I was talked out of retiring earlier because the 2000 winners was coming up. Records are made to be broken and so will that one one day. I have no doubt about that.
Q Does any special win stand out?
A Yes, I got an enormous amount of satisfaction out of Comedy Lad winning the Auckland Cup (1986) for Max Harvey. Max was a generous man, especially when it came to horses, and all he ever wanted to win was an Auckland Cup. He'd been trying for years. . He paid a lot for Comedy Lad ($115,000) . He was unlucky in the New Zealand Cup that season and late in Decmeber he banged a hock. We couldn't hopple him at all until three weeks before the race. I just swam him and cantered him. Then I thought he was terrific in his final trial for the race (February) until I got some bad news.
Q What was that?
A (Australian trainer ) Jim O'Sullivan's horse (Quite Famous) was staying with us. Jim had to do something in town and asked if we would take Quite Famous in with Comedy Lad and he would come out and trial him. I was really happy with the way our horse worked. Then Jim came out and ran his last 800m in 56.5. That knocked me a bit.
Q A happy ending?
A Tony (Herlihy) drove a heady race. At Addington he hadn't got a run and he waited for one in Auckland too and got it this time. I always told them that if you go hard early you can't go as hard later and there is always another cup next year. But he won it and I don't think I got a bigger thrill as a trainer. Max had done a lot for trotting up here.
Q Luxury Liner, Christopher Vance, Mark Roy and those horses all came from one family. How did you get involved?
A I knew the Reid boys from my Pukekohe days and we had trained a few for them without a lot of luck. I went to Christchurch with them to buy a mare Jack Shaw, whom I knew well, had checked out for me. Miranda Scott had been bought by Colin Berkett and had a bit of speed and this one Miranda Bay was her daughter. Jack thought she looked the part and we had liked the pedigree because the Reids wanted a broodmare too. We brought her home and trained her but she could not run out of sight on a dark night. She left Miranda Belle which we won one race with and she left Luxury Liner. He is still alive out there in the onion paddock at Pukekohe really enjoying life.
Q Were all owners understanding of the patient driving thing?
A No. I remember one particular one always moaning and I said to him I was waiting for a new invention which would be coming soon which would fix the problem. When he asked what that was I said “reins long enough to reach the grandstand. Then you will be able to drive it exactly right yourself''
Q Barry has now cut back a bit on his team, Owen is doing well in business and Mark is taking the south by storm. What word would you describe him earlier in his career when he was at Ardmore.
A Dedicated. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Mark to do if he thought the horses needed it. He would get up in the middle of the night to change covers if the weather changed without thinking twice. He was very thorough and that has played a big role in his success.
Q At the moment you have Auckland Reactor at Ardmore. Might he be the best of all of them?
A. I think he could be. What a lovely colt. He travelled well up here and is just a delight to do anything with. The Miracle Mile trip being off could be a good thing. No matter how good a horse is they have got to have ringcraft and I think he will get better when he's got it. He has just been running on his ability really and I think the best is yet to come. He will get beaten. They all get beaten even the greatest of them. But he will only get better. It is great to have a horse like that around the place.
Courtesy of The Press