McCarthy’s Memory Lane

Racing buff and former racing journalist Dave McCarthy takes you for an interesting and intriguing trip through the history of Harness Racing in New Zealand.


While there are many claimants there is no doubt who was the real father of New Zealand harness racing.

120 years ago Henry Mace had a property at New Brighton where he had 100 standardbred horses in various stages of activity from breeding to racing. Nobody else came close to such a figure.


He built a special “kindergarten” there which began training youngsters at 6 months of age, unheard of in NZ then when horses might not start racing until 7 or 8 or even older. Two year old races outside a few early paid up events were unknown. It was a system pioneered by Henry Leland at Palo Alto in California and as at New Brighton proved successful.

Possibly not 100 standardbreds would have raced at Addington in a season then.  Mace  owned his own racecourse and bred a number of superstars, one of whom produced a notable “sting” when he  came over from Australia to win a NZ Cup.

Mace took over and developed the New Brighton racecourse (now QE11) when previous owners went broke, renting it out at 20 pounds a day for racemeetings by the New Brighton trotting or  Christchurch Racing Clubs with no other charges.

Yet he had spent a small fortune improving the New Brighton track which was built on a beach sand base. Thousands of pounds bought thousands of yards of soil and clay to New Brighton, enough to make three tracks available for racing including a mile track set up for trotting meetings.

Mace was a colourful character and set aside Thursday afternoons (then the Christchurch public half holiday)  for visitors whom he loved showing the horses to along with some homely socialising- no doubt popular also with associates and journalists who were usually included.None ever seemed to get around all the horses!


He may have been a cordial manufacturer by trade but it was stronger stuff for visitors to his magnificent property.

Born in Yorkshire, Mace came out to the Australian goldfields, moved on to Gabriel’s Gully in Otago where Macetown is named after his family, and finally to Hokitika where he diversified into cordial manufacture in partnership with Mr John Dixon and subsequently married his daughter, Catherine.

Mace then ran a brewery in Wellington where he ran into financial difficulties because of land speculation but handled himself with honour. He moved to Christchurch in 1884, bought another cordial operation and prospered,

Keen on the emerging trotting sport he bought quite a few horses bred from Robert Wilkin’s American imports that proved to be the basis of his success-Wilkin having died soon after Mace’s arrival.


He started to build up his property from the mid 1890’s,producing high class performers like Stonewall Jackson and Brooklyn -after whom the Brooklyn Lodge complex was named. It was 50ha in all, levelled and grassed at further expense with several fenced paddocks by the river for the breeding stock.

He also removed the sandhills behind which some nefarious actions were alleged in earlier days during races when the horses were briefly out of sight of the public

There was not a harness property anywhere in New Zealand to even approach it. Think Nevele R in the 1970’s for comparison, but with a racing stable added.

Beside the large 14 stall barn there was the “kindergarten”- a 120m circular tan track surrounded by high walls.

The foals were handled from an early age and initially chased around the track enclosure  but soon found it stimulating. Mace was amazed how naturally they trotted in the days when specialist breeding was in its infancy. The horses became much easier to train later from this education;, many would come to their handlers when called out of the paddock.The best horses Mace bred came through this system, improved and reintroduced in later times with procedures such as Imprinting.


Mace was a steward at three Christchurch trotting clubs and a life member of the Metropolitan Trotting Club from the time of its inception, such was his standing in the trotting world.

Until the coming of commercial race sponsorship there was always a feature race at a New Brighton meeting named after him right into the 1970’s- an impressive tribute.

Rather unhappily Mace never lived to see his greatest triumphs though he had his share before dying from rheumatic fever in 1902 aged 65,

At that time his star was a horse called Almont who held the world record for a three mile race. Don’t laugh. It was still a popular distance then.

Almont would probably have been our first New Zealand Cup winner had he been here. But  when Mace died and his horses were auctioned some astute Australians arrived and swooped on Almont (640 guineas, unheard of here then) ; his younger brother, Belmont M, and Puella, the dam of both.

Almont, then 7 went on to race well and sire a host of winners in Australia. His younger brother was passed on for a then Australasian record sum  for a colt of 1000 pounds before he started racing.

In 1906 he returned to New Zealand and won the NZ Cup, landing some huge bets while scoring easily at 15/1 driven by the legendary Aussie horseman  Gus Milsom who was tragically run over by a train some years later.

The Kiwi memories of the Puella tribe were a little short that day.

The New Brighton course continued to operate until 1963 when sold to the Council Brooklyn Lodge was a famous training establishment for many years. It was run by trotting pioneer Manny Edwards for some years when he had big racing team for the day of about 30 horses. He prepared NZ Cup winner Adelaide Direct there in the 19 teens before ill health forced him to sell inn 1921. He died a short time later.

James Clarke, a colourful trotting figure at the time,as well as a City Councillor, trained there for many years and in more modern times trainers such as George Cameron operated the stable.

Edwards had sold to the property to the weathy father of the famous equestrian, Bella Button, trainer of both trotting and galloping winners who lived there for many years. One J D Litten was among her staff for a time. However she did not train racehorses there concentrating mainly on the training and sale of ponies.

So while Henry Mace died only a decade after spending such lavish sums on New Brighton its survival as a racing and training establishment for much of the 20th century certainly justified the outlay.

And his place in trotting history.


Most modern trainers probably think the old timers had it fairly easy. A big team in the 1940’s was 10 horses. There was rarely more than two meetings in a week and often only one during the War years.

Only now and again did an overseas buyer rob you of the horse that was going to make your career. One good horse could keep the stable going for a season. Travelling to circuits could be a bummer but when you got there your horse could race at least twice on each programme. You could usually go home with something and the locals were us kind with their hospitality

There was another side to it of course. There always is

A good example was a horse called Cabin Boy who was a leading contender for the1945 Easter Cup at Addington.

His trainer Peter Gallagher, a man of many parts, had done everything he could to keep the brilliant stayer sound but it was a losing battle. Like most trainers in those days he was his own veterinary surgeon

So after Tuesday morning before the Saturday Cup Cabin Boy was so lame Gallagher feared it was the end of his career. But he was the main stable earner and everything must be geared to keeping it that way.


Gallagher  bathed  his front legs for hours without a break and by Tuesday night the horse could walk quite well.

After more treatment overnight he was put on the train to Christchurch to run in the big thousand pound Easter.

Once he got there Gallagher himself bathed the horse’s legs every two hours from Wednesday afternoon until Saturday morning ! That’s what any trainer today would call hard work.  The legs came up so well PP gave himself a chance of winning the Cup. Sure, the horse had missed  fast work but he was so good he could overcome that.

Cabin Boy enjoyed a nice run in the Easter and held up for a final spurt raced to the front half way down the straight. But it was not to be a fairy tale ending. A horse called Double Peter got up close to the post and beat him.

The Gallagher stable had no time for celebrations even if the 150 pounds earned made it all worthwhile.

PP started working on Cabin Boy’s legs immediately after the last race and didn’t stop until 10.30pm that night. 

He was very happy with the result and hoped his star would be able to race again the next Saturday. And he did.

However bad luck dominated the pacer and over the winter before preparing for the New Zealand Cup he was savaged by another horse in the paddock suffering serious head injuries.

“He has never had a pretty head” the colourful Gallagher told the media “ but now it is a lot worse”

The trauma of the incident affected Cabin Boy for some time.

A modern trainer might ask what was in that bathing mixture but, well, things were different then.

Another horse that paid over 200 pounds to win at Addington in that era and helped post a national record 5000 pounds TAB double, had failed earlier in the day . A cut leg had been treated with whiskey. Maybe not only the leg ? As I say, things were different.

 Gallagher’s intensive treatment of the big horse eventually paid off though he had to wait for long spells in between to get the best out of him. He won over four thousand pounds for Gallagher who regarded him as the best pacer he trained. And he trained a good number of really smart ones including star juvenile Special Force whose nerve failed him after a race fall.

With four good legs, Cabin Boy might have been anything.

Gallagher was an outstanding horseman, runner up twice in national premierships out of Timaru, and at one stage chief driver for Roydon Lodge. He was  one of the best saddle trot riders of his time and loved the country circuits of Otago and Southland where they were still popular. He was fondly regarded as one of the characters of trotting’s finest eras.

 When the Methven Cup restored a saddle race to their programme in the 1970’s  the field was led out by Maurice Holmes, a fine saddle rider in his early days, and  won by Gallagher’s grandson Peter Shand his daughter having married Geordie Shand. Peter’s son, Paul, was a highly successful driver.

The Gallagher clan were a tight group of natural horsemen.

The skills that kept Cabin Boy racing were one of the the reasons why


There has probably never been a race in New Zealand like the 1945 New Zealand Trotting Cup which was:

*The richest standardbred  handicap in the world 

*The richest horse race, of any code, ever run in New Zealand

*A stake ($15,000) equal  of the Melbourne Cup. (Now $750,000 versus $8m!)

*It was the biggest betting race in New Zealand trotting history and the biggest turnover of any meeting held in the South Island. Only one other meeting in the country had been bigger. And this was an 8 race programme not like the marathons of today.

* 32,000 people turned up to watch-a crowd never matched at Addington since and never likely to be again.


*That crowd was all the more remarkable because the population of Christchurch was then only about 100,000 and the population of Canterbury less than 300,000. The latter  figure is the  population of Christchurch today when typical Cup day crowds are 17-18,000 -as indeed they had been through the early 1940’s.

*The crowd count was official. In those days there was no advance booking for the public and no marquees so crowd numbers were not passed off as official when they were based on potential attendees.

Gate officials had to count admission tickets to balance the books and took thei rwork very seriously. These days crowd numbers on Cup day include bookings paid for but not necessarily fulfilled. The media promo of crowds “up to 25,000” is fantasy as you can see when  you compare it to the photos taken that day in 1945 when there were four stands operating on the course-not one as now -as well as a  highly populated area behind the stands near the totalisators not featured in the photo but common then

*The betting on Cup day was twice what it had been just 4 years before in 1941-a huge increase in such a short space of time

*The film made of the day enjoyed top billing that week over the best of Hollywood’s offerings-and where many of the crowd probably first saw the race !

A number of factors led to such an enormous boom in betting and stakes. The end of World War 2 and a return to “normality” was one of the main ones, though the crowd had reached 29,000 for the 1944 Cup when the war  was still going.

The Cup was also held on a Saturday. You didn’t take Tuesday off to go to the races in 1945. Not if you valued going again on Wednesday.

The course was quite unable to cater for crowds like this.

Queues for tote betting reached up to 75m not long before the Cup was run. Most patrons wanting to have a bet had to miss a race to do so. That meant a rush to the queue at the end of the previous to line up for the next bet and hope to see the next race. Usually you didn’t.

 And then line up in long queues again if you were lucky enough to have a collect (which you couldn’t do at the same window in those times)ot to mention toilet breaks or food queues. Getting a beer was a trial in itself.

Perhaps because of the hardships of the war years and the greater community minded life of those times all these trials were taken in good spirit by most of the crowd. Then there was getting to and from the track from the city-battling suddenly increased prices for trams, hundreds of which were used on the day.

One wrote to the papers saying that next year he would “weed the garden” instead of going to Addington.

“Rooked for excessive tram fares and racebook;forced to pay to get in and then pay again to get into the enclosure (stands area) and because of the crowd I didn’t get to see any of the New Zealand Cup”

A pity. The experts criticised the race as a spectacle because of poor decisions by many drivers. But the public loved every second.

For years their front running hero Gold Bar had tried to lead all the way in the Cup only to falter in the straight. The heads of the betting fans had deserted him this day but in their hearts they wanted him to win,

He led by 6 lengths early and then by 12. He went past an already wildly excited crowd with a round to go nearly 15 lengths to the good. Masterly rating by his owner -trainer Allan Holmes suddenly alarmed his brother Maurice,driving Integrity, who set off on a long run from the 800m when buried in the pack to test the raging front runner.

The rest of the drivers, only too well remembering the fate of earlier years then those chasing Gold Bar paid a heavy price in favour of those following them, sat and waited for Gold Bar to fade. And waited, and waited and waited.

Gold Bar had the race won by then. The non -stayer had outstayed them all. “Disappointing time” mumbled the media “Disappointing tactics of the beaten drivers”.

The crowd just cheered and cheered- and cheered.

“Even in the days of great favourites like Author Dillon and Harold Logan there was never a reception by the public to match this” conceded the unhappy critics.

And quite possibly there has never been one since. Certainly not one by 32,000 people watching pacers running for the same money as Melbourne Cup winners.

And, we have to say, there will never be one like that again.


For 80 years Maurice Holmes was regarded, almost universally, as the greatest driver in NZ trotting history and many an old timer would maintain it is still the case.

Maurice drove his first winner in 1925 and his last in 1972 when he was kicked out of the sulky by Trotting Conference rules that a driver must retire at 65-a rule incidentally that did not apply to administrators.

In between he won any race you care to name, most of them several times, and is often credited with the “drive of the century” when Vedette won the 1951 Inter Dominion Final at Addington after still being hemmed in with less than 200m to go. He had earlier won an inter Dominion with Pot Luck in 1938.

Maurice drove 1573 winners, which seems underwhelming now but remember that for much of his career you would win the premiership with less than 50 winners such were the restrictions on races run and the fierce competition among a host of top horsemen-not the 10 or so who rule the roost in modern times.

In harder times before mid 20th century, the driving fee was something most trainers regarded as essential to them earning a living. They handed the reins to professional drivers reluctantly and usually under pressure from their owners. So there was no “drive in every race” at Addington in those times.

Even now Maurice is well remembered. He is possibly the one true legend of harness racing here in that a number of generations after his heyday he is still a familiar name- two lifetimes erase the memory of many others.

So what was unusual about his career. Well, the stats are rather staggering- good and bad . Some highlights and lowlights.

***At his first public appearance on raceday in December 1923 when Maurice was only 15 years of age, he crashed to the ground at Ashburton on a horse called Energetic after colliding with the high class pacer Dalnahine. Neither rider was injured but the Trotting Association withdrew Maurice’s licence until he was 16 after protests about his age. He had been the youngest driver ever actually licenced until that time.

*** Maurice was actually an apprentice jockey to his father Freeman before taking up harness racing due to increasing weight. While he never rode in a race he regularly rode track gallops and this experience made him a master rider, in saddle races especially ,when he started with trotters

***Maurice’s first “Group One” winner came in the Auckland Cup when he was just 17 driving Talaro. This caused something of a sensation because a few years before his older brother Freeman had been a dramatic newcomer to harness racing himself driving in his first NZ Cup when he was 19. The average age of the drivers that year would have probably been well over 40.

***Maurice Holmes was just 21 when he won his first driver’s premiership in 1930 .He also won the NZ Cup the following year 6 days after his 22nd birthday. The only younger driver of a Cup winner was his brother Allan, 21 in 1932

***Maurice was the first driver in trotting history to be put on a formal paid retainer that gave prominent owners, Clarkson, and Graham, first call on his services in any race. He later became a private trainer to that partnership when driving fees halved during the Depression, forcing him into training,

***Maurice posted two unparallelled feats at the time with his family members. His father, brother Freeman and himself ran the trifecta in the Group One equivalent 1932 New Zealand Free for All the first time that had happened in such a major race. Later with Allan driving they posted a first four and later still trained a first four result though Freeman senior’s horse was driven by Jack Shaw.

In the 1945 New Zealand Cup Allan and Maurice quinellaed the NZ Cup with Gold Bar and Integrity.


No matter who you are and how astute you think you might be we can all get conned at some time or other.

Even in racing where  otherwise harmless rascals try and such you in with a belief disguised as fact.

But trotting fans have rarely had the wool pulled over their eyes in NZ Cup cup previews like that of the BOX SEAT ramp in 1922.

Not that it was intentional. All the connections were of the firm belief that what they had been told of the horse’s phenomenal ability from Australian sources was truth of almost Biblical proportions.

And the connections were men of impeccable reputation. J C Clarkson and F E Graham who bought him out of Australia specifically for the Cup were leading citizens in both the business and sporting world. John Clarkson was married to a Ballantyne and his family had dominated rural business activities for many years.

The Cup was now worth 3000 pounds-more than the time honoured NZ Cup at Riccarton for the first time. Trotting was on a roll. Good money to be made.

Clarkson and Graham had to go to 500 guineas to buy Box Seat after his previous owner had to abandon a trip to NZ with the horse. That was a very large sum for that time and he was already seven years old/

 James Bryce, (front picture) the man given the job of preparing the horse for the Cup, was the Mark Purdon of his day many of his horses being sent out favourite because of where they came from rather than what they had done.

There is no question Box Seat had a lot of staying ability. But he also came with some hidden flaws which should have meant red flags for any chance he had of winning the Cup. They waved, but the fans just waved them away with one excuse after another,

Box Seat had a colourful background. He had begun his life pulling a cart for a rabbit poisoner even though by the successful sire, Rock Huon, though from an unknown mare. Maybe.

Box Seat had apparently won only about 6 races before coming to New Zealand but two of his starts defined his career.

He ran second in the Melbourne Thousand, the Victorian equivalent of the Trotting Cup behind Don Wilde beating home the later great stallion Globe Derby. Don Wilde was later hugely successful in New Zealand. Box Seat put up a huge run from far back for his placing.

Box Seat’s  defining win came in Melbourne in March 1922 when he won an open race from 140 yards behind and beat the little black horse Realm who would also soon come to New Zealand to race in NZ Cup for W J “Bill” Tomkinson who settled here.

Box Seat was timed to run two miles in 4.27 an Australasian record and which made him the fastest horse at that time on either side of the Tasman. He was trained and driven by Peter Riddle who would win the 1924 NZ Cup with Sheik.

When disparaging remarks about some aspects of Box Seat’s racing career were raised by Kiwi critics, Riddle responded by saying

“He is the greatest stayer I have ever sat behind. I wish I had him in my stable”

Sheik was in his stable at the time and Riddle was originally to bring him to New Zealand but had to abandon the trip, hence the sale.

His record time meant Box Seat he was handicapped 48 yards behind in the Cup. No horse had won off that long a mark to that time. In truth in the days when horses were immediately handicapped on their best time he reached the top long before he was ready.

When Box Seat arrived in Canterbury Bryce privately expressed the high opinion he held of the horse and money began to appear for his Cup chances.

But he wasn’t asked to do much on raceday and some noted how slow he was to get into full pace and rocky in his gait early They admitted that when he did get it right he was devastating. But in the meantime his price began to drift and the critics raised some issues.

Then late in October, Bryce took Box Seat to Addington for his work leading up to the Cup. One effort was a brilliant training performance stopping the watches in close to record times -and the trickle of money for the Cup became a flood. “He rattled over two miles like a champion” said one media report.

Box Seat became a talking horse the talk building him into a “certainty” and Bryce’s positive assessments of his ability did no harm in that respect.

Cup day was a complete anti-climax. Clarkson and Graham’s pride and joy turned on a tap dance instead of a beginning and was never in the race eventually not even finishing it. The winner, Agathos, led most of the way.

The critics were now out in force. Harry Jarden, a leading journalist at the time, felt vindicated since his comment in the spring that Box Seat “has come here with a big reputation but on what he has shown here so far does not seem to be much good” sparked the above reaction  from Peter Riddle.

The problem was that in every start in Australia Box Seat had been very slow to get into full stride but produced huge runs in the last mile of the race. James Bryce was set to fix this but he never could.

Things went from bad to worse. Box Seat was often sore and lightly raced He developed a splint in the spring of 1923 and had to be pulled from the Cup at a time when it was reported Riddle, in NZ with a team, would drive him.

 Long spells became standard and the following season Bryce gave up. The horse was handed over to Bill Warren to train.

Excitement began to build again in 1925 when reports surfaced Warren had found the key to the former Australian star and he was progressing famously for a Cup tilt. Two things went wrong. First he broke down yet again and had to be taken out of the race. Then during Cup week he collapsed and died of apoplexy. An already sad story with a sadder ending.

Box Seat had ability but his racing reputation was built on two fast performances one of which he lost and the other winning by head. He was like so many other “talking horses”-good, just not as good as he was claimed to be under racing conditions.

He has had thousands of imitators in the years since. Yet even “informed sources” can still fall for the ancient spiel that a sow’s ear is a silk purse.

Even when they are the sharpest people in harness racing- as Box Seat proved.


All sorts of records are set in New Zealand Cups over the years but one has remained constant for more than 100 yrs- and virtually unknown.

It is a record most often awarded to others. But they don’t come close.

The winner of the NZ Cup that year was Author Dillon a sensational pacer of WW1 years probably best compared in modern times with a brilliant horse like Robalan.

The essence of the record is that the owner trainer and driver of Author Dillon, Ben Jarden, was, at just 24  the youngest owner or  trainer-driver  to ever win the great race.

That honour has for a long time been  bestowed on Henderson Hunter,trainer-driver of Trusty Scot, but at 27 he was three years older than Jarden who was also the sole owner of Author Dillon on Cup day, 1918

Ben Jarden’s rise to the top was phenomenal in terms of the era.


Born in 1894 into a prominent trotting family-his father brought out the champion stallion Rothschild and a brother was a pioneer trotting journalist-Jarden was a successful young rider in saddle events and it was only in 1914 he set up a small stable in Avonside. One of his first and most supporting owners was local butcher, James Knight, a man of means who was able to buy good stock. From breeder Willie Kerr Knight, on Jarden’s advice paid big money for Author Dillon, a grandson of the wonder broodmare Thelma, and Jarden promptly won the NZ Derby with him.

However when Knight died suddenly in 1917 the executors of his estate agreed to lease the horse to Jarden for his racing career (as reported)  and his team soon extended with Author Dillon’s success.

When only 25 he had his own immaculate 20ha property in Islington with up to the minute facilities, long stretches of white timber fences, a huge barn,  and three open class horses in it.

But the drama which coloured his career emerged when Jarden’s stable was destroyed by fire on the eve of Cup week in 1917, Author Dillon still ran third  in the big race in which the stable had three runners. Some critics felt that with a calmer drive he would have won.

A stableboy saved the lives of all the horses in the pre-dawn fire Author Dillon being the most reluctant to leave the barn The  hero staffer, Raymond Gibson, had to prod him with a fork to face the flames.

Author Dillon, who had set a NZ record for 2400m winning the Cup Trial, as he had winning the Derby,  was by now a cult horse. He raced in the Cup with a singed tail from the fire.

The 1918 Cup win however was a brilliant exhibition from a champion pacer, Jarden shooting him clear before the turn and winning by four lengths. He was easily the youngest owner of a New Zealand Cup winner -a record not bettered. He added the Free for All and won that feature the  following two years.

By 1919 Author Dillon, in spite of being earlier leased to Jarden for his racing career (by media reports) was back being raced by the Knight estate but failed from a long mark in the NZ Cup before winning the Free for All again.


To put that in perspective, Caduceus and Robalan are the only horses in the 100 years since to win three Free for Alls.


Jarden fell from grace somewhat in the 1920 Cup after a triumphant march through all the spring features. His rather flamboyant drive from a long mark attracted critics who were not silenced by the third  Free for All victory. He ran the fastest two miles recorded for his placing and also set a world grass track mile record the same year. By the time he retired Author Dillon held national or international records at most distances.

By now Jarden, who found Author Dillon difficult to keep at his peak for longer periods had masterminded a plan whereby the horse was restricted to races against time for much of the season concentrating on the big spring features for racing.

By the time he retired he had won 18 races -a  record total for a horse who had only raced against  the top classes throughout his career at that time. The handicap system had done for him by its close

Jarden then virtually retired from large scale public training. He  bought the highly valued property, Yaldhurst, previous operated as the most glamorous thoroughbred training centre in New Zealand and stood Author Dillon and others at stud there. Author Dillon was the first standardbred to set foot on the property. Another part of the property is now a training base owned by Kypros Kotzikas.

Author Dillon was also a pioneer stallion at Roydon Lodge-not a bad double!

Author Dillon was  successful at stud for a locally bred horse but the stock of his leading sire, Harold Dillon, could be skittish by nature and their early speed combined with a slower maturing temperament was noted by the critics and  affected his best son’s  stud prospects.

Also, after such stunning early success Ben Jarden never hit a similar level of achievement again though he remained highly regarded as a horseman. 

Litigation dogged him. A Supreme Court case over the sale of a filly to the wife of a leading North Island owner who claimed she had been told was nominated for the Derby turned out not to be-though to be fair  there were extenuating circumstances.

Because of the Spanish flu epidemic at the time, nominations were extended for the Derby.but only by one day – no “being kind” in those times! -and while Jarden was sure his filly would be allowed to start after being one day late  her nomination had been rejected. He raced the filly with some success himself in later years but the case affected his reputation.

In the late 1920’s, chiefly for domestic reasons, he moved to Wellington with his partner and trained there for some years. A fiery character he fell afoul of officialdom at times and his licence was withheld for a time, altercations with owners not being unknown,   and a move to Mosgiel in the mid 1930’s was a disaster.

Jarden became involved in extended litigation over a serious car accident in which he was held responsible by some courts. He had spent a considerable sum setting up his establishment close to the Mosgiel racecourse and the costs of the case and settlement were high,

In later years Jarden moved into business, mainly real estate in which the family had been engaged in Christchurch. However he remained associated with horses and as late as 1949, a year before his  death in Christchurch, he was involved in court action over a horse deal which did not end well.

His son by his second wife, Ron Jarden, became a famous All Black and a leading Wellington businessman who, ironically enough, for a time sponsored one of the city’s biggest galloping races, the Jarden Mile. 

So while Ben Jarden’s racing career never quite matched his meteoric rise in his early 20’s, he left a  mark on our greatest race nobody yet has been able to erase.

Not many can make that claim.


These days milestones in their hundreds and sometimes thousands for trainers and drivers are commonplace. For owners it is not so easy.

Which is why one day in 1931 when Margaret Wallace won a race at Cambridge owner Edmund Sandall got carried away.

Although past 70 he dashed down from the stand, leapt the rail and congratulated his driver George Phipps.

Turning to the crowd he announced it was his 100th winner as an owner.

“I’ve made the century “  he cried.

He may well have been excited. He was a  long time trier and a very patient one.

It had been so long since his 99th win he couldn’t remember the horse’s name!

There were other reasons for his excitement The mare was named after his wife, Margaret (nee Wallace) and he had had 10 pounds to win on her.

“Eight pounds is for me and two pounds for George” he announced and with the winning price double his investment it represented a very good day. In Depression times.

Nobody really noticed that Margaret Wallace, 11th favourite and no 11 in the book had not actually appeared in the original fields. Wouldn’t have been a good look in 2020.

Edmund Sandall had had some great days over the years. He had owned two successive winners of the Auckland Trotting Cup and driven both in the 1890’s. one being Tom HIcks the last winner over three miles (4800m).  His next one was the first to win at 3200m

But the century was a long time coming. Edmund’s first winner was in March 1872 when just a youngster so it took almost 60 years to reach three figures.

To be fair he was not a large scale owner or trainer being a farmer and a butcher at Morningside near Auckland for most of his life.

You had to be patient in those times of relatively rare race meetings.

 Like,for example, a winner later in the card that day at Cambridge had come up from the backblocks of Taranaki and a train cancellation meant his owner-trainer, Edward Hasler, had to walk the horse 124km to catch the train to the Waikato arriving the day before the meeting. He started twice for one placing.  Then all that way home again.

Incidentally on the same day a local trainer, George Mitchell ran a horse in successive races running a second and a first. Mitchell was a harness name handed down in trotting annals for decades after.

But the day belonged to Edmund Sandall. He died just a few years later but the 100 wins had been safely accomplished-and as not many other owners had done that in those times it might be hoped he passed with peace in his heart.

He certainly hadn’t overspent on the racing game leaving an estate of a then considerable 8500 pounds one of the highest in Auckland in the month of his death,

God loves a trier



Trotting’s Most Famous Practical Joke 

Ben Jarden was one of the best known trainers in New Zealand when he was a victim of a most clever, if rather cruel, practical jokes in trotting history.

What it is more it was a trick played by no less than  J R (later Sir John) McKenzie who would go on to be one of the most influential owners, breeders and administrators in the code’s history.

A canny businessman, the Australian-born McKenzie developed a  chainstore business named after him rivalling Woolworths among other pursuits in the earlier years of the 20th century. He was not initially a racing figure.but one champion pacer caused him to change direction.

That pacer was Author Dillon a superstar during and after the First World War winning three NZ Free for Alls as well as a NZ Cup in spite of having to race off impossible marks in most feature races.


McKenzie became one of his biggest fans and a friend of his trainer Jarden who, with some others, tried to persuade him to play a bigger role in the sport.JR  resisted but Sir John often related later how Author Dillon’s deeds brought him to harness racing.

Just  not in the way some of his friends expected.

Sir John made regular trips to America to organise merchandise lines for his value stores . One day a close Christchurch friend and trotting fan,  Dan Glanville, received a cable from McKenzie stating.

“Have bought a horse. Jarden to train . Forwarding bills of lading”

It seemed the persuasion about the appeal of trotting had finally worked

To Jarden he is said to have cabled “Purchased Tin Toy, the most reliable trotter I have seen here. Like it to go into your stable. Will advise”

The cables became the talk of the local trotting world, Jarden and Glanville spreading the news  with some excitement. Letters to Jarden from America instructed him how to take the greatest of care with his new stable entrant.  But it was Glanville, a chemist, who would gain most benefit from the deal.

There was great excitement  when the ship carrying the trotter arrived at Lyttleton in mid 1921. But only utter dismay when the Purser handed Glanville and Jarden not the papers for a horse, but a parcel they could carry home!

Inside the parcel was a mechanical trotter fully harnessed circulating around a metal track. It was a marvellous toy but a huge anti-climax -not to mention  embarrassing for Jarden and Glanville who only now realised why it had the unusual name of Tin Toy.

When Sir John realised the clever practical joke had not gone down well in some quarters he decided to make up for it and  buy a real standardbred.

He spent one thousand pounds buying a brilliant young pacer, Acron, who won him a Derby and should have been our first two minute pacer but was quite mad as an older horse. And Glanville then persuaded his friend to pay 600 pounds for an untried yearling from Akaroa which had already been showing promise in private for Glanville’s friend. Etienne Le Lievre.

He was named Great Bingen. He was the Lazarus of his day; won 13,000 pounds. a record that stood until the late 1940’s and stood at McKenzie’s recently established Roydon Lodge . No horse of the 1920’s matched Great Bingen in the popularity stakes.

However the story did not have a complete happy ending. For some reason Jarden did not train either of those purchases even though McKenzie bore no ill will and even stood Author Dillon at stud in his later years.

Ben Jarden, father of All Black Ron Jarden, was known as a fiery character not adverse to a punchup or two and it is possible he did not feel practical jokes had been a great way  to advance his reputation. Possibly he made the point.

Whatever, Roydon Lodge and Great Bingen went from strength to strength while Jarden’s career never reached the same dramatic heights of  the Author Dillon years.

From that aspect the practical joke was very clever- but not quite as funny as its planner intended.



Many times you hear harness fans, especially older harness fans, talk about how the big stables are dominating harness racing and often a comment that suggests this is ruining the game or at least making harder for the punter.

But big racing teams, while not common, go back a long way. All the way back to James Bryce the Scotsman who revolutionised harness racing here after his arrival with his family and two horses just before World War One

He started in a humble way gradually rising to the top as local owners recognised his great talent.

By the time he retired in the 1940’s he had experienced many ups and down but his list of FIRSTS in our game is phenomenal.

For example he established the first SATELLITE  STABLE in New Zealand as far back as 1922 when his son, Andy. opened an arm of the Hornby stable at Epsom and remained there for  years on and off.  That decision was driven by stable numbers just as later satellite stables have been again almost solely between Christchurch and Auckland.

James also became the FIRST trainer to prepare 6 NZ Cup winners which he completed  in 1933 with Red Shadow whose dam was one of the horses he had brought out from Scotland and she all but drowned on the way. It wasn’t until 1979 that that Cup record was equalled by Cecil Devine and not until 2019 that Mark Purdon beat it.

When they finally started counting training premierships officially the Bryce stable won the first seven !


Bryce also played a key role in the coming of the present starting system in trotting, writing to the Press when controversy was raging about standing and clock rated starts stating that the yards (metres) system  from a stand was the fairest way to start a trotting race. Addington finally adopted the system soon afterward,

In the years between 1916 and 1936-James’s last drive in the race-the stable had run in 19 NZ Cups and been in the first four in 15 of them !

It included the first stable quinella in the great race.  In that era  the Bryce stable, then a showplace  at Hornby, used the  FIRST  fully constructed equine swimming pool in New Zealand.

There were all sorts of other records set as the Bryce family through sons Andy and Jimmy, one of them winning the forerunner to the Inter Dominions in Perth in the mid 1920’s, a huge pioneer undertaking in those far off days.All three Bryces won NZ Cups.

But wait there’s more.

In the early 1920’s it was reported that Bryce had 68 horses under his care at Hornby,

In those days many trainers only had five horses in work and 10 horses was considered a large racing stable. So we are talking about comparing Bryce with today’s trainers who have around 150 horses in their care. Not many. Probably not any.

Last Saturday All Stars, for example,had 58 in work or having a day off. In earlier years its numbers were higher but not in Bryce league.

Fortunately there weren’t any strike rate tables then,

The big team sometimes got James and his team into trouble. There was at least one court case by an owner claiming he had been ripped off because some of his horses were not in training at Hornby. Bryce sometimes sent horses into town to pull hansom cabs in the early stages of their preparation. It was simply too hard to work this many horses at home. Not enough hours in the day.

His huge numbers had a bad result in the late 1930’s when the great trainer, then a veteran,  had to declare bankruptcy after the toll taken by the Depression years. The showplace stable’s day had come as a result.  But he never lost his reputation as a horseman of remarkable ability.

On the other hand the Bryce stable was in huge demand from owners wanting their good horses transferred there. Hard to turn them down. Bryce had lifted the standards since his arrival and only really battled when Bill Tomkinson and Jack Kennerley and others arrived from Australia later in the 1920’s.

James Bryce with 68 horses in work doesn’t seem to have done the game much harm after all.  But it must have been a headache at the time !


Its quite well known that a grey mare called Wairoa Belle paid over 1000 pounds to win at a Nelson meeting in 1920. On a totalisator it was a world record win and place dividend. But how did it happen at a faraway meeting as Nelson was to the trotting world at large in those days ? Didn’t anybody know anything ? And how much money was going through the tote ?

To answer the last question first, plenty.

It was a record crowd for the club with several thousand people said to be on the course. The turnover of more than 12,000 pounds, was nearly double that of the previous year and a respectable figure for many a city club. 1500 pounds of that was invested on Wairoa Belle ‘s race and one ticket took most of it.

The previous best dividend in Australasia had been set in Adelaide in 1880 by DOD at 800 pounds and then as here there was only one winning ticket. A punter backed the horse, who had failed earlier in the day because of the green colours =, the punter being Irish.

Wairoa Belle, owned and trained by Leo Berkett then a farmer rather than a trainer , had also failed earlier in the day and Berkett was lucky to be allowed to start the mare a second time. He had to lower the hopples (using string) so the earlier wounds would not be re-opened! Try that in 2020. But this was 1920.

Wairoa Belle and another grey mare shard the pace and under a desperate drive Wairoa Belle, who had belonged to a church minister before her ability was made known to Berkett got up. But in 16 starts she had so far failed to win and she would never win again. But champions names are forgotten when Wairoa Belle and her hopples tied up with string are remembered.

World records are easy to claim and hard to justify but bear in mind that the totalisator was not a popular innovation in many racing jurisdictions and betting on course was banned in the US at that time. Bookmakers odds could be huge but the huge odds were virtually never paid out. So a world record for a single winner it was. And, in Australasia, still remains easily the record. At that time no horse here had ever paid more than 500/1 in either code. A Westport pacer paid close to 300 pounds on its home track in 1947, the Woodcock stable being confident supporters.

The lone ticketholder at Nelson was not Berkett but Sol Levien, a Nelson merchant who took the money ending in zero and left the remainder to the tote staff. As usual there were hard luck stories but the heartbreaker belonged to a loyal Westport supporter of the old grey mare.

She had raced over the Westport meeting leading into Nelson and one follower kept the faith.

Trouble was no TAB then, only bookmakers. So our man backed her in both starts at Nelson.

He lost on the first and won the second-but bookmakers had a dividend limit of 15/1 and 15 pounds is what our friend got.

Enough to make grown men cry.



Vic Alborn, was a true West Coaster (of the Buller variety) and doubtless still considered himself one when he died in Nelson om 1967, had an extraordinary career -and not just in harness racing.

But that was where he was best known both for his many top level horses several of which he raced himself, and two of his feats on Coast circuits neither of which has been equalled since.

The first was when Colonel Axworthy won three races in one day at Reefton, virtually Vic’s home town meeting, in December 1937.

Vic took two horses there, one a warm favourite in a trotting event who broke hopelessly. Colonel Axworthy made up for that

He won his first race rather easily at 12.50 by two lengths and repeated that feat just after 3 pm. He did it easily enough for Alborn to take his place in the final event around 5 pm and he won that one by two lengths as well. In each race he faced 8 opponents.

Statisticians, not reliant on the Internet, were still quick to point out that the feat had been achieved twice before in the 1890’s. They overlooked the great Princess winning 4 in one day in 1889. But anyone trying to repeat Alborn’s feat today would be more likely charged by the SPCA. Times have changed.

Alborn set another Coast circuit record. His horse Nationalist won a race at Westport , headed from the finish to the start and won the following race. The second race was the Westport Cup the feature of the meeting! . No Westport Cup winner has done that before or since

Alborn was an amazing personality. Brought up largely in NZ at the Inangahua Junction where his family ran the Alborn hotel. Vic farmed in that area but was also an active miner, applying for many coal licenses over the years, ultimately leasing out his farm and the hotel to pursue mining and racing in Reefton.

An example of his enterprise was his effort to drive at a Nelson meeting in 1920. He drove at Timaru on Thursday, caught the express to Christchurch that evening and then drove 400km to Nelson mostly on rough gravel roads to be at the races on the Friday. Unhappily he didn’t win a race there for his trouble.

While Vic was doubtless a master of the “conditioners” all trainers used in that era-and once was charged over their use but not punished- he had rare gifts in the judgement of animals.

Horse after horse went into Alborn’s stable under a cloud and emerged as a star. He bought and sold as much as any modern bloodstock agent but almost always raced them himself or with one partner-usually then a previous owner in a partnership.


He was extraordinarily skilful in developing a horse’s confidence and performance. To underline that success, Alborn was twice the leading owner in New Zealand during the war years. In 1946 his horses won 10 thousand pounds, the first five figure sum ever won by a harness owner. At that time a family home could be bought for less than a tenth of that. All but 1000 pounds went into his own pocket. Yet his horses were only rarely favourites at Addington. Vic tended as a driver to take the long way home a habit that gave punters pause. What he was very good at was rating horses

in front. One of his best, Vesuvius was a noted front runner and so hugely popular with the public

His own best horse Burt Scott, bought cheaply from his breeder when battling four year old set a record that season winning 10 races (2 placings) from 12 starts in1942. Southern-developed stars like Maori Home and Dundee Sandy added to his later victories and Flagship was one of his last and one of his few two year old performers. He had a host of top trotters like Royal Romance, Bulls Eye and Fair Isle to name three

Born in England in 1887, but arriving here as a baby, Vic married a Westport girl in 1908 (one of his sons was killed in a hunting accident) and started training as an amateur during WW1 though he soon had one of the biggest owner-trainer teams on the Coast. But he was also farming and running coal mines . Finally success forced his move to Christchurch in the ;ater 1930’s where he also operated a large coal business.

From the beginning of his career until near the end he always did his own shoeing.

No doubt about it, Vic was one of the lesser sung heroes of harness racing, the most successful trainer to emerge from west of the Alps.

Curiously however he never listed his occupation as a horse trainer. It was always as a miner or coal mine owner.

Curiously, in that he must have made a lot of money from coal to equal his success in racing


So you thought decisions over  mobiles and the present rating handicapping system were controversial.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Standing starts, which many Kiwis still maintain is the best way to start a horse race, took more than 20 years to become the established way of doing things.

Ongoing  controversy, argument, even personal attacks;and obstinate support even if it meant ignoring edicts from the all powerful  Trotting Conference. raged for decades before being decided.

And one of the biggest enemies of standing starts was the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club at Addington. Just as it would be reluctant to introduce mobile starts and was  comparatively slow to bring in night trotting it was the last major club and one of the last of all clubs to agree to run standing start races for all events. And that was only because it was forced to.

So if you are frustrated by the rate of change in harness racing here is proof that it has always been so.

As far as can be established the first standing start races with handicaps began in 1875 in Otago, when mixed sports days were popular and the district was the chief supporter of organised trotting in this country. It was based on the way athletic events were handicapped but less successfully for obvious reasons.

It was soon superseded in favour of the –  “Time” system whereby horses were handicapped in seconds and went off in a moving start when their time showed on the clock and the starter said go.

This remained in vogue officially until 1922 but about 20 years before that Forbury Park maintained the Otago influence being the first club to re-introduce standing starts. They were certainly operating in 1901

In those days the rules allowed both systems.Forbury converted seconds to yards (12 yards to the second) and pushed on. Its measure is still used converted to metrics.


It was soon the system in all Otago clubs, and the Southland clubs followed suit.

Most  North Island clubs adopted the standing start notably Auckland  one of whose meetings Canterbury licence holders threatened to boycott if it continued with the system.

Fortunately Forbury had an expert -and, more important, a thick skinned – starter in Bill Dunne who did not react in public to the torrent of criticism and even abuse from some owners trainers and drivers. In those days the system took an exceptional starter to fill the bill and this Bill was one.

Neither did Auckland fold to criticism -and the leading trainer of the era James Bryce took pen to paper to label Manawatu as the most successful standing start club in the country. But most Canterbury clubs, with the notable exception of Ashburton where infighting became bitter, and later New Brighton,stuck to the seconds system with the big clocks.

Why such a fuss ?

Both systems had their problems.

Administrators felt the seconds handicapping system was a bad look for the public. Quite right. A bad look ! It would cause riots today.

Horses who went “before their time”  -were “called out” or disqualified during (often) or after the race. So punters would be celebrating their good luck as their fancy was comfortably clear  only to find it signalled out of the race not far from the winning post.

No Tv replays to sort it out either.

There could be  a lot of horses milling around at the start in big fields and starters were sometimes flat to keep up with who was where. Sharp witted drivers knew how to exploit  any weaknesses, usually only copping a fine at the worst for any transgressions.It was the number of fines that shifted the balance in favour of the stand with the Conference.

Standing starts also had their problems before the  starting barrier system was developed here- a virtual copy by Harry Reynolds of Christchurch of one in use in Australia where standing starts had been in vogue for some years. It was to change the game.

A good  working system here (there weren’t that many) before the barrier changed everything  saw a disc being placed on the ground for each handicap mark, which could often go back to 100m and further.

A man would stand at each starting point and when his “lot” were standing well he would signal to the starter and when all the line stewards were happy the starter let them all go.Manawatu even had a “green light” bell push system.

There could be up to 6 or 7 lines of “standing” horses however and many found it too much trouble and so opposed the change.

The brigade supporting the time system also pointed out also that the handicapped horses had to run further than the advertised distance from a stand while supporters of  the standing start noted it was much fairer for front row horses who were disadvantaged by the seconds system beginning almost from a stand while back markers were often at full speed.

Yet leading trainers continued to back the seconds system used by Addington, possibly because of the advantage their better horses would probably lose from a yards system.

Even in the mid 1920’s when standing starts were compulsory a survey of leading drivers including James Bryce and Bill Tomkinson plumped for the timed start-probably for the reason above. But their opinions did seem to vary!

Addington was a hodge podge. It had the odd standing start from 1908 but did not use the system in the New Zealand Cup until 1916. Then it reverted to the timing clock for the Cup until forced to change six years later- 47 years after the system was first used and 20 years after a significant move to reinstate it.

The Trotting Conference was for much of this time dithering, reluctant to make a compulsory decision while a significant number of clubs were split on what that decision should be. Even though H F Nicoll from the strongly pro-standing start Ashburton club-then the leading provincial club in New Zealand -supported stands he did acknowledge problems when the fields were very large. So the Conference never got past a “recommendation” before

Finally in 1922 the seconds timing system was banned and all clubs had to use the standing start system.

So if the standing start took 20 years to gain full approval what hopes for other new ideas ?

As the ad says “good things take time”. They certainly do in harness racing


So often in New Zealand it is not the big clubs that are the most innovative but the smaller ones, perhaps more open to new ideas -when the code bosses let them.

So Greymouth had night trotting before Addington; the totalisator often wrongly claimed as a first for a Riccarton meeting in 1880  had been tried in Timaru before then-and even female drivers. Small clubs would license them for a day then the big boys would ban them.

There are many other examples.

So it was with mobile starts, a saga in New Zealand controversial for more than 100 years and still dividing some fans.

For most of that time mobiles were better known as “moving starts”  and even under the “ÿards” handicapping system that required stands, ways were found to try moving starts (NZ FFA as in this series) now and again  through the 1920’s.

Apart from that about the only way a local could set a world class time record was in time trials, one reason they were as popular as races in those times.

America had developed mobile gates before WW2 but for a variety of reasons they took 20 years to be tried here. One reason was conservatism, but the main one was that mobiles destroyed our complicated handicapping system, Now we have mobiles but still have a  complicated handicapping system.

Visits to America in the 1950’s for the first time, impressed some locals especially Hawera’s Alex Corrigan with the use of  mobiles and he came home and built one himself. It cost him a small fortune to do it and even more to tour the country trying to get it accepted.

And he was on the Trotting Conference!. If he hadn’t been able to berate his fellows about his “toy” at the Conference table we would probably have waited another decade for the gate.

Corrigan’s Land Rover- pulled gate wasn’t much chop. Once the horses got going it was so slow it had to get off the track pronto. Corrigan used No 8 wire technology, adding superchargers, extra carburrettors and all the boy racer gear to make it go faster. But  Land Rovers were never noted for speed.

Corrigan had enough influence to start an official race with his gate in April 1957 at his home track of Hawera. The race was won by Brahman, driven by Cecil Donald  who had set a yearling world record at Addington some time before. Brahman was notoriously difficult from a stand. In modern times he may have been a superstar.


Some months before Addington had returned to “moving starts” with a mile long Rattray Stakes won by Tactician in 1.59.8 the first race better than two minutes run here. With some innovative thinking it could have been that much earlier. The brilliant mare, Merval, also extremely nervous from the stand, posted close to two minutes for her placing in that race. Some breeders soon began to see the light. But moving starts were like a box of chocolates in efficiency and the “gate” for the horses to follow was an obvious solution.

But not enough clubs thought so. Corrigan soldiered on with races all over the north as well as at New Brighton and Addington. One of the most innovative clubs was Bay Of Plenty, an early convert to mobiles on its grass track where it was the first in the northern zone to have grass mobiles.

Beside the handicapping system there were other pressures on industry leaders to be fair. For one the gates were not fast enough on quickest all weather tracks like Addington even though Corrigan ran over 200 races without a false start. For another they would obviously cut the size of the fields in an era when having 18 horses in a race was considered great business.

For a third, old school horsemen who prided themselves on getting a horse away from the stand, feared one of their advantages were under threat. Corrigan couldn’t get hold of any big V8’s in a time of shortage of overseas funds; couldn’t set up a commercially viable operation with the Trotting Conference and ultimately gave up.


But in the 1960’s when horsemen realised that faster times were important to capture the growing US trade there was a change of attitude and support from the Auckland club and others pressured places like Addington to follow suit. There was also the small fact that punters felt they got a fairer go from the moving start.

Even today some trainers are critics of the mobile and it does bring its own set of preferences. But watching some standing starts tells how hard it is to expand our betting numbers.

Alex Corrigan, a former trainer (Worthy Queen) and a leading northern administrator as his father had been,  lived to see mobiles add a thrilling dimension to top class racing and add confidence to punters pockets.

Unhappily being right was his only financial  reward for being ahead of his time.


AT West Melton in January 1979 was born a foal unique in this country. He was claimed to be the first racehorse in the world bred by embryo transplant.

It was a triumph for NZ Transplant Breeders Inc but not so much a good result for the colt who was officially by Gerry Mir from a Thurber Frost mare called Compliment.

He was filed away in a special reigster though given an official and apt name of Historic Mirmir.

He was never inspected or branded, regarded more as either a weird orphan or a threat to our entire breeding industry depending on who you talked to.

He did well because he lived for more than 20 years even though he was actually “carried”by a 24 year old “foster”” mare in who was transplanted the youngster’s embryo from Compliment at an early stage. These days experts prefer foster mares 4 to 10 years old, so little Historic Mirmur and his “mother”Robyn’s Choice (Baffelan) did a great job.

Trouble was they were before their time. Well, well before their time.

Transplanting embryo’s was first done in England (with rabbits of all things!) in the 19th century and the first with horses (not racers) in Japan in the 1960’s and interest quickened in America and Europe especially in the standardbred field.

Think of it. A mare could be put in foal and continue racing! Even better she could have more than one foal in a season just like a stallion can sire multiple foals. What’s not to like ?


Breeders, panicking over now rather ridiculous claims that the Broodmare of the Year could produce multiple foals for the same yearling sales and dominate the market demanded a ban. Others claimed it was just unnatural and shouldn’t allowed on that basis (never mind AI-that’s different!)

It took a lot of wrangling through the Trotting Conference to get permission for Historic Mirmir to join us and he and his promoters were left in limbo unable to register the colt

History teaches that nearly every modern to standardbred racing and breeding is initially banned !

Fast forward to 1982 when permission was given for two mares to have eggs transferred to foster mares. Mindanao was 17 and had not had a foal for 12 years. Craven, dam of Geffin, Dupreez etc was 20 and had not had a foal for five years. Mindanao left a colt Thursday’s Child for Dr Harry Crofts which died at 7 and was never trained. There was no return for Craven.

Mindanao left another foal, presumably through the same process the following year but it was never registered.

Arguments went back and forth until the late 1980’;s when ET horses were permitted to race if not to breed.

One of the first high profile ET foals was Berkleigh Square foaled in 1989 and from Armalight as the donor mare by Vance Hanover. Berkleigh Square, owned by Brent Smith and Brian West’s Yonkers Breeding and Up Tempo Breeding , had a few races without success but at stud herself left London Pride a 1.51.6 miler in the US. Her only filly Arma Nightingale, Australian owned, won a race and has been a fair producer. She is now with Alabar and being bred to Always B Miki

In America there had been similar reaction to here and included claims, still made in some quarters, that the foal ‘s development could be influenced by the host mare. Certain yearling sale prices in America were lower for ET stock and results by and large were moderate.

However the decision to allow Quarter horses bred by ET to be treated just like any other horse pushed the standardbred code harder toward acceptance.

In thoroughbreds, where breeding interests rule the roost even more so than in harness, it has never been accepted.

However a Canadian filly, Invitro, changed a lot of thinking after being foaled in 2000. She went on to win over $3m and made the Canadian Hall of Fame. These days hardly anyone notices that track stars like Dream About Me and Self Assured were born though ET. The procedure is so refined from its earlier times as to be chalk and cheese.

The procedure adds valuable years to valuable mares and can allow mares to continue racing though foals bred from such mares do not appear to have an equal record compared to full time mares. The technique is also a saviour for mares like Self Assured’s dam Star of Venus who would otherwise not be able to carry embryos the full term.

Historic Mirmir seems a blip on history but he has a little first all of his own


It was two admirable decisions, but both went horribly wrong. In 1914 at a time when trotting was probably never more popular in spite of some modern day records, the Metropolitan Trotting Club decided to introduce a New Zealand Free for All, which 105 years later is still going. It also decided on a moving start, something also still seen on Show Day.

But not like the first one.

There were no mobile gates then and no standing starts. The handicapping was done using time penalties with a huge clockface to tell drivers when they could go and they were well on the move by then (sometimes too much before then). Up until then, at Addington, there had been no feature Free for Alls.

Actually the New Brighton Club, so often the innovator in our trotting history, held the first moving start free for all in this country and that was many months before the Addington venture. Long enough for people to hopefully forget what a shambles it had been.

The first NZ Free for All soon reminded them. The race was over in the first few strides through incompetent starting and the horse most affected was the public idol Randle McDonnell’s Emmeline from Ashburton , holder of Australasian sprint records and considered far too good for any of her six rivals from a moving start.

If she had got a moving start. Or at least a fair one.

Eccentric Auckland-owned winner of the first New Zealand Free for All when driven by Jack Brankin of Ashburton.

While the idea was for all the horses to be roughly in a line when “Go”was called preparation was sloppy. Only three of the horses were on the right mark and one broke leaving the winner Eccentric clear. art they got from the “mobile”. Meanwhile Emmeline was about 50m away and had no chance flying home for a minor placing. The crowd got into an ugly mood.

To be fair to the starter he had made several attempts to get the horses (there were only seven) into a semblance of a line but a combination of inexperience and a dash of “gamesmanship” meant a loss of control. After a long long time he gave up and said go.

On return to scale there was a fiery demonstration “unlikely to be forgotten by the many thousands present” over the start and threats were made to Mr Tompkins the starter who had taken over the role from his employer, Harry Reynolds earlier that year because the latter’s powers were failing him. Then as now punters liked a run for their money. It rated one of the biggest demonstrations in the track’s history. So much for “mobiles”

The winner, Eccentric, a speedy specialist in 2000m races but one of the luckier Free for All Winners, was virtually uncatchable given the start and his speed.

Amazingly Emmeline almost did it. Still 20 lengths off the flying Eccentric at the home turn she got within a length of him- 12 lengths clear of the third horse.

The problem was Addington wanted to follow the Australians into moving start free for alls but hadn’t done the homework.

In Australia who had more experience in such matters everything revolved around the “pole horse”who dictated the speed in the run up (within reason) and the other horses were expected to get into line with him. This was under the direction of a starter with a loud hailer who could halt the race if the line was too ragged. Addington had a more “she’ll be right”attitude and paid a hefty price. Although the public wanted free for all racing they wanted a fair fight.

The following year Addington made the decision that mile races in August would be from standing starts which, oddly looking back, came along after moving starts. They worked-but again it was thanks to the Australians.

But that is another story.


Some much easier to track with certainty than the other, partly because of technical improvements over many years.

Hopple shorteners were first used in New Zealand at the 1968 Inter Dominions in Auckland -and yes, of course they were immediately banned!

Now it is a case of what would we do without them -even in mobiles.

Pins in hopples to shorten them at the start and then be released by the driver once the horse was under way seems to have been a purely Australian invention since there was no necessity for them in moving start races as in Europe and the United States.

Dick Benger the Australian trainer of Lord Setay at the 1968 Inter Doms was the first to bring shorteners to this country and had apparently developed them for Lord Setay who could be erratic at the start.

However chief stipe Len Butterfield took a dim view of the innovation and banned them forthwith. Dick responded by saying he wasn’t coming back here again. Somebody must have also told Lord Setay.

In the second heat, Lord Setay bounded at the start as usual but without the shorteners leapt up and crashed to the ground throwing Benger from the cart.

The furious horseman made representations to the Inter Dominion officials and they agreed to allow the shorteners for the rest of the carnival.

They were still banned here after that but their obvious usefulness soon meant they were approved and have been with us ever since.

Spreaders are less easy to define because their design varied considerably over the years. However the first time they were used in New Zealand was by Dave Price in 1905 on a horse called Royalwood.

Price had brought the spreaders back from the United States specifically for Royalwood a notable performer but a chronic knee knocker.

The design of spreaders then were markedly different from today’s style.

It consisted of a light steel spring attached to the either the knee or the hoof and then to the sulky shaft. Just below the shaft was usually a pulley to give the spring added weight. The spring’s job was to pull the leg outward and so avoid hitting the opposite knee during a race.

This style of spreader was used for many years. But there were problems because the gear outside the shaft could become tangled with other runners. Ultimately they were banned in Australia.

The modern spreader was developed by Ken Shand an Australian and known as KA spreaders. They first appeared in Victoria, Shand then being based in Bendigo,They used a principle developed in the United States in an earlier era when leather straps were put around the legs to keep them apart instead of the springs. Shand used rubber “hopples”type instead of the leather and they were more effective as a result. They were also known by a very similar principal called Guiders.

Shand ultimately went to America and sold his spreaders and other gear from a shop in New Jersey. The spreaders were used by some leading American trainers but almost always in training to give knee knockers renewed confidence. Several spoke highly of the innovation.

Who actually used the spreaders first here is not easy to establish but Jack Smolenski is a leading candidate. He brought some back from an Australian Inter Dominion (Arapaho) and was using them on Trevino in 1973. George Noble was another early user.

The reputation of the spreaders was made by the grand old pacer Double Agent a bad knee knocker who used them when Vic Frost was training him and later with beach trainer Joe Ilsey. The amazing old horse pushed Popular Alm to a national mile record of 1.55.9 in one Miracle Mile (parked on attack all the way) and winning the race himself finally two years later as a 12 year old !

Critics point to the few genuine top liners since who have been spreader wearers but All Stars have had two notable performers over the years use them in Sharp and Telford and Heaven Rocks and several other top class pacers have used them from time to time. They are more commonly used in training as many of our fastest pacers “go close”to a knee though not needing help on raceday. This argument claims, probably correctly, that at the very top level the spreaders can take a slight toll on race speed.

POLES and Prickers were popular from the early days of sulky racing everything from bamboo poles to the popular billiard cues being used to persuade horses to run straight as well as primitive and often cruel “prickers” of many types were used as well. The change from saddle to sulky racing meant new techniques being employed.

The modern racing aluminium pole was brought back from the United States by returning New Zealand trainers after the International Series at Yonkers in the early 1960’s.

Naturally there was controversy. Typical was a high profile birdcage confrontation between Cecil Devine and stipe Len Butterfield at Addington when the master trainer presented Teryman with a pole and a burr pricker. Butterfield insisted it was unapproved gear and must be removed. It was on the day but later approved. Clashes between those two gentleman were almost legendary in that era.

Ironically enough in the late 1970’s when Popular Alm was hogging the headlines at the next Auckland Inter Dominion with his inability to get round the right handed bends, trainer Vinny Knight, that pressman’s dream asked for permission to use two bamboo poles on the horse to balance him on the bends. Apparently he had used them at home. Well, it made a headline. It was never going to fly and Popular Alm only lost the final to Gammalite when in spite of being urged into the final turn by Vinny in the hope of retaining his lead advantage, he lost some impetus and Gammalite ran him down



***Some photos are slow to load on mobile from some sources

The racing sulky has gone through many changes over the years though none more dramatic that the first using bicycle sized wheels and tubed tires in the 1890’s. The first sulkies in New Zealand were usually four wheeled “lightweight wagons” then two wheeled versions before the arrival of the bicycle wheel in 1890 changed the harness world.

Most of the records set until that time were made with riders in the saddle but that era, while it lingered on, was soon on the wane.

Photo 1) The forerunner of the modern sulky was this big wheeled effort fro the 1870-85 period. The driver’s position is quite modern in outline but look at those wheels ! The big problem was on the corners where the rather rustic technology tended to fall apart. That was one reason big tracks were popular in that era.

Photo 2) A bicycle wheel sulky with Prince Imperial and Dave Price in the mid 1890’s at Ashburton. The bicycle wheel gained traction about 1890 but the height of the driver remained the same for many years afterward as airstreaming was not as important as close control. But the long stays, vulnerable wheels, and width of the cart on our small tracks caused problems.

At Auckland meetings in the 1890’s horses with cycle wheel carts were handicapped an extra 6 seconds which at least showed their effectiveness. The world mile record dropped by five seconds when the smaller wheels were introduced to America which if you look at photo 1 is not surprising.

Photo 3 is the first NZ Cup winner Monte Carlo with Bert Edwards in the sulky -and a long way up in the air ! It put a lot of strain on the construction. Edwards was the first driver to use a bike wheeled sulky in New Zealand in Auckland in 1894 about a year after they arrived in Australia. The importation of American Frazier carts, then the industry leader, to Sydney in 1890 accelerated the local design. Several bicycle manufacturers in this country made carts and wheels for racing and experimented with different designs including single shaft and three wheeled carts!

Photo 4 is of the magnificent pacer,Ribbonwood and Dave Price about 1903 (before Monte Carlo’s win) after Price had made a trip to America where he bought Norice. This is the design of the American speed cart of the era. Note the angle of the shaft. Price always placed the shafts in line with the horse’s head so that the driver’s weight would be in the correct position after of the axle. Compare his shafts with those on Monte Carlo.This was considered to be worth two seconds to any horse and Ribbonwood certainly proved the point. Also note that now slipstreaming is a big factor and drivers were starting to sit much lower behind the horse.

Curiously, in Australasia, the race carts we were mostly familiar with for over 50 years were based on the “jogger”or training carts used in America. These were designed there with long shafts so the driver could observe more of a horse’s action in training. However on our often tight and rough tracks often with roughly prepared horses the American speed cart had real disadvantages.

One was its tendency to slide under a horse rearing with unpredictable results for the driver’s health and if a horse chose to defecate during a race the smartest of outfits would return in a sorry condition ! It was also too wide for smaller tracks in big fields a special problem in Australia where regulations on the width of carts dates back to the 1890’s. America generally did not have field sizes anywhere near the ones here.

Photos 3 and 4 show the development of cart design here. The young trotter on the left Young Blake won the Trotting Stakes of 1923 in a longer shafted cart. He was trained by Dave Price’s brother and note how the shaft still points high. The other photo is of the great Globe Derby in a typical Australian cart in around the same era. The tight Australian tracks, some only 600m round (as was Lancaster Park in Christchurch before Addington was developed) made the speed sulky somewhat unpredictable. Canadian tracks also tended toward longer carts in this era.

Photo 7 The New Zealand Cup winner of 1910 Wildwood Junior driven by Willie Kerr a pioneer of race carts along with the Edwards boys. The driver is still close and his weight is behind the “axle” but quite low and shielded from the wind though not as low as Price and Ribbonwood with the American cart,

Photo 8 The end of an era: the visiting race team of John Buckland from Australia at Riccarton or Plumpton Park about 1900. The cart second from left appears to be modified or a raceday cart. Apart from anything else this is a superb piece of photography given the technology available at the time and the manners also a tribute to the horse’s trainer in New Zealand, Claude Piper.

While no major breakthroughs were recorded over the years many detail improvements were made to both carts and wheels which commonly collapsed in the early days. Tubed tyres were the first progression, different wheels (size and content) were tried and covered wheels were a major breakthrough in later times though first demonstrated early in the 20th century. But they added weight. Steel carts were first built in the same era but were to become much more relevant in more modern times through sulkies such as the Challenger which were used widely in NZ and also in Australia. The hickory shafted Bryant sulkies built in Christchurch from the late 19th century were considered the ultimate in wooden cart construction for Australasia. Their long and distinguished service was a tribute to their craftsmanship

Photo 9 Many good judges believed that this horse, Indianapolis (2.00.8) should have been our first sub 2 minute miler and some of the best informed said it was because an American speed sulky was not used in his record attempts. His connections stuck with the local version of the “speed cart” in his most serious attempts on the grounds that his immense stride could not handle the American speed cart (if there was one around) without extensive practice. The local short hitched cart did not suit his long stride and was not as wide as the American designs that would have solved the problem.Since even the critics considered the shorter carts were two seconds faster it was a critical decision. Here is Indianapolis with his normal (Bryant) cart as in general use then and in which he set many records over all distances.

Photo 10 is Vodka the first New Zealand trained horse to win in the United States seen posting a victory there. Vodka was a regular breaker in his NZ races as his long stride made finding the right cart difficult. As can be seen though he readily adapted to the much shorter American speed cart

Photo 11 One of the reasons the locals loved long shafted carts. When a horse turned on a circus act like this drama for the driver was less likely than with a short cart. Rearing strap anyone ?

Photos 12/13 Variations on a theme; Cecil Devine, who always favoured a shorter -shafted or shorter coupled cart than most, ( it cost him an Interdominion Final) is with Lord Module on the left. Compare the driving position with the long shaft cart of Delightful Lady of the same era. Devine adopted his position not necessarily using special carts but hitching his short shafters further forward as can be seen here. Pointing high as Dave Price had done 80 yers before

Photo 14 One of the early signs of revolutionary carts was the famous Single Shaft sulky designed by Joe King in the early 1970’s. Nearly every horse raced in the cart improved its time by at least two seconds and of 174 races in which it took part it won 94. But it was controversial and in the end it was banned. Supporters said it was a concerted attack on it by leading drivers and sulky manufacturers with help from tracks where some drivers refused to nominate unless they knew how many single shafts would be in the race -and punters also wanted to know what was going on.

However the drivers critical included the man who drove the first winner in one. Narrow footrests were a problem and horses were reported to suffer stifle problems swinging on the turns of half mile tracks. They were not permitted on any leading American 800m tracks.

Drivers other concerns were horses turning around almost to face the driver in some circumstances but the main one however being that the carts made following other horses into the race more difficult because of less control over direction. The carts did not necessarily follow the horse the way two shafted sulkies did

Enterprising officials imported a few American speed carts in the 1970’s primarily for use in record attempts. Haughty Romeo used one to become a two minute three year old in Southland.


The 2009 New Zealand Cup is remembered for a number of reasons but terms of sulky progression it was the most significant in a century.

Monkey King, using an American Evolution cart, won the race after permission to use it only being granted that week after some design changes.


Between the Single Shaft and the Evolution there had been many attempts in America to improve sulkies through use of different materials, was designed removing as much equipment as they dared (often with poor results) and one of them the Super Sulky when banned by the USTA sparked a legal battle that went to

national courts after its makers accused the body of being influenced by rivals. The then dominant Jerald sulky manufacturers in particular were under fire but found innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Modified Sulky was another leader in the battle to run faster times,

The all steel Evolution followed the AdvantEdge 6.3 the original “öffset”” ( asymmetrical )design meaning that while older carts were designed for straight line performance the Evolution was designed to have a bias. The centre of the horse line did not always match the centre of the cart (offset) as traditional sulkies had.

The offset concept actually originated in Australia where it was promoted as an advantage on the smaller tracks. In America pioneer Tom Harmer was the subject of threats to strike by other drivers when the cart was introduced which probably told a story in itself. He patented the Evolution in 2003. When the design approval reached New Zealand (chiefly through the promotion of the connections of Monkey King) drivers liked the comfort of the “bikes”and their ability to help horses roll around bends.

Critics maintain that the carts show a further bias toward on pace runners and their width told against back runners. Certainly the pattern of racing changed with the “Evolution riders” such as Dexter Dunn

The carts are heavy compared to the old hickory shafted sulkies but that is offset by their balance and freedom.


Terror to Love won his first New Zealand Cup in a Bryant sulky but a wooden cart has not won one since.

The Evolution spawned a series of new designs of which the UFO and the Spyder are probably best known here.

Mark currently uses one local version of the designs called the Pegasus which has an impressive record in major races. Designed and built by Garry Roberts it has expansive use of the traditional hickory shaped to the offset design. It was approved for use in 2016 and had Lazarus as its star promoter later

“We both like them “Mark said””They seem more comfortable on our tracks because of the wood used in their construction”

However Mark has always a supporter of the Challenger operation (an Australasian enterprise) and the Challenger Viper speed bike was associated also with Lazarus including in his first NZ Cup win

Challenger sulkies, whose lightweight steel construction had essentially replaced wooden sulkies for many stables because of their balance and durability well before speed carts arrived has remained very competitive in the market.

The Evolution carbon wheels were ultimately banned in Australasia where conditions can be more testing and the limits on the angle of offset are much stricter here because of track differences compared to North America.

Whether one design is better than another is an argument about sulkies which has raged for 140 years. Many ridiculed the “bike”sulky and around the turn of the 20th century an attempt was made to bring back the “waggons”of a previous era claiming they were as fast as the carts. But the proof of the pudding was in the eating but the Bryant and later the Challenger had proved the most popular in their fields until the advent of the Evolution. Now it still seems to be a matter of opinion.



The introduction of hopples meant New Zealand joined the the international rage against them.

You may think there is a lot of controversy in racing and trotting these days but it is as meek as a kitten compared to the “good old days”when arguments over breeding and racing could lead to fisticuffs, vicious letters to editors who seemed relaxed about the laws of libel, and even life bannings.

One of the most divisive developments was over the introduction of hopples and no wonder. Ultimately hopples changed the entire face of harness racing.

At the time of their first introduction trotters were the elite of the game and pacers regarded as second rate-horses poorer people used as road transport in saddle only because they couldn’t afford to buy a good trotter and a sulky to go with it

The trotter enthusiasts were much like Christ’s disciples, spreading the word, promoting the ever increasing times, waxing lyrical about the beautiful squared trotter. Some of those disciples are still prominent today

To say that they were increasingly angry about trotters being turned into pacers with the use of hopples, and the gradual but inevitable growth in a pacing breed was an understatement. This even though an early standardbred heroine had been the pacer. Pocohantas

The influential Kentucky Horse Association banned hopples altogether until 1905 and at one stage trotting interests got it passed at the American Horse Association that they be banned altogether. But the tide was turning and it was never made into law,

John Browning of Indianna is generally credited with “inventing” hopples though he was not the first to have a set professionally made. “Hobbles”were always in use just for different reasons mostly restrictive.

The thing was that Browning didn’t develop them for horses to pace either. In fact he designed them for trotters -to help them gait better. His version was effectively what we now call half- hopples. Ironic indeed.

Indianna was an area where old pacing breeds were plentiful as saddle horses and his idea was actually to convert them to trotters. Then some unknown person reasoned you could use the same thinking to help trotting bred horses pace. He may not have wanted anyone to know his name of course-he might have ended up with a price on his head!

Other factors played into the hands of the pacers as well. One of the most important was the rise of 800m tracks the public preferred where trotters could not get around the bends at the same pace as horses with the “Indianna Pants” on them. This was only underlined by the arrival of small wheeled sulkies. And in racing everyone wants a winner especially the betting public who started spending more on the pacing races because they were faster and more reliable. Just not accepted by the purist.

Hopples were brought to Australia in 1882 when Alec White, a first class American horseman, brought out some early stallions. But pacers in Australia and New Zealand were virtually unknown then and they did not gain much traction. It was the same in Europe and there a ban on hoppled pacers remains to this day,

In New Zealand they were first used as far as is known in 1896 in a race at the old Plumpton Park racing complex in Sockburn on a horse called Little Willie trained by Dave Price at Riccarton (by coincidence the first hopple wearer in Australia was called Plain Bill !). It was recorded at that time that 80 per cent of Price’s team wore the hopples he had seen in Australia while campaigning a team there and brought back here.

Some years later Price prepared the pacer Ribbonwood to beat the Australasian trotting champion Fritz in a memorable series that first set Addington alight with crowds numbering 10,000. Ribbonwood was a good free legged pacer but Price had hopples on him for the contest-just in case. He easily beat the out of sorts Australian trotter and the pacing gait took another step forward


These days free legged pacers are a novelty and where they once held all the records now not one. Not even Robalan the most famous of the modern free legged horse here managed that.

For over 30 years however hopples were the victim of invective, bias, anger and insult, dismissed by opponents as “disfigurements of a noble breed”. John Rowe, of Rowe Cup fame, publicly attacked them as president of the New Zealand Trotting Association. Opposition to them in Australia rose to fever pitch.Where in 1988 there had been no races at all just for pacers here, by 1908 things had changed so dramatically Rowe and his team had to bring in a national rule that there had to be two trotting races on every programme -just to help the breed survive.

Here is an extract from a New Zealand paper attacking the Trotting Association for not doing more to reduce the number of pacers in favour of trotters

“…instead of the trotter advancing in favour with the public as a good utility horse the opposite will occur especially if owners are encouraged to continue to race the freaks called pacers that have to be geared up with straps, shinpads, speedcut boots and shod with shoes that look like different letters of the alphabet and with a gait quite unsuited to utility work. “

The pacers, scorned though they may have been (though not by trainers whose work was made easier) were here to stay and in spite of the justified reactions of the many fans of the stylish and durable straight out trotter, so it has remained more than a century later.

Where was the first meeting by a trotting club held in New Zealand?

The answer is Ashburton but for some reason nobody credited it for the feat and promptly forgot it ever took place.

For most years since Wanganui was reported and regarded as the “cradle”of New Zealand trotting holding a an all trotting meeting in 1881 and it was vigorously promoted by journalists who had affinity to that district. Not that many disagreed strongly but naturally there were a few candidates for the honour, especially Canterbury. But they all failed the date test (the first all trotting meeting in Canterbury known then was in 1884).

There was also the fact that the coming of trotting was gradual and actually went back to the 1860’s but on an informal or piecemeal basis. The Otago galloping clubs usually put up good stakes for trotting races but they were more of a novelty attraction.

Yet the Ashburton meeting in December 1880 was well publicised.

A number of committee meetings were reported. A Starter, Judge, Treasurer, Secretary and Clerk of the course were all appointed.

Some of the events were a little odd- a Buggy race over 6400m open to any horse pulling a four wheeled vehicle and won by Brandy by a mere 200m. This was seen by observers as an encouragement to local farmers to take part in the events instead of trying to beat the “stars”-horses who ran laughable times

But there was a Maiden Trot won by prominent local sportsman Octavius Digby with Bijou Physick while Firefly won the Maiden Harness (any 2 wheeled vehicle) in which the third placed Donald, driven by John Wilkies “carried a very heavy vehicle”and might otherwise had prevaled. Firefly also the feature ,the Champion Handcap owned by William Campion. An interesting aspect was that the handicapping was by yards, which would become the official system until about 1916.

The attendance was disappointing and the “cart park”hoped to raise funds was ignored by the public who parked on a reserve nearby. Still, the committee hoped to run a meeting every two months.

It was not able to. In fact it never ran another meeting again. Nearly a decade later a second club (the present one) was formed and later became for some time the leading club in New Zealand.

What became of its predecessor and why it never gained its rightful place in trotting history remains something of a mystery.

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