Australians have always had in influence on our harness racing and sometimes it is under appreciated because, well, they are Australians and we are sometimes we are the critical little brother.

Natalie Rasmussen the most influential female driver in our history, is still a dominant force and before that Kerryn Manning,Norm Lang,and Jim O’Sullivan have all won New Zealand Cups on hit and run missions in what we describe as modern times.

Before that there was Cecil Devine, from Tasmania, who won six NZ Cups, and George Noble so widely respected that when the definitive American publication on training the harness horse was written, he was asked to write the section on Down Under training. He trained one NZ Cup winner and drove another while most of his long list of achievements were in age group races.

The second and third Cup winners were from Australia but the real training impact came in the 1920’s,chiefly through NZ born Jack Kennerley  and Bill Tomkinson, with Peter Riddle in a cameo role.In the 10 Cups of the 1920’s decade,five were trained  and driven by foreign-born horsemen, three of them Australians

Kennerley settled in Australia but came back  in 1921 as Australian harness racing tanked and ours thrived. A colourful,genial, sometimes controversial figure, Kennerley was a self- taught trainer who had won three editions of Victoria’s major race,The Melbourne Thousand in less than 10 years

At various times in the 1920’s he trained many of our best horses as owners looked for new solutions.

ACRON was the first four year old to start in the Cup and should have won it.Kennerley loved saving ground on the rails and it cost him the race,held up and flashing home late  for second.An erratic horse for whom Sir John McKenzie had paid a small fortune as a youngster,he won both Derby’s and the NZ Free for All with sheer brilliance but none of a list of subsequent trainers matched Kennerley’s achievements with him.He held the mile record for a decade. 

NATIVE CHIEF, the second four year old to start in the Cup and even more brilliant and more erratic than Acron won a NZ Derby and Free for All for Kennerley and Jack also trained his more disciplined brother  LOGAN CHIEF, to win many major races and for years our second highest stake earner in history.He also handled  the champion GREAT BINGEN(when training for Roydon Lodge); his brother PETER BINGEN;ROI ‘LOR  a real star of his time,and Australian pacer  PEDRO PRONTO.

Kennerley bred both the sire (Pedro Pronto)and the dam of Film Star the granddam of 1951 Cup winner Van Dieman.He also bred the later champion Single Direct,raced by his daughter, Maisie,and had also bred her dam Loyal Direct.Single Direct,an Inter Dominion winner, and regarded as a champion in Auckland and Australia,was twice third in the NZ Cup(1947-49) for Jack’s best known trainer-driver son, Edgar Kennerley. Another son,Ray,brought him back for a Cup tilt at age 14 in 1955 off 55m.

Jack’s drive to win the 1928 NZ Cup with Peter Bingen, a vintage edition before a huge crowd (spectators for free lined the whole iron fence on the outside of the track) is  part of the Kennerley legend.

He headed straight for the rail as usual but when the leaders began to feel the pinch at the 1200 Jack shot his horse,which he raced on lease, to a  5 length lead with 1000m to run.Not many Cup winners manage to hold on from there after such a burst but by cleverly varying the pace and sitting still as a churchmouse as the challengers ran him down, the pair got over the line from late claimer  Great Bingen.

The pair were  full brothers bred in Akaroa by Etienne Le Lievre. It was a supremely cool drive because nobody outside the judge was certain who had won. Typical of a sporting crowd -one of the biggest in history-was that while Great Bingen, who held the stakes winning record for 14 years, was their idol  they gave the popular Kennerley a grand reception for his iconic drive

The writer’s father,witnessing his first of nearly 60 Trotting Cups,  was always quick to recall Kennerley’s skill.

Le Lievre  had sold Great Bingen to a friend as a youngster but owned Peter Bingen. The latter won the FFA and then won the Cup again in 1929 after being sold to  Cambridge owner, Wilfred Johnstone for whom Kennerley became  private trainer for a short time to mastermind it. The pair  parted soon afterward over a spat concerning another horse. JJK also parted from Roydon Lodge on strained terms though he was not alone there.

Peter Bingen beat Logan Park that year, the latter trained and driven by Tomkinson for an Aussie quinella.

Jack,who only had 1 more Cup drive,with Roi L’or in 1933 ,also  operated a satellite stable in Auckland through  Edgar,who remained in the north and later returned  to Australia.

After Jack’s wife, Annie,died in 1940 he moved north for family reasons and died in 1942 aged just 62 but having achieved much in a relatively short time.

Bill Tomkinson died from a freak accident at the peak of his career but he was not only acknowledged as a master trainer but also a very popular one.His funeral in the 1930’s is easily the biggest for any trainer in this country and at the time was rated as one of the biggest in the history of Christchurch.


Tomkinson came over for the Cup August carnival of 1922 following Kennerley’s impact, but his was even greater. He won three races on the first day of the meeting and two on the second. In the next 10 years he won three training premierships and two driving premierships before his life was cut short. From that first meeting his stable was always full and getting a horse into it was the hardest part.

Indianapolis, Free Advice,Logan Park, Happy Voyage,Realm, Nelson Derby,Shadowland-the list of top ones went on and on.

He was cruelly robbed by fate of a NZ Cup win. Indianapolis was about to launch his triple Cup triumphs when his trainer -who had trialled him at Ashburton and told buyer George Barton “buy him at any price”-slipped on a rubbish bin while checking the sulkies on a float top and suffered internal injuries. It was 6 weeks before he died and for much of that time there was little concern the injury would be fatal.There was great shock when it was.

Many people learned many things from Bill Tomkinson’s training methods among them Don Nyhan who recalled spending a lot of time studying them while helping out on race trips.The  Australian was noted for his willingness to help less fortunate trainers with lending of his gear and many other acts of generosity. He had gallopers(as did Jack Kennerley) but in his case chiefly for the sake of his son, Jim, who preferred them but was too young to be licenced.

 Jim Tomkinson became a legend at Riccarton for the same reason his father did at Addington-encyclopedic knowledge of horses and racing and a spirit of generosity in using it to help other people.It is used to be said nobody who knocked on Jim Tomkinson’s door for help and advice was ever turned away.

Peter Riddle like the others a popular bloke with the locals even while defeating them, brought off a great coup when Sheik won the 1924 Cup, Acron, the Kennerley runner, was  the failed favourite though later in the week he  won the Free for All in Australasian record time.

Riddle had had made a hit and run trip to Addington  in 1914 without luck.He came back,this time to  Auckland, in 1922.Later training at Addington  from the famous Domain Terrace stables Kennerley would later occupy,Riddle,highly successful in Australia where his father was also a top trainer,astutely placed the classy Sheik to start from 30m. New Zealand’s best pacing mare,a superstar in Onyx,was off 75m! He won an Auckland Cup with Minton Derby and a series of other feature races

Riddle soon returned to Australia in 1927 to privately train for the Miller  brothers,formerly the leading New South Wales standardbred breeders who had converted to thoroughbreds where they would also go on to dominate.

Riddle later owned and trained one of the greats of the Australian turf in Shannon who later won a Horse of the Year category in the US having won the Hollywood Gold Cup and set world records for the 1800m and 2000m (1.59.8) in 1947 before being a successful sire. 

Peter Riddle suffered from ill health for some years before his sudden death at 60 from a heart attack at the height of Shannon’s  career.The horse’s earnings helped the Riddle estate to be valued at over 40,000 pounds,the American sale for Shannon being 27,000 pounds.

PIC: Peter Riddle and famous Australian jockey Darby Munro after a major victory in Sydney in the 1930’s. Riddle had trained the winners of the NZ Trotting Cup and the Auckland Cup n a brief career in this country

PIC 1: Peter Riddle with famous jockey Darby Munro in Sydney in the 1930’s after another big win. In a short harness career in NZ he had trained the NZ Cup -Auckland Cup double

PIC 2: Jack Kennerley’s stable staff about 1922. He is on the extreme right and next to him his son,Jack.On the far left is another son Eric and third from left is Edgar the most successful younger Kennerley’s as a trainer.

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