Waltzing Queen Crowned (Saturday 3rd October 2015)
Winton breeder Roger Price hasn't had a lot of luck in breeding from a family be bought into forty years ago but Waltzing Queen which beat ten maiden fillies and mares at the Northern Southland meeting at Ascot Park today may have changed that.
The Jereme's Jet four year old which is trained by his son John and daughter-in-law Katrina got the perfect trail behind favourite Seduce Me and ran up the Ascot Park Hotel Passing Lane to win by a length and a quarter.
"I bought her grand dam Gypsy Nero about forty years ago because she was out of one of the hot families in the country at that time which had left some pretty good horses like Burlington Bertie and Anne Franco," said Roger Price.
Waltzing Queen is out of Waltzing Holme a young Mach Three mare which is out of Cantilena. Price shares in the ownership of Waltzing Queen with his wife Helen.
"She's got a pretty good nature. If she's going to make a race horse her nature will carry her a long way. I was trying to breed speed into the breed and so that's why I went to Jereme's Jet. He was a very fast horse."
Burlington Bertie by Vance Hanover won fourteen races including the 1994 Invercargill Cup and the 1995 Auckland Cup.
Only In Rome Home (Sunday 20th September 2015)
Only In Rome backed up his good maiden form by winning the Woodlands Stud Mobile Pace at Ascot Park today.
After a second to the classy Zenmach the four year old by Bettor's Delight went one better. Last season he was below the better three year olds but his form this season indicates he'll be a good mid grade pacer in the province.
"He's a nice horse who can sprint a bit and he can also stay. Last season he was on the light side whereas this season he's able to hold onto his condition. I was worried about the second line draw but Nathan did a great job. That's why he wins so many races," said trainer Brent Shirley.
Only In Rome is out of the five win Christian Cullen mare Charioteer which is closely related to Courage Under Fire.
Shirley drove stable mate Swap Over in the race but he broke twice and finished second last.
"I think he may have an abcess brewing but he's one to watch in the future."
Only In Rome easily winning for driver Nathan Williamson and trainer Brent Shirley - Photo Bruce Stewart.
Later in the day Stable star Costa Del Magnifico started his season with a second to Titan Banner in the Ascot Park Hotel Handicap Pace.
"It was the perfect run because it's hard to get them right when they're stepping up through the classes. You have to be a bit fitter and I'm just pleased with the way he's come through the run. A couple more runs and I think he'll be really screwed down nice and tight."
His form last season was very good and he was rated as a place chance in the Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes.
"He got a curved hock and rubbed linament into it and we thought we had him right when he ran second before the Supremacy but he pulled up lame. We gave him a good break up at Macca Lodge and Brent (McIntyre) sent him back in terrific condition like he always does."
With her consistent form, Beaudiene Clemintyne, owned by the Waihopai Racing Syndicate is proving to be the ideal racehorse for a syndicate and according to trainer Murray Brown, claiming races are also the ideal grade for her.
Claiming races were introduced to keep horses that are not top performers racing in the province. They're also a perfect scenario for syndicate owned horses, keeping people involved and interested in racing in Southland.
"Claiming races are her go. In the C1 races you've got the good three year olds so she's always coming up against ones that are better. Last week she pulled hard and ran herself into the ground but she was still only five lengths from the leaders. The syndicate have had a few horses with me, mainly leased ones, but they bought this one off Dave Kennedy as a young horse," said Brown.
It was a peach of a drive by Andrew Armour who lead throughout and caught Clark Barron in a favourable mood as that driver was happy to sit parked on perennial leader Billy The Bus.
Brown said the syndicate are now looking at perhaps sending the mare to stud.
Beaudiene Clemintyne leads on the bend - Photo Bruce Stewart
Beaudiene Clemintyne and the Waihopai Racing Syndicate - Photo Bruce Stewart
Nathan's Team (Monday 7th September 2015)
Leading Southland trainer Nathan Williamson runs the biggest team in the province and last season he broke the Southland Trainers record for the number of wins in a season. So where are things at with some of the better performed stable runners?
www.southlandharness.co.nz asked that very question and also got details on some of the potential stars in the stable to watch out for in the new season.
This son of Bettor's Delight appeared slightly inferior to his stable mate Tas Man Bromac but his record was still impressive. He won four of his eight starts last season and ran second in two others.
“He’s had foot problems which has delayed his progress. It’s because of all of this wet weather. He’s likely to be back mid to late November.”
She finished her season with an excellent third in the Group One McMillian Feeds Four Year Old Ruby behind King Denny. She banked $40,273. winning five races from fourteen starts last season.
“She’s doing fast work and she’ll be stepping off the place at the end of the month for a workout or a trial. All going well we’ll look at Cup Week for her. ”
She's now five and has won three races from just ten career starts. She won her first two races in May 2014 and was then taken to Addington for Show Day where she blew to bits finishing 12th of 15 starters. Her only other win was in January this year at Ascot Park.
“Mistakes ended up being her main problem. She’s just come back into work. She’ll race around Christmas time. There’s nothing between her and Poppymalda ability wise - it’s just her manners.”
Tas Man Bromac
American Ideal gelding Tas Man Bromac won seven races from twelve starts in his first full season of racing. His win in January at Ascot Park over 2700 metres from a stand was in New Zealand record time for three year old colts or geldings (3-22.0).
“He’s got a bad foot abscess. He’s had a week off so it’s set us back a bit. Hopefully he’ll be back at the workouts and trials shortly. He hasn’t grown any but he’s developed. The sales race at Kaikoura is his first aim for the season. It’s going to be a bit of an effort because I’ll have to line him up there fresh. He’s going to be off the front (at Kaikoura) and he’s a great wee beginner. He’s unbeaten from the stand. All going well he’ll start at Cup Week and then race down here around Christmas time.”
Tas Man Bromac
Ash was sold at last year’s Sale of the Stars and was bought by Ben and Karen Calder of Grinaldi Lodge for $15,000. He's by up and coming stallion The Pres out of Tamarix.
“He does things right at this stage but there’s still a long way to go. He’s got nice manners. I’ll possibly race him as a two year old but he's a bit on the weak side and not a real strong horse so we’ll just see how he progresses.”
Ash is out of the pacing bred Double Century mare Tamarix which won five races. As a broodmare she has left quality stock in Larix (Safely Kept) 10 wins and Four Year Old Trotting Mare of the Year (2010-2011), Given (Sundon) 4 wins and Larch (Sundon) 1 win. Tamarix’s fourth dam is Haakondal the mother of Great Northern Derby, New Zealand Messenger, Auckland Cup, Easter Cup and Pan Am Mile winner Sapling (22 wins and $244,260).
"Given's right up there with some of the best trotters I've driven so that's why we bought him."
This son of Gotta Go Cullect qualified when he lead all the way in winning at Gore in 2-48.7 (mile rate of 2-03.3) running his last 800 metres in an impressive 56.9 seconds.
He was promptly bought by trainer Brendon Hill of Swannanoa which is west of Kaiapoi.
The three year old gelding is out of the Holmes Hanover mare Tupelo Madam which won one race for Steve Allen.
He's also closely related to Tupelo Miss the winner of twenty races in Australia and won in America with a time of 1-51.8.
This now 8 year old was restricted to just four starts last season. He won fresh up over a mile at Winton before finishing second to Stent in the Ashburton Flying Mile. In his other two starts he ran 9th in the NZ Trotting FFA and 4th to Jaccka Justy in the Group One Dominion Handicap.
Other horses to watch out for:
“I have two half-brothers to Statham. Bernie Winkle (3 year old by Rock N Roll Heaven) qualified last year and his younger brother who’s two. He’s by Western Ideal. They both go pretty good.”
McRae's Day (Friday 24th July 2015)
After thirty six years of training 110 winners, the popular Southland sportsman and horse trainer Ken McRae has sold his Waimumu property and is moving to Canterbury.
McRae has spent most of his adult life gearing up horses, but he's also played top level rugby and been a livestock buyer for the Alliance Meat Company, from which he retired two years ago.
Leaving the province after a good stretch of life involved with sheep and beef, rugby, racing and perhaps the odd beer I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask Ken's opinion on the current state of the harness racing industry, rugby, and thoroughbred racing in the south.
Southland Harness has some challenges ahead. What do you see as the main ones?
Naturally stake money but it's going to be hard to improve on the way things are going. The stakes since I started have probably doubled but the costs have gone up tenfold. The other challenge is to try and keep young people in the game.The price of land makes it difficult.
Can Southland Harness racing survive in it's current form?
I think it'll battle. It's a hard thing to say but I think the cost structure is going to beat us. I think the biggest thing is the number of tracks we've got down here.
What needs to change?
I can't see how we can justify having four tracks for a province of our size. That comes back to parochialism. Some people are very hard to shift in their ways.That goes back to the 1950s and early '60s when they tried to buy a property at Longbush. That was going to be established as a centre for Southland racing. Two or three clubs wouldn't agree and it fell over. Bert Crooks ended up owning it.
What's the best horse you've trained?
King Alba. He won as a two year old and was a good three year old. We sold him as a three year old and he went on to win eleven races. He was placed in the Australian and Queensland Derby. He was bred by a farmer at Waikaka where I was working at the time. He was offered to me as a foal so I weaned him and broke him in and carried on from there.
How did his sale come about?
National Bloodstock had started off at the time. They had formed syndicates and were looking for horses and they approached me about him. Eventually it fell into place. We didn't get $100,000 but it was getting up around there. That tells you something else about our industry. The selling side hasn't improved a hell of a lot over time either.
What do you consider to be the standardbred you've seen?
Cardigan Bay and Young Quinn.
Educate. He looked very smart as a three year old. We brought him back as a four year old and he got a bowel infection. For some reason the vet thought he had an allergy to penicillin. He didn't treat him with penicillin for a start and it got quite serious. I don't think we saw the best of him after that. I owned him with Jeffrey Gardiner who was related in some way to Freeman Holmes. Freeman send him down to us as an early three year old. They were having trouble controlling him up there.
In your time in the industry who would you consider to be the best driver?
I saw Maurice Holmes at the end of his career and Peter Wolfenden but at the end of the day I don't think you can go past Dexter (Dunn).
Did you ever buy as an agent for the American or Australian market?
Through selling King Alba I developed quite a good relationship with Richard Tong in the North Island. He bought horses for Bob and the late Vinny Knight so I sourced horses for them. Probably the best was Maestro which went on to win the Interdominions.
Note: Maestro renamed Our Maestro won 27 races from just 37 starts. He earned $576,692. His major wins were in the 1988 Miracle Mile and 1988 Interdominion Final.
You've heard plenty of racecallers - do you have a favourite?
I thought the late George Haywood did a pretty good job. I had a big regard for Tony Lee and of course our own Davie McDonald.
Who was the best Southland driver you've seen?
Ken Balloch and Henry Skinner who could both mix it with the Canterbury guys. I thought Robert Camerson was also pretty sharp.
Your best season was in 1992 when you trained 15 winners from 55 starters. Who were the good horses in your team that year?
I had Educate that year.I was given Rarity for a while to train and I won three races with her. Jay Cee's Fella won a couple that season.
You've had a close relationship with driver Robin Swain. How did that come about?
He drove horses for me for the first time 25-30 years ago at the workouts. I found him approachable and helpful. I thought he was an under rated horseman. Like all junior drivers he became popular. Once he lost his junior status he when out of favour. At that point he was easy to get hold of and I thought he was driving better at that point than he was as a junior.
Over the years harness racing has evolved. What do you feel has been the biggest development?
It's the breed of the horse now.The standardbred has got a lot finer and a lot faster. The tracks have improved - just take a look at Forbury. Back in the '70s you could qualify in 3-12 (2400 metres) and think you were quite smart. Now you don't take them (to qualify) unless you can go 10 seconds quicker than that.
Have you bought a property in Canterbury?
No. We're just going to use a two bedroomed cottage at the end of my son's house. We'll just get settled in and then see what our next move is from there.
Have you renewed your licence?
No. I'll probably wander out to Spreydon Lodge and give a hand out there.
Are you taking any horses to Canterbury?
Only two. Both rising two year olds.
What do you think you'll miss most about the industry here in the south?
The company and the people we know. I'll probably miss the 'bomb shelter' as we call it (bar in the South Stand at Ascot Park).
You were brought up around thoroughbreds. What was the best race your ever saw?
Princess Mellay and Trelay in the New Zealand Cup. We also saw Eiffel Tower and Summer Magic in the Invercargill Gold Cup.
Eiffel Tower. He was so versatile.
I saw all the Skelton boys riding. Probably Johnny Dowling was the most impressive. He was very strong and vigorous.
How do you see thoroughbred racing in Southland?
It's probably in a worse situation than harness racing. We've lost our pool of broodmares. Back in the '60s we had our good breed and people like Bill Hazlett. Every farmer had a galloper. We are really living off castoffs from the North Island at the moment.
You also had a successful career as a rugby player. Who did you play for?
Early on I played senior rugby for Taumarunui as an 18 year old. When I came south I played for Marist, Edendale, half a season for Celtic in Timaru, Marist again and ended up playing for Otautau. I also got into the South Island team, made a couple of All Black trials and played for the Junior All Blacks.
Can you see Southland rugby returning to the top division?
I think we're on the back foot. I was sad to hear that Brad Mooar (current Southland coach) was leaving. I thought he was on the right track and doing not a bad job. His recruiting looks good so I won't be surprised if we can come back.
Did you ever coach?
Not a lot. I don't like coaching but got bullied into it a couple of times. I coached Waikaka for a couple of years and I was also involved with the Eastern sub union a bit.
Best Southland rugby player you've played with or seen?
Steven Pokere was the best I saw. I played with Ken Stewart and Leicester Rutledge and they were pretty handy. I thought Lin Booth was a very under-rated centre or wing.
Favourite rugby moment?
Some of the after match functions. Winning the senior competition in Taumarunui in my first year as a senior and winning the competition in my last year playing for Otautau in their centennial year. Also playing in the North versus South matches when I was only 21. They were big back then. I think I was the only forward in both packs that wasn't an All Black so that was quite a moment.
You've played mostly at hooker in your rugby career. Who would you rate as the best props that you got to play with?
This may surprise you. Vince Nally. He was the captain when I first played for Marist. He did it the hard way. If you weren't doing it he wasn't afraid to grab you by the scruff of the neck and drag you up the paddock with the ball under your arm. He lead from the front and worked hard at his own game. He had to force his way into the Southland team that had beaten the Lions and he managed to do it.
Which two teams will be in the Rugby World Cup?
The All Blacks and England.
Who will be the next Southland All Black?
What other sports do you enjoy?
Cricket when I was younger. Played a bit at senior level but wasn't good enough at the end of the day. I also played a bit of squash.
I started with National Mortgage and then went to Southland Farmers Co-op. They were a good firm. I then ended up working in the freezing industry side of it starting up with Waitaki in 1980. The last 35 years have been with Alliance. You have your ups and downs but you meet a lot of people. It's been really enjoyable.
Robin Swain and Ken McRae after winning three races at Roxburgh in 1993 (New Zealand Harness Racing Annual)
Southern Harness wishes Ken all the best in Canterbury and I'm sure most of us will catch up with him during racing at Addington particularly at Cup Week.
Grove Bush horse lover Diane Cournane and husband Noel operate an 'all stars' hotel for harness racing's elite in Southland.
Her paying guests have included a list of harness household names including Hands Christian (13 wins $330,824), Smolda (16 wins $584,637), King Denny (9 wins $205,754) and includes the sports latest pinup boy Have Faith In Me (7 wins $475,381).
In amongst the paying guests Diane still has room for her own band of mares and talented racehorses, including world record holder Fight For Glory (2400 metres mobile 2-50.3).
The large rolling 10 acre paddocks at the Cournane's Diamond Head Lodge 25 minutes from Invercargill have become the R and R HQ for Australasian's most successful harness racing stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen.
The horses sent from the All Stars stable are those that require time to mature, time to rest, or a grassy paddock as part of their retirement package - like Hands Christian. He is now a part of the furniture on the farm although when I paid a visit there last week to do this story he was away on loan doing some trekking.
Diane Cournane doesn't get any instructions from her clients and often not too much warning as to when the next four legged guests are arriving.
“I just get a call from Majestic (horse float company) who say 'horses coming.' Or sometimes Mark (Purdon) rings and says one is coming down and there's four on the truck. I always say to him can you not count?" said Diane with her familiar laugh.
But she welcomes all, gives them all the same care and attention and gains great enjoyment out of being the 'housemaid' to these horses.
“When you see them win you feel a part of it because you know them.”
Diamond Head Lodge is150 acre farm which has beef cattle and sheep to help keep the pastures healthy.
Back a few years ago I suspect Noel was running a normal farming operation with a few horses. But the horse business, as it sometimes does, has taken over.
“Diane is the boss so I get the best paddocks," says the former hairdresser who has recently sold up and retired for the horse hotel business.
Mark Purdon has been sending horses south ever since he started training in Canterbury at his former Yaldhurst Road stables.
“He trained Christiansheritage (Christian Cullen) for me (in 2003) when he moved to Yaldhurst Road in Christchurch. She was the first Christian Cullen to be born. He just said to me one day will you take some horses to spell. We take the ones that stay for three or four months. Owners in Christchurch just have small paddocks whereas here they get out into 10 acre paddocks.”
It's obviously been a winning formula and without doubt part of the success that Purdon and Rasmussen have enjoyed over the last few years.
The horses come south for a wide range of reasons. The very talented Didjamakem Bolt (6 wins from only 9 starts) shares a paddock with last year's Kindergarten Stakes winner Itz Bettor To Win. Both are owned by Cournane's biggest client, Australian Merv Butterworth.
“He’s (Didjamakem Bolt) got bone issues. It ‘s almost like a baby with chalky bones. Every time they get him up he seems to go. He’s recuperating for six months. Itz Bettor to Win didn’t shape up in Auckland so Mark said he needed time to develop. Merv said send him to horse heaven as he calls it.”
Itz Bettor To Win and Didjamakem Bolt away from the racetrack - Photo Bruce Stewart
The two Purdon Rasmussen horses involved in the smash in last season's Southern Supremacy Stakes were also sent to the Diamond Head Lodge to recover.
“Meticulous and Gentle Western recuperated here for six months after that smash."
Others to have called the farm home include Messini, Major Ben, Supersonic Miss, Arden Rooney, Alleuia and Isaiah, all enjoying the lush grass which is hard to find in Canterbury even in the best season.
“In the winter they get hard fed with lucerne and baleage. Marks leaves it up to me and I just send them back when they’re right.”
Southland trainer Tony Barron and prominent galloping owner and trackside presenter Karen Fenton-Ellis also send horses to the Cournanes.
Diane also has an interest in thoroughbreds. She sold Volkara (Volksraad - Landara) for $75,000 at the sales and after an injury ended her racing career managed to buy her back for just $1,500. She and Noel have an unnamed two year old Zed filly and a Zacinto yearling colt out of the mare who is in foal toTavistock.
However, it's the standardbreds that are her true passion.
Brought up around horses, her father Don McRae senior trained and drove standardbreds working for Bob Townley at Nightcaps and Jim Flynn at Wairio before training in his own right. Diane's sister Wendy Blakie of Oturehua has bred a host of winners from Princess Della including Kyvalley Mac (12 wins), Just A Cracker (11 wins), Just Incredible (1-56.6 USA) and Dealornodeal ( 7wins).
Diane's first venture into breeding and racing was with McWay (Knowing Bret – New Way) trained by Doody and Kevin Townley.
From a limited racing career she won two races before she was retired.
One of her first foals was My Name’s Good (Nero’s BB).
My Name's Good proved the be a real gem at stud providing the Cournanes with their next generation of racing stock. She left Anvil’s Top Gun (Christian Cullen) the winner of seven races, Breath Of Life (Village Jasper) also seven wins, and Make Mine Roses one win.
It was Breath Of Life that provided Cournane with her first quality race mare.
Initially trained by Ben Waldron she won twice for the Ashburton trainer before Mark Purdon took over.
“Mark drove her at the trials one day and rang me and said "Diane, what are you doing with Breath Of Life?" I said she was coming home to be a broodmare. He said that he wanted to take her to Auckland so I said that’s okay but if her doesn’t win you can keep her as a broodmare. So he now says to me "Can I have her as a broodmare?”
She won a further five races for Purdon including a five length win over Kiwi Ingenuity in the 2009 Breeders Stakes at Alexandra Park in Auckland. She was the first mare in New Zealand to break the 2-40.0 mark for 2200 metres mobile. Her winning time of 2-39.8 was also a New Zealand record.
She also provided Mark Purdon with his 1000th training win when she won at Alexandra Park in September 2009 when driven by Jordon Compain.
Breath Of Life along with her half sister Make Mine Roses (Washington VC) and Nitouche Franco (Soky's Atom) are the three mares Diane and Noel are breeding from at the moment.
Make Mine Roses with her Auckland Reactor colt, Nitouche Franco and her Mach Three filly, and Breath of Life with a full brother to Fight For Glory named Honor and Glory.
Nitouche Franco has provided the couple with quality racehorses All Star Man, (8 wins) and Whisper Jet (6 wins). All Star Man is just back in work for Grant Payne while Whisper Jet, part-owned by the Cournanes and Butterworth Racing Syndicate, is spelling in Australia.
The mare's next foal War Horse, finished second at his only start for Tony Herlihy while her next foal is called Lydia Ko. She is a two year old full sister to All Star Man. Nitouche Franco currently has a Mach Three filly at foot called Sheer Bliss and has been served by Bettor's Delight.
Nitouche Franco and her Mach Three filly Sheer Bliss - Photo Bruce Stewart
Make Mine Roses which won one race for Cournane's niece Lauren Pearson has a stunning Auckland Reactor colt at foot.
Atomic Reactor (Auckland Reactor - Make Mine Roses) on the good Southland grass at Diamond Head Lodge - Photo Bruce Stewart
But it has been Breath Of Life that's been a bit of a revolution at stud.
Her first foal by Art Major recently won the $200,000 Group One NSW Oaks in world record time. She was purchased by Mark Purdon for just $20,000 at the 2013 Sale of the Stars in Christchurch.
Purdon offered Cournane a share in the filly and the ownership group was completed by Ann Gibb (wife of former galloping trainer Jim Gibb), Dean Illingworth who also shared in the ownership of Breath Of Life, John and Gaylene Tait and Lyn Tucker (wife of Ivan Tucker former galloping trainer).
"Mark Smolenski broke her in and said she had the X Factor.”
Also on the property are a number of rising three year olds including Snakes N Ladder (Courage Under Fire - Night Line), Peace Be With You (Mach Three - Braeside Lady) and Breath of Life's Bettor's Delight colt GI Joe which was bought by Merv Butterworth for $82,500.
Two year olds with GI Joe in the foreground - Photo Bruce Stewart
There is no doubt that Diamond Head Lodge is part of the current success of The All Stars Stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen and that the pasture Noel and Diane Cournane grow coupled with the Southland weather toughens and nutures both old and young horses.
Diane enjoys being part of this success and finds pleasure in giving horses her individual attention whether they be her own or some of her star boarders.
A royal relationship.