Celebrating The King’s 2000 wins

I have always been a big Michael “The King” Coleman fan, so seeing him join the elite band of Kiwi jockeys to reach 2000 winners today was pretty special.


During a conversation with a Matamata trainer one day, he quizzed me about why I was so keen on Mickey – the answer was simple, he provided me with my biggest thrill on a racecourse when riding my first winner.


It was one or two wines ago – 1987, to be precise. Mickey was an apprentice and the apple of my eye, Genuflect, a filly from one of my grandmother’s old mares was trained by his boss Jim Gibbs.  I had headed from Auckland to Matamata for the South Waikato Racing Club meeting, an on-course only meeting, to see whether she could improve on her first start ninth.


From memory, she paraded with a shortened tail, thanks to the ministrations of the cattle beasts at the pre-training establishment.  Gibbsy, waxing lyrical, described her as being a girl in a mini-skirt…!  He also insisted I come and speak with my jockey pre-race so there I was all new to this caper about to greet Mickey – “Hello, Blossom”……I have no idea where that came from but the upshot was a jockey whose face matched the maltese cross on my colours and a trainer bent in half laughing.  Henceforth I called him Blossom.


Embarrassed or not, Blossom rode a great race and won, becoming in the process my favourite jockey of all time.  Just how favourite is probably emphasised by the fact I had to check on the NZTR website to see who was in the saddle when I had my first (and, so far, only!) Group One winner.


Michael was the leading apprentice of his generation and has always had an association with an above-average horse or two subsequently, so I was a little gobsmacked when I got a brief to write a piece on him.  


Not that Mickey’s countdown to 2000 wins wasn’t worth a story, it was more how the request was worded.  In this person’s mind Michael was starting to “look like a journeyman” but his season thus and his association with the formidable Baker-Forsman stable made him newsworthy.


Obviously, the 212 wins, including 24 Group and Listed races he had won over the three previous seasons, had escaped this good judge’s notice!


In general conversation during the interview Genuflect got a mention, likewise today when I sent him a text to congratulate him on his achievement.


According to Mickey “they all help”.





Missing a trick with raceday promotion?

I went racing on Saturday.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, but these days I tend to prefer the comforts of home and watching things unfold on Trackside.  Of course, watching Trackside brings with it a number of challenges, but that’s a whole other blog topic!

Anyway, before dragging myself (reluctantly) to Te Rapa I first headed to the hairdressers for a little bit of pampering.  Conversation with one of the young girls working led to what “plans” I had for the remainder of the day and I ‘fessed up that I was going racing.

I am always intrigued when bringing up the topic of racing as to what the reaction is going to be. Given I was in the Tron I was half expecting she might think it was some form of motor racing which was going to grab my attention.  But not this smart cookie.  She was stunned to discover that racing at Te Rapa was a fairly regular occurrence and thought it was only held “on special occasions.”

She was fascinated too, to discover that in the winter, racing could also include jumping races. We chatted about her last experience racing at Te Rapa – a Christmas at the Races event – where she went with workmates and had a fabulous day.

She told me about her boss dividing them into three teams with each team aiming to see who could get the best result from their $50 betting fund.  Despite the two other teams having among their number someone with racing knowledge, it was her team of newbies who ran out the winners.  She raved about the fun, the colour and the fact it was a really memorable day which she wouldn’t mind repeating if she knew when the races were being held!

The upshot being, she was pretty much a racing convert ripe for the picking and, somehow we (the racing industry) failed to capitalise on that.

I know from past committee involvement that the Racing Board has employed people to maraud the course at the Festival of Summer racing events and extract email contact details. Does this not happen at the Christmas at the Races functions?  Are we missing a trick?

Lord knows, it is hard enough to convince people of the fun which can be had during a day at the races.  But why, when we have them there and they are obviously having a good time have we not found some way to connect with them so we can let them know about future events?

It also demonstrates how far off the radar racing events are when it comes to connecting with millennials and the like.  Old school advertising might remind your old school clients that an event is forthcoming but even they are relying on different forms of media when it comes to getting information.

Clubs shouldn’t kid themselves that Facebook is the way forward either. Most of the millennials I know have abandoned Facebook to their midster parents and prefer the hashtag-laden environment of Instagram.

Instead of sitting back and congratulating themselves on “embracing” social media, racing clubs and indeed the Racing Board, should be looking forward – maybe aligning themselves with, or even creating, an event app which gives the industry a new profile.

Of course, we still have a heap of work to do to ensure the events they turn up to, outside of those Racing Board promoted “occasion” race days, measure up to the expectations established there. Uphill battle?

Why is the TAB giving me “free” money?

Over the past month, I have received five random text messages from the TAB, each bearing the news that they are gifting my account the grand sum of $5 available – like the very best headline act – one day only!

I fluctuate from being peeved that they think I can be bought for a mere $5 (I can) and irritated at the seeming scatter-gun approach of their “marketing”.  

The $5 appears in my account carrying the following notification – “Prize – Marketing – sport” – which I guess means the funds are coming out of the sports betting marketing fund, but then again maybe not.

They – the TAB marketing people – obviously operate from the “small fish are sweet” school and I have decided to embrace the idea and join them there.

Generally I am a weekend punter, unless there is a specific horse racing midweek that I want to back (that would be a slow one I am involved in the ownership of and feel obliged to encourage it).

The marketing chap at the TAB I spoke to about this $5 phenomenon – what, you thought I’d just rant without getting some details?! – was a little vague on the detail around it.

How do they decide who is going to be the beneficiary of the “free” $5? Apparently, there are

“All types of different criteria” and there are “so many running at any one time.”

He claimed the idea was to “make people more aware of a racing day, and get them to have a look”.

To be fair he did sound pretty young – and pretty vague. Anyway, he’s a marketing person and obviously, marketing is his thing, even if understanding his customers isn’t.

The main reason these $5 “gifts” had been intriguing me was the fact that my younger son was also enjoying the TAB’s largesse $5 at a time. The only difference being, his were valid for four days.

According to our man at the TAB this might have been due to the fact he predominantly bets on sports.

If that is the case then people betting on sports are seen by the TAB as to be clever enough to know which sport they want to bet on and are given the opportunity to spend their free money on that chosen sport.  Us racing mugs though, are apparently so stupid we have to be reminded there are mid-week race meetings – Lord knows how we manage to negotiate daily life.

Anyway, Mr TAB said the $5 bets are being “picked up a bit more and is getting a good reception.”  He did get a little cagey when quizzed as to whether this might be considered encouraging the churn.

That is “not at all” the case, if anything he was somewhat defensive that someone would think giving away $5 to punt would then encourage them to bet all day.

He rather coyly admitted that if someone had a win they might carry on betting though.

The upshot of my phone call to the TAB was that I was none the wiser.

I don’t know how they select who gets the dosh; sports betting people get longer because, I can’t remember I must have zoned out then; and the $5 giveaway isn’t to encourage turnover.

So, having failed in my task to establish the whys and wherefores I am just going to keep taking the $5 and doubling it for my weekend betting. Mind you, after this I might drop off the list of recipients for free money!

How “Kiwi” is Winx? Kiwi as….

Aussies have been laying claim to Kiwi greats since day dot, if you need proof then just ask them who invented the pavlova?

In the racing world, the battle still rages over Phar Lap.  What better time then, as the latest superstar of the Australian turf, Winx, is inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, have a little dig about the part New Zealand played in her creation.

And we aren’t talking about the indisputable Kiwi origins of her trainer Chris Waller, no this is purely a breeding story.

The daughter of the Irish-bred stallion Street Cry may carry the (Aus) suffix, but take a closer look at that dam line.  Bar one slight glitch it is, as the saying goes, Kiwi as.

It is also the family of a mare whose incredible staying and weight carrying feats earned the title of the best staying mare of her era.

Warstep [pictured] these days is pretty much a footnote in history, acknowledged through the race at the Canterbury Racing Club which carries her name. But the winner of most of our notable staying races, including the 1914 Auckland Cup, was a crowd favourite.

Her trainer George Murray Aynsley recalled the mare being mobbed by racing fans who would pluck hairs from her mane and tail. Any wonder they loved her, at the time she ran in, and won, the 1915 Trentham Gold Cup the £3000 invested on her was a record for any one horse.

Given Warstep’s position as the pin-up girl of her generation, it is probably right that we start the Winx story with Warstep’s sister Stardancer.  

A daughter of the champion sire of his era Martian, Stardancer left 11 winners, including the 1920 Auckland Cup winner Starland and the good winner Limelight.  The winner of 12 races, Limelight also went on to feature as the grand dam of Nereid, the dam of 1956 Wellington Cup winner Fox Myth (by Foxbridge) and 1963 Caulfield Cup winner Sometime (by Summertime).

Another of Nereid’s offspring was Galston who later found fame as the dam of the New Zealand-bred Galilee.  The Trelawney Stud product became the first horse in history to win the Caulfield, Melbourne and Sydney Cups in one season and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.

If we skip forward a few generations, through Stardancer’s daughter Spotlight (by Nassau) and Spotlight’s daughter Silver Beam (by Silverado) we arrive at Winx’s fifth dam, the Theio mare Gay Abandon.

Bred in 1945 Gay Abandon had a lengthy career at a broodmare, leaving her first foal in 1950 and her last, a filly by Stunning named Vegas, in 1969.

It was Gay Abandon’s second foal, a colt by Gabador, foaled in 1952, that was to put her on the map as a broodmare. Racing for Sir Woolf Fisher as El Khobar he made an immediate impact on the track with two wins from his only starts at two. While taken to Australia for a three-year-old campaign, illness meant it wasn’t until the winter of 1956 that the Australians got to see what the fuss was about. El Khobar’s seven wins in Australia included the Doomben Ten Thousand and the Ascot Stakes. He went on to win races in the United States before standing at stud.

Vegas was bred in the Wairarapa by Frank Robertson, son of Charles Robertson, widely regarded as the founder of our national yearling sales. She met with little success at stud, with her first two foals, a colt and filly by Sovereign Edition, both destroyed.  She left just two live foals before dying in 1979.

The first of those live foals was the Sovereign Edition filly Vegas Street, bred by the Estate of Sir Woolf Fisher. Placed as a two-year-old in Australia, Vegas Street left two winners and the placed Ballerina Magic, the dam of Listed VRC Auckland Racing Club Handicap winner Arabian Magic.

Of course, the most notable of her offspring now is the two-time winner Vegas Magic. The daughter of Voodoo Rhythm, and as such the only Australian-glitch in Winx’s bottom line, was purchased in Melbourne by New Zealand Hall of Fame trainer Graeme Rogerson.

Once her racing days were behind her Rogerson had high hopes for Vegas Magic’s first foal Black Magic Maggie. The daughter of Westminster won three races and was Group Three placed before breaking a leg.

Vegas Showgirl, foaled in 2002 and a stakes winner of seven races was described by Rogerson as a “good, handy filly.” But there was an interesting tale behind just how the mating which resulted in Winx’s dam came about.

Rogerson had sent Vegas Magic south to Grangewilliam Stud to be covered by Batavian when they received bad news. The multiple stakes winner from the Rogerson stable had dropped dead from a heart attack while serving a mare.  The decision was made to instead send her to Batavian’s associate sire Al Akbar.

While Vegas Showgirl was sold to John Camilleri’s Fairway Thoroughbreds for $455,000 at the 2008 Magic Millions National Bloodstock Sale, Rogerson still retained some members of the family.

Two of those, Antalaga and Eagle Magic, both daughters of Duelled out of West Magic (by Westminster-Vegas Magic) will go through the same sale later this month.

Given the amount of Kiwi history around the creation of the racing wonder which is Winx, I think we can lay claim to just a little bit of credit. 

It’s a passion….

Presumably, if you are reading this you have some level of interest in horse racing, either that or you’re a sympathetic friend wanting to ensure my blogging journey is not undertaken alone.


If it is the former, have you ever considered just how the passion came about and how it has endured, while other fancies may have fallen at the first of the stand double?


I ponder it regularly.  Possibly more so lately now I am on the outside looking in and finding that somehow the industry has moved on and my skills are no longer required.  Odd really, considering I left the industry in order to gain broader experience and therefore the ability to offer so much more when I made my (triumphant) return.


The other thing I have noticed while I sit with my nose pressed up against the window is how much youth is now prized.  Having fought throughout the early part of my career against the dual handicaps of being born the “wrong” sex and being unforgivably young I find it equally exciting and desperate that neither appear to be a handbrake to career progression.


What does seem to be unforgivable now though is two-fold – age and knowledge.  Seemingly, if you are old enough to remember having actually witnessed great racing moments AS THEY HAPPENED then it is probably time you crawled off into a corner and took up residence in your rocker to count your remaining marbles.


So, probably not a good thing to talk about how incredible the atmosphere was in the back bar at Trentham that Labour weekend when the post-races crowd split down the middle in their extremely vocal support of Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star. For God’s sake don’t ‘fess up to being at Hawera – I know, why would anyone, but this was special – for that last ever time we saw WD Skelton ride.  Recalling you saw Slip Anchor when he annihilated The Derby field is probably not a memory you want to unleash. Nor the fact that you tipped out the trifecta for Empire Rose’s Melbourne Cup but didn’t take it because you were having too much fun having your photo taken with Roy Higgins at the NZ Magic Millions marquee you were hosting.


While the young ones might make like they are enjoying your trips down ancient memory lane, they are more than likely rolling their eyes at the fact you didn’t record ANY of this on Instagram – so in their eyes, it never happened.


They don’t care, they are not interested in the past. They are the future and if you don’t get out of their way they will just stomp over you.


It never used to be this way.


A million years ago when I started out as a cadet journalist, the news I would be on loan to racing meant a respite from the structure of the shipping column (don’t ask, but it did teach accuracy!) and the scraps sent my way (ie stories we couldn’t possibly stuff up….50th wedding anniversaries anyone?).  On Saturdays, I shared the press box with a legend of the racing media.  A man who held a record for the most typewriters destroyed on a single race day. He was grumpy and gruff – and retired. I should’ve been terrified but he delighted me.

He was generous with his time and his knowledge and I still consider myself lucky to have had some of my rough edges buffed thanks to his mentoring.


A few years later I was in Auckland living the dream as editor of BloodHorse magazine. As a long time adherent to the belief that racing is a heritage industry and wanting to acknowledge that history, I often interviewed trainers and breeders coming to the end of their careers. I remember being slightly stressed as I rode the ferry over to Waiheke Island – so, so far removed from the ritzy, island hideaway it is today – to interview the legend who was Clyde Conway.


I needn’t have worried, Clyde was an old school horseman and journalist with stories no one could match. He flew for the RAF in World War II and delighted in telling the stories of his many crashes and near misses. He was a joyful, generous man who immediately put me at ease telling me he “enjoyed the warmth” I brought to the stories I wrote.  I was smitten and there began a lengthy friendship which involved the swapping of books and telling of many tales.


The relationships I created with these two doyens of racing journalism not only aided my writing, it also cemented my desire to continue along the path I had chosen, despite the latent (and sometimes not so latent!) sexism encountered.


Given the road I have travelled and the assistance (and obstruction, more about that sometime in the future!) I encountered along the way I would like to think I have something to offer to those who are looking to forge a career in racing. In the roles I have filled during my ten-year hiatus from racing I have mentored plenty of young journos and seen them go on to achieve amazing feats in the “real” world.


But mentoring is out of fashion in racing. Instead, the racing/breeding marketing genius is hatched fully formed in their 20s, armed with a degree and blessed with inclusion in some industry fast-track training programme which introduces them to the industry as a fully-functioning cynic.


And cynical they are! Beyond hilarious really, given they haven’t known a time when racing governance came via the DIA; when the TAB and Racing Industry Boards were separate entities; when there was no Trackside; when we underwent the 1991 Ministerial report; when we spoke to the Select Committee on the Racing Act 2003.


Back when public breeding companies were flying racing journalists around the country and plying them with champagne as stallions were launched, the new breed was either mastering the alphabet or not even a consideration. Likewise when it all came tumbling down.


But despite their gauche and grating approach, I love that there are still young people coming through into the racing and breeding scene and remind myself it is a passion we share.

First blog post

This blog has been a long time coming. I have often thought about committing my thoughts about the good, bad and sometimes ugly I have encountered in the racing world.

Over the years the world of racing journalism in New Zealand has shrunk to be virtually non-existent.  Very few papers have a dedicated racing writer  – shout out to the fabulous Otago Daily Times, where I earned my stripes, for being one to buck the trend.

Racing stories in papers and online tend to follow a formula – they either focus on a horse/trainer/jockey’s chances in a forthcoming race or they wrap up the details of how said horse/trainer/jockey won a particular race.  The latter comes complete with the quotes those of us watching Trackside have already heard with our very own ears. So, we are left with racing reporting by numbers.

Other than the odd (and I use the word intentionally) chat room, there is nowhere for racing aficionados to discuss the highs and lows of Kiwi racing.

I will be using this blog to express my own views on what is happening in the industry and welcome your thoughts, via comments. Trolls be warned – I have been insulted by the very best in the business!