That winning feeling snares a new owner

Regular readers will recall that a few weeks back I managed to tick off one of my (slightly random) bucket list items, by sponsoring a race.

What I neglected to mention in that blog-post was that I had a tiny share in a runner in said race.  In line with my grandmother’s rule of not photographing the horse before the race, I decided not to tempt fate and draw attention to the fact.

In a dream result the horse won.  Well, she didn’t just win she fulfilled the age old riding instructions of going to the front, increasing her lead and kicking away on the turn.

How often does that happen – you sponsor a race, your horse (well, one in which you share the ownership with a cast of many) lines up in it and wins?

Needless to say the presentation was memorable!

Part of my sponsorship gig included being able to invite a few guests to enjoy the day so I used it as an opportunity to catch up with number two son (purely primogeniture, not a preference thing) and his girlfriend.

Being a little more fast and loose with his money than his more careful older brother, this one actually had a TAB account.  I use the past tense intentionally. He had an account which during a short period he used regularly – predominantly betting on horses. The interest faded and once he forgot his account password he couldn’t be bothered going through the drama (when you’re in your 20s everything is a drama!) of getting that sorted.

Now both kids were brought up in the same house where, in their very early years, their mother occasionally graced the screen on Trackside.  The younger one did accompany me (while very tiny) on the occasional shoot back when Trackside did more personality pieces. Whereas for a short time the older one used to have (one-sided) conversations with George Simon whenever he appeared on screen.

As they grew older they would apologise to any friends coming over on a Saturday, telling them not to worry if their mother suddenly started yelling at the TV.

Once they were old enough they were then roped into race day tasks, such as selling race books, at the Taupo summer races. Plenty of exposure to racing then, but other than being able to read form-guides and being familiar with the odd racing term it hasn’t really stuck with either of them.

It didn’t surprise me that neither developed the same passion I have for racing.  After all, I grew up in the same household as my four siblings where our exposure to racing was considerably more hands-on.  We rode racehorses and helped out at the stables (with varying degrees of commitment) yet, only my Singapore-based brother is remotely interested in going racing and following the form.

I took actually getting number two son to the races as a major achievement.

What I hadn’t reckoned on though, was how the day would appear to him and the impact it would make.

They arrived and joined us at our table in the sponsors’ room and liked that they could venture out from the room to watch the race.  They had easy access to totes and only moderate queues. So far, so good.

Pre-race, wearing my owner’s hat, my fellow syndicate members and I took them down to the pre-race hospitality where they could get a close-up view of our pride and joy.  Then it was back to the stand and out to watch the race.

I’ve often said that if you could bottle the feeling you get when you have a winner then you would make a fortune.  That day though, I think some of it rubbed off on my boy. He witnessed the elation up-close and live.

The race aftermath was a blur as we all (including number two son) were whisked out for the photo with our winner (this time wearing two hats as sponsor and part-owner); then upstairs for a presentation like no other!

I should have had an idea of what was coming when the son began asking whether the same things happened everywhere your horse raced, were there always pre-race drinks, the post-race photo and celebrations.

Two days after the race he rang asking how he could go about getting into a horse.

So, after completing all the necessary paperwork he now shares my share in the horse which lit the ownership fire and, this weekend he will have his first runner – the fourth generation of his family to do so.

Of course, he will soon learn that it is not all champagne and celebrations!


Footnote: Like most of those involved in the industry I have been carefully perusing the papers released by Racing Minister Winston Peters the other week and I am hopeful that we will soon see some of the changes we have been wanting for so long.  Such was my optimism when the MAC report and the cabinet papers were released that I signed up for another share in another horse, I am hoping my optimism is not misplaced.



Back to the beginning with Winx

In honour of the great mare’s swansong this weekend, I thought I’d revisit one of my earliest blogposts from May 2017 where I traced Winx’s Kiwi links…..

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 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 as 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 and the dam of an absolute superstar was the result.

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.

The struggle to attract and retain sponsors is largely due to our image

Over the years I have had many conversations with people from an incredible range of businesses who had chosen, for some reason or another, to sponsor a race.

Being a nosy journalist by trade I was always intrigued as to why they decided to take the sponsorship route when it came to the marketing of their business.  As a racing club committee person, I was well aware of how hard we all worked to lure sponsors to support our meetings so that background knowledge also helped when trying to hook future sponsors.

As society changed over the years the racing industry, like a number of other sports, has had to reinvent itself to attract new sponsors.  Back in the day alcohol and cigarette sponsors were falling over themselves to have their names attached to racing events.  I have an abiding memory of one of the earliest Racing Writers’ dinners I attended where the evening’s sponsor had liberally distributed cartons – yes, cartons – of cigarettes at every table.  The night’s proceedings were conducted in that blue haze which a room full of cigarette smoke generates.  At the time I wasn’t a smoker – other than second-hand obviously, but it was easy to see why many of my colleagues were!

That cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling image is one which some potential New Zealand sponsors have found difficult to shake when they envisage the average racegoer.  Interestingly, other jurisdictions recognise that racegoers also participate in everyday life – sometimes at a high level – which is why we see prestige brands such as Longines aligning themselves with the industry.

The industry here suffers from something of a split personality in the public eye – they see us as that last bastion of smokers, consuming low-brand beers while gambling the rent money but also as high-flyers who fork out six and seven-figure sums on glossy yearlings which then race in Australia and win truckloads of money.

The perception is driven by the media.  In recent months there was a short racing segment on the Oscar Kightley hosted show Following Twain where Kightley spoke (slightly fondly I thought) of his early memories of accompanying his father to a TAB as a child, while the footage from the Hawera races lingered on the older smokers in the crowd.  Tick for reinforcing that image then.

Any racing coverage seen on our local TV news channels tends to focus on the money angle.  If they do miraculously show Winx continuing to rack up wins, or a local Group One race the emphasis is always on how much money the horse has amassed.  So, once again racing is positioned as a rich person’s sport where money is king.  Unfortunately, the personalities and back stories seldom make their way out from industry-focused online news feeds.

Given that muddled view from the outside looking in, it seems incredible that clubs do continue to attract sponsors and often build lengthy relationships which are mutually beneficial.

Sometimes clubs do have to look outside the square and consider different ways of luring sponsors into the fold and that is how I find myself this weekend ticking off a bucket-list item as a raceday sponsor.

Last year the Counties Racing Club created a Sponsors club where people were invited to pay a nominal sum and, on a specific race day, they would go into a draw to win a race sponsorship.  Well, the actual main prize was a trip to Australia, but my focus was always on winning a sponsorship!

I was somewhat excited with the outcome as was another friend whose name was also drawn out as a winner.

Where it got interesting was when my friend approached a particular charitable group with the kind offer of giving them the race name to raise awareness for their cause.  She was turned down as the organisation didn’t want to be associated with gambling.

While I can understand their moral dilemma it does demonstrate again, just how poorly racing is perceived in some sectors.

Fortunately, others understand that the racing industry, like many others, is populated by a range of people who still have the need to buy houses, drive cars, eat out at restaurants, travel and do all the other things “normal” people do.

As for my sponsorship on Sunday, I’m not selling anything, just putting out a shameless plea for more blogpost readers and using the day as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family.