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.



What happens when the volunteers are gone?

I’ve been giving a bit of thought lately to the structure of our racing clubs and our heavy reliance on volunteers.

Having been one in three instances with clubs at various levels of the totem pole I think I am pretty well qualified to comment on what I have seen while in those positions and subsequently.

In my first committee incarnation I was not only the first female but also the youngest – by the proverbial country mile.  As things went on that theme of age was an on-going one.

Every club I was associated with was conscious of the need to attract younger members or even race attendees and apparently, I was the one who was going to bring those young people on board.

While I had friends who were happy to commit to a day at the races, asking them to devote time – usually on a work day – to sweeping out tote buildings and doing other cleaning up in preparation for a race day, or even spending a couple of hours one evening a month at a committee meeting and they ran for the hills.

I understood totally.  In the end my decision to stand down from the committee of the second club I was involved with (after around six years) came down to the fact my service to the club was eating into my holiday leave and time spent with my kids.  Three of the club’s race days fell on weekdays which meant each one required me to take three day’s leave for clean-up prior and post race day and the race day itself.  The majority of our committee was either retired or self-employed and it was easy to see why.

So, fast-forward to the present and it came as no surprise to me that regional meetings of racing clubs I have attended over the past couple of months provided a sea of grey-heads.  The younger brigade was virtually invisible and while I can understand that I do wonder why the ones I hear about aren’t making their voices heard.

I hear rumblings about young racing people wanting to have a say and make an impact, yet they are letting the ideal opportunity to do that pass them by.

How, you ask?  Well, quite simple really.  Clubs are always saying they are desperate for younger committee members, their bright new ideas and the new racegoers they can provide.  Most clubs seem to have problems finding people wanting to put themselves forward for positions on committees.  Given that, it is not like they would have to serve the lengthy apprenticeship as a long-term member which was normally required by those who came before them.

If you want change things, then get involved and drive the change from within.  I know it’s difficult and I know it requires a time commitment, but I know from experience that it is do-able.

One thing I ask of those who might be considering getting involved with a racing club committee is that they thoroughly acquaint themselves with the structure of the industry and specifically how the funding flows.

There is a glaring need on many club committees for people with a clear understanding of where the money comes from.  A proliferation of volunteers seems to think that because they don’t get paid then their particular club doesn’t cost the industry anything.  The concept of just where the money that keeps the show on the road seems to have totally bypassed them.

Without the younger brigade stepping up and taking up the challenge I see the volunteer structure of our clubs lasting five to 10 years at the most.  While I understand those clubs who felt their futures were threatened following the release of the Messara report and this year’s NZTR Venue Plan consultation document, I do wonder who they are expecting to be running their club in five to 10 years’ time.

Perhaps rather than clinging onto their past and rigidly refusing to examine an alternative future, they need to look at their own succession plans and determine whether their club actually has a future.

After all, what will it mean if a club wins the battle to race at its traditional venue if there is no one left to volunteer?




A reminder of what drew me to racing

Watching Saturday’s racing from Trentham I was reminded of what it was that first got me hooked.

There were some great moments from the champagne turf last weekend, as befitting a premier race meeting.

There was Emily Margaret toughing it out to dominate the boys in the Group Two Norwood Family Wellington Guineas in the closest of photo-finishes.  That was a win made even more significant with her owners, Rodger and Emily Finlay, donating their winnings to the repair of the Canterbury mosques.

The Roger James-Robert Wellwood trained Concert Hall lived up to her favouritism as she stormed to victory in the Wentwood Grange Cuddle Stakes (Gr 3) and added to her sire Savabeel’s ever-expanding roster of Group performers.

Volks Lightning added another black type win to her earlier Group Three victory in the Sweynesse Stakes when taking out the Lightning Stakes.  The six-year-old mare has been a consistent performer in our top sprints over her career and few would have begrudged her that win.

The day’s feature race also provided plenty of opportunities for those looking at the Al Basti Equiworld Dubai New Zealand Oaks to generate media opportunities.  The Group One fillies feature maintained the female theme with the two Lisas – Latta and Allpress – combining in a sterling win with Sentimental Miss.

That was one angle.  Adding to this it was the first (and well-deserved) Group One for Westbury Stud stallion Reliable Man; the win also contributed to the on-going success which is Albert Bosma’s Go Racing; and there was the added fact that one of the Go Racing syndicate members just happened to be a former jockey and trainer of some note.  Former Fairfax journalist Tim Barton has written a great piece on part-owner Merv Andrews which you can read here.

That lot on its own would have added up to a fairly sensational race day however, it was in an earlier race where I was transported back to my formative racing memories.

Race three on the card was the Yealand Family New Zealand St Leger over 2600m.  After 120 runnings of the race, which was initially for three-year-olds and later extended to include four-year-olds, was opened to older horses this season.  That left the way open for the evergreen stayer Sampson, at the grand age of nine, to take his place in the field.

A little bit of history – the St Leger, that is the English original, is the oldest of the five classic races and, as the final leg of the English triple crown remains restricted to three-year-olds.  Other iterations such as the Irish St Leger, the Prix Royal-Oak in France and the Deutsches St Leger are no longer restricted to three-year-olds.  In fact three-time Melbourne Cup runner Vinnie Roe made the Irish St Leger his race, winning it from 2001-2004.  Just for good measure he also took out the Prix Royal-Oak in 2001.

So back to the New Zealand version on Saturday.  With 1400m left to travel the brakes had gone on up front and tactics came into play.  Johnathan Parkes on Sampson took the initiative and sent the big, bold gelding forward and from the 1200m had the field at his mercy.

What transpired was a breath-taking staying performance which the crowd at Trentham obviously appreciated.  While Parkes rode the length of the not-inconsiderable Trentham straight craning his neck as he looked for potential challengers, Sampson romped away to an effortless eight-length win.

Watching online two things were evident – Sampson was having a blast, and the crowd was loving it aided by a Tony Lee race call to match the occasion.

It epitomised everything I love about horse racing.  A horse at the top of his game, maybe not the “name” horse of the day but doing what he is bred to do and doing it in style.

Sampson on Saturday reminded me of the horses of my youth – the ones which might not have made the headlines but the ones through their exuberance and joy in competing captured my imagination and led me on this life-long journey.

As the oldest St Leger winner in the world, Sampson now has a special place in history and perhaps his effort on Saturday managed to attract a few more life-long devotees to racing.