Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories: Pacers 2001/2002 Season
Ron Nolan believed he may have found a solution when the trainer of a Class 5 pacer just an hour or two drive away indicated he would be prepared to work with the highly rated stayer. This suggestion also fell through. “It makes it very hard to have Yulestar ready for an open class race when he has not been near another horse in track work since May,” he explained. It was Nolan who did most of the jogging behind the horse at their farm.
“He looks great,” the part-owner stated in a phone interview with the Auckland press. His statement was made just days before the Nolans were to float the pre-post NZ Cup favourite all the way up to Auckland to contest the North Shore City Cup at Alexandra Park “It is hard to imagine our horse will be as forward as those Auckland horses who trial against each other a lot when he races them on Friday night.”
Included among those he had in mind was dual Miracle Mile winner Holmes D G NZ, winner of an open trial at Pukekohe as early as mid-September, pacing its last 2400 metres in 3:04, and the final 800 metres in a smart 57 seconds. That same day Yulestar NZ had been a lonely figure working around a wind-swept track at Hawera. “It was too windy to have tried timing him. He seemed to have worked well, but without company, it is hard to know,” explained Nolan on behalf of his wife Lorraine, the official trainer of the gelding.
Yulestar NZ would resume racing at Auckland in a 2200-metre feature. After arriving in New Zealand’s largest city with their horse, Nolan told the media the gelding was vulnerable going into that race. After the barrier draw the part-owner said he was pleased their horse had drawn barrier eight, as driver Tony Shaw might wish to seek cover from the second line, rather than employ his usual tactics of working around fields to take up the running. Both Nolan and his wife Lorraine agreed Yulestar NZ looked as good as it had the previous season when finishing a first-up third in the same race.
Shaw and Yulestar NZ had enjoyed great success since the then battling reinsman had first teamed up with the son of Cameleon USA. They had since won 14 races. It seems the reinsman believed the gelding to be reasonably forward in its preparation as he did adopt his ‘usual’ tactics, working hard off the backmark of 20 metres to finally get to the lead. It was obvious coming to the home turn that Yulestar NZ in the final lap was doing it tough. The gelding soon after ran up the white flag, tiring badly to finish sixth. The Nolans were most disappointed with the way things had panned out that night. Just how disappointed would three weeks later become a major sensation in New Zealand.
Tony Shaw did not share their disappointment. “I thought he looked fat before the race,” he told the media. “I have now suggested to the Nolans they just head home and stick the work into the gelding, and he will keep improving. With some hard racing down south (at Ashburton and then the Kaikoura Cup), he can still be at his peak for the New Zealand Cup. It is too soon to get concerned with Yulestar NZ just yet,” he suggested.
Holmes D G NZ had sprinted fast to have won its third North Shore City Cup, beating Pic Me Pocket NZ and Mikes Pal NZ. A prolific winner of Group 1 races, Holmes D G NZ the following day shortened a point to $7 in the early betting on the NZ Cup. Yulestar NZ was an easing favourite to $4.50, from Atitagain NZ ($5), with next in the market being Makati Galahad (NZ) ($9), Kyms Girl NZ ($11), Stars And Stripes NZ ($12), The Tough Nut (NZ) and Cigar NZ both $13.
As part of its program leading up to the NZ Cup, Yulestar NZ did move down to the South Island where it again failed to flatter at Ashburton, regarded as the country’s fastest track. Ashburton was less than an hour’s drive south of Christchurch and this meeting usually did play a part in helping the best known pacers tune up for the big Cup.
The following week Yulestar NZ was floated north of Christchurch for the Kaikoura Cup, a race in recent times that has been held a week before the New Zealand Cup. On this occasion the meeting was a week earlier, giving horses preparing for the big day at Addington two weeks to be ready. As luck would have it, that extra week of preparation was expected to be of help to the Nolans in having their horse primed on New Zealand Cup Day.
Yulestar NZ went no better in the Kaikoura Cup than it had the previous week at Ashburton. The big gelding again blew badly after the race. “That’s not like him,” explained driver Shaw to the media. “At both Ashburton and now Kaikoura he just flattened out when I asked him to go, which sways me to think that there might be a problem somewhere. I’m sure Ron and Lorraine will have him fit enough,” he said with puzzlement in his voice.
Within a day or two, and with the New Zealand Cup less than two weeks away, racetrack rumours began to suddenly do the rounds that Shaw had been sacked as the regular driver of Yulestar NZ. On learning of this unconfirmed report, Tony Shaw that night phoned Ron Nolan about the alleged sacking. Shaw said later that the part-owner had told him he had not been sacked.
Only days later, Canterbury’s Peter Jones asked connections of Cigar NZ to be released from that engagement, claiming he had been offered the drive on Yulestar NZ in the New Zealand Cup. This followed him driving Yulestar NZ in trackwork at Christchurch. Ian Dobson, who raced Cigar NZ and several years earlier had great success with the mighty Christian Cullen NZ, said he was not happy at losing Jones, but accepted the decision. Dobson promptly engaged Ken Barron for Cigar NZ.
Meanwhile, when approached by the New Zealand press, Tony Shaw said he had not been contacted by the Nolans about losing the drive “on the best pacer I have ever been involved with.” Shaw said he had felt “gutted” when he had heard how Peter Jones was to pilot the horse in the big race. For the record, Shaw had driven the big gelding in 19 races, winning 14 of these for more than a million dollars in earnings. Among their victories had been the A.G. Hunter Cup, Australia’s premier staying race. “I am not so disappointed in losing the drive as I am with the way that it happened. The Nolans have still not said anything to me.
“After all the good times we have been through, including successful trips to Australia, I thought they would have let me know first. They own and train the horse, so they are entitled to do what they like, but this is not the way I wanted to end my association with Yulestar NZ. To win the New Zealand Cup he will have to go under four minutes, but on his runs so far this season, I don’t think he can,” said Shaw. “Sentimentally I would like to see the horse win on Tuesday, because he has been such a great pacer to me. But I think they are pushing water up a hill with a rake,” he added.
Yulestar NZ’s trainer Lorraine Nolan was still refusing to be drawn into any discussion with the media over the ending of their involvement with Tony Shaw, preferring to concentrate on the job at hand in having their horse right for the coming Tuesday. “His form this season has been a concern, but I am much happier after his workout around Barry Nyhan’s track this week. It is the best he has worked all season.” Mrs Nolan, normally most cordial in past dealings with harness racing writers, did not wish to discuss any sectional times their horse had paced on the property that years previously had been the home of the great Lordship and numerous other stars. However, she was happy to report how it seemed Yulestar NZ was finally back on track.
Peter Jones, the new reinsman for Yulestar NZ, was a son of legendary figure Derek Jones, one of the all-time greats in New Zealand harness racing. Peter himself had enjoyed his share of success having won two New Zealand Cups, firstly driving Hands Down for his father in 1980, then in 1985 with his own horse Borana.
Yulestar NZ had not been the only big name to have flopped in the Kaikoura Cup. Defending Grand Circuit Champion Atitagain NZ had turned in a shocker for Dennis Wilson at his first public appearance on this visit. The horse had been given three trials in NSW against moderate opposition before leaving for Christchurch. The trainer at first was at a loss to explain the horse’s poor effort at Kaikoura. “If that effort had happened before we had crossed Cook Strait, I would have turned around and gone home,” said Wilson.
A day or so later Wilson said he was feeling a little better, now believing that racing on the small track had only compounded the problem of his horse having started off 20 metres. He also pointed out that perhaps going away for several weeks had led to him having had a new set of shoes put on that were a very tight fit. “We did not want to lose one along the way, and just maybe we might have taken a bit too much off the sole. He failed to fire a shot at Kaikoura, and the next day I noticed he was tender and timid. Mind you, he usually is a bit of a sook.” The following Saturday the horse improved even further to win at the Rangiora workouts.
If Atitagain NZ had been causing Wilson concern, his stable back in NSW was faring considerably better. A winning treble at Harold Park on the Friday night with Bar Ron Boy, Seelster Sam NZ and Live In Fear, had enabled Wilson to edge past Darren Hancock at the top of the training premiership. Two of these winners were driven by stable foreman Jimmy Brown. Freelance reinsman Wayne Innes had steered Seelster Sam NZ to its victory.
Holmes D G NZ is a pacer well known to Australians having won numerous races on the Grand Circuit. He had never won at two miles, having a history of being slowly away in standing starts. Trainer-driver Barry Purdon had the horse recently placed out of the draw, hoping this son of Holmes Hanover USA would be more reliable following others out. “He is a lovely natured horse to work with,” explained Purdon. “But as far as standing starts go, he just hasn’t got it. This time in he seems more relaxed and not so nervous. In all honesty, I would have to say he seems a wee bit better than what he has been in other years.” Holmes D G NZ had been beaten by just a nose when Homin Hosed NZ had won the NZ Cup a couple of years earlier, so running out two miles should not be beyond it.
A horse high in the pre-post betting virtually an unknown to Australians was Makati Galahad (NZ), an unfashionably-bred pacer purchased through a Kiwi magazine for just $1000 by Ken Dixon. The Winton farmer, educated at one of Christchurch’s best known boarding schools, had grandparents who had been keen on harness racing. Ken had first tasted Cup fever in 1996 when Whale Of A Tale NZ finished sixth to Il Vicolo NZ. He was training four horses while operating his 81 hectare sheep property.
Makati Galahad (NZ) had been blessed with ability, but the horse had been most unpredictable, often making a break and galloping for no apparent reason. One Kiwi trotting writer described the pacer as: “A suped-up horse jammed in second gear with the trainer not having the tools to fix it.” Dixon had fended off several good offers for this son of Tyler’s Best USA, rated the best hope among the pacers from down south. It would be driven by John Hay, the former No 1 driver for the late Wayne Francis.
Two other horses from the deep south in the running for a start in the big race were Annie’s Boy (NZ), second in the Kaikoura Cup to Pic Me Pockets NZ, and Eastwood Jaunty NZ. The former, a son of Sokys Atom USA, was now out of the barrier draw and might do better when asked to follow them out. The Invercargill-owned Eastwood Jaunty NZ would not make the ‘cut’ for Tuesday’s race when the field of 15 faced the starter.
In the days leading up to the NZ Cup, Doug McLachlan was all steamed up over comments made on a television program about his beloved Annie’s Boy (NZ). When interviewed by journalist Mike Grainger and asked how his horse would go on Tuesday, McLachlan pulled no punches. “I would like to see him come out in the Cup and kick arse.” The angry trainer claimed how some of the things said about the horse in that program were over the top. “People I know in Southland have phoned me, also fuming about some of the remarks that were made. Annie’s Boy (NZ) is a very under-estimated horse. I’m not scared of any of them,” declared the feisty trainer.
If McLachlan talked tough, he was just the man to have backed this up. He had earlier been a rodeo rider, reaching international recognition. He was President of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, and founder of the international federation of the same name. Before becoming a successful trainer, McLachlan had two operations for cancer – one was to replace his bottom lip, the other for bowel surgery. That he had come through both successfully underlined how he was one tough and determined fellow. His driver Jo Herbert would be the only female to drive in this Cup.
An interesting starter would be the mare Kyms Girl NZ. Dave Miller obtained her as a yearling when the original owner was in need of money, and agreed to lease her with an option to purchase. After her first two wins, the $5,000 option was taken up. Miller trained Kyms Girl NZ to win a further 11 races leading up to contesting the previous New Zealand Cup with Colin De Filippi doing the steering. This was the former driver of Courage Under Fire NZ in its juvenile days.
The mare had been lame for several days after having finished third to Yulestar NZ and Bogan Fella NZ in 2000. “I then had her checked out by the vets, who told me she had a degenerative bone disease in a foot. She obviously needed some alternative training if she was to race on.” Miller started floating her across to De Filippi’s property so she could be swim several times a week. When he finally got fed up with doing this, he asked De Filippi would he take Kyms Girl NZ for two weeks and see if she responded. “She has never come home since,” beamed Miller, “which shows you how happy she settled in there.”
Homin Hosed NZ, plagued by injuries since winning the Cup three years earlier, was back racing and was sure to have admirers on Tuesday. Mark Purdon would have two starters in the big race – Cigar NZ and Bogan Fella NZ. Pic Me Pockets NZ and old Happy Asset NZ were two others well known to Aussie fans. Flight South NZ, the outsider who had been a shock winner two seasons before, would also be in the field. But the question most asked that week was would the real Yulestar NZ stand up to be counted?
As the big day drew near, pre-post betting had taken on an almost bizarre twist. A month earlier only three horses appeared to have any winning hopes – Yulestar NZ, Atitagain NZ and Holmes D G NZ. Yulestar NZ had been racing well below its best. Atitagain NZ failed to beat a runner home in the Kaikoura Cup, while Holmes D G NZ had been looking as good as ever. Despite some believing the son of Holmes Hanover USA was not a true two-miler, others knew that if he went away well, he had the class to win at this distance. After all, what other horse racing in Australasia had won 13 Group 1 races? Firming in the pre-post betting, there seemed a real chance Holmes D G NZ might even be sent out favourite because of the question marks hanging over Atitagain NZ and Yulestar NZ.
The long history of the New Zealand Cup is dotted by all the most successful reinsmen produced in that country. After driving in the race 18 times, the name of Colin De Filippi was still missing from the winning list. Yet, he had finished second on three occasions, along with two fourths. On Cup eve he stated: “I have never driven a favourite in the race, and when I look back over those years, I don’t believe I could have done my drives any better.”
Pre-race plans so often go out the window in big races. On Cup eve, De Filippi told the media that while Kyms Girl NZ had a reputation for coming home hard at the end of her races, he had been actually thinking of taking up the lead with this staying mare if the opportunity presented itself. This plan was quickly abandoned soon after the start when De Filippi discovered in the score-up how two of the drivers on the front row gave every indication of desperately wanting the early lead. When he took hold of the mare, she drifted further back than he had planned.
Atitagain NZ had begun well and went to the early lead. As usual, Holmes D G NZ had bombed the standing start losing at least 20 metres. Flight South NZ had the trail on the back of Atitagain NZ, with both Yulestar NZ and Makati Galahad spending some petrol to ensure they settled in the first half of the field inside the first lap.
At the 1000-metre mark, Kyms Girl NZ was back in the last four. About 800 metres from home, Makati Galahad (NZ) went into a break, causing some interference to Cigar NZ, and also forcing Holmes D G NZ out wide. Barry Purdon would never ask his pacer to make such a long sustained run in a race like this, but having been pushed out wide, he had little choice in allowing the gelding to go forward, with Yulestar NZ also poised to make its challenge out wide.
Still back towards the rear was Kyms Girl NZ with plenty left in her tank. This was most definitely not one of the plans De Filippi had hoped to be using. He was later to recall how approaching the quarter pole he told himself he should try and ‘get a bit of it’ by taking off. He certainly got a lot more than ‘a bit of it.’ His mare finished stoutly up the long Addington home-straight to tug at the heart strings of many trotsgoers in beating the stayers Homin Hosed NZ and Yulestar NZ in a tight finish, with the effort taking its toll on Holmes D G NZ with it just missing a place.
It was a popular home-town victory for a family that had known its share of tragedy in recent years. Seven years earlier De Filippi had been close to death with a brain tumor. Doctors for a time feared he would not recover. It was six years to the month since the then 19-year-old son of Colin and Julie De Filippi lost his life in a car accident when returning from driving at a race meeting, ending a highly promising career.
The father had been grooming the son to become a training partner with him. He took the loss badly, soon losing interest in not only the horses, but almost everything. Then followed serious illnesses to their daughter Mandy which also placed considerable strain on the De Filippi family. However, instead of sending the horseman further into depression, it triggered the reverse. Colin snapped out of the rut he had dug for himself to stand up as the provider to his family, regaining his love and ability with horses. With Kyms Girl NZ, wife Julie shared many of the training chores.
At the presentation, it was an emotional horseman who said: “This is the moment I have worked all my career for, but it would mean so much more if Darren was here to share it. This is the race I have waited to win.” Then, thinking about the family’s brushes with death, he added: “But I have had winning races put into perspective for me. This is a special moment, because it has been a family affair,” he said, as daughter Mandy kissed her Dad with delight.
When Dave Miller had several years earlier taken up the option of purchasing Kyms Girl NZ, he had done so with two partners – Graeme Trist, headmaster at Tai Tapu School, and Bill Marra, a Christchurch mechanic and operator of a spare parts business. Their seven-year-old mare had now won 17 of her 64 starts for earnings of more than $NZ450,000.
In winning the New Zealand Cup, the mare had out-run her pedigree. The print media often had stated how she had been bred ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’. Kyms Girl NZ was from Ribbonwood Spangle (NZ) by a siring ‘cheapie’ Man Around Town USA, (a son of Towners Big Guy USA) with Kiwi John NZ having been the only previous progeny to have appeared in a race on the Grand Circuit. Delighted with the win by Kyms Girl NZ, studmaster Brent Hanna after the race stated: “It shows that anyone can breed a Cup winner, and you don’t have to spend more than $1000 on a service fee to do it. Kyms Girl NZ was one of only eight foals left by Man Around Town USA that year,” he said.
Homin Hosed NZ in finishing second had again confirmed what a grand old stayer he was, and throwing up the query as to what might have been had the horse not missed so much racing because of injuries during the past three years. Yulestar NZ had not been disgraced, suggesting at last the horse was on its way back to something like its best form. Barry Purdon would also have again been wondering would it not have been him in the winner’s circle had Holmes D G NZ not blown the start in yet another major standing start event?
The big disappointments were Atitagain NZ and Makati Galahad (NZ). John Hay reported later that when he had his pacer one-out and one-back, the horse seemed not to like having others racing so tightly around it. “It became rockier and rockier.” With a lap to go, it was up out three wide just off the leaders -- Atitagain NZ and Pic Me Pockets NZ. At about the 900m mark, Makati Galahad broke for no obvious reason, with Cigar NZ and Holmes D G NZ forced four wide to get around it. Cigar NZ finished a handy fifth, with Makati Galahad (NZ) losing a great deal of ground, coming home last.
Australian horseman Dennis Wilson was visibly shaken after the race being completely at a loss as to why Atitagain NZ had raced so far below its best. “I’m packing the bags and taking him home as soon as I can,” he told journalists. “The whole thing is still a mystery to me, as I have had him checked right over, even having him scoped, and I just cannot work out why he is racing below his best.”
Several weeks earlier, this reigning Australian ‘Horse of the Year’ had shortened in pre-race betting to be the $3 favourite when Yulestar NZ was having its problems. When it also became obvious that Atitagain NZ was not at its best, Kiwi punters dropped off with the horse actually drifting out to $22 before shortening on the day to $13. Atitagain NZ had begun well from the pole, only to give up on entering the home straight. The form slump now meant it was no good thing to be included in the select six to start in the Miracle Mile at the end of the month.
|1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit. 1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.|