Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:   Pacers 2004/2005 Season
Leg 2:   Canterbury Draught New Zealand Cup   2004/2005Results   Points
              9/11/2004  Addington, Christchurch, NZ  3200m  Standing Start  $NZ400,000
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2004 NZ Cup a repeat of 2003 edition

by Mike Grainger

This article was first published in New Zealand Harness Racing Weekly, 11th November 2004, and is reproduced here with permission.

Who would have thought that the 2004 edition of the Canterbury Draught New Zealand Trotting Cup would be carbon-copy of the 2003 one?

Not Ollie Haines, who races Just An Excuse with his wife Irene – though he was a believer.

Not Robert Mitchell, who trains the great stayer – though he never lost faith.

And not driver Todd Mitchell – though he was never more focused than he was for this.

But the reality was that Elsu played second fiddle, when the tote and the media and those who analyse these things said he would play first.

And for much of the race, he did.

David Butcher sent him to the front with two laps to run. He allowed him to run for a start, then brought him in and coddled him through the first mile in 2.07. It looked good for the hot favourite, and $2.25 didn’t look so frighteningly short.

Just An Excuse NZ

The dangers were up with him by then, Anthony Butt following up and forcing the issue with Mister D G, who had tracked up Just An Excuse and Harnetts Creek.

So picture this: with a lap to go Elsu is leading and stepping it out. Mister D G is having a tough time of it outside him, our hero has settled Just An Excuse happily on his back, and Harnetts Creek is a place behind. Of note, but nothing else, Scorching is tracking Elsu.

Maheer Lord and Young Rufus are well back, after breaking at the start, but Young Rufus runs on better than anything else.

However, the main stage is further advanced, to near the corner, where we’ll let Todd talk about it.

“When we went forward I turned around and saw Mister D G following me. I knew I’d get good cover from there.

“I pulled the hood on the turn and he just kicked. With about three-quarters of the straight to run, I thought it would be good just to run second, but halfway up the straight he got to Elsu fairly quickly.

“When I asked him to, he gathered up Elsu pretty nice. He was always nice and relaxed throughout the race.”

This last mile was run deceptively fast – in 1.54.1. Butcher could fairly have thought that nothing would slip past buzzing along at this rate, and Mitchell was surprised he did.

Has the horse felt better?

“Yes, he has. In the Ballarat Cup, he felt tremendous.”

But Todd said the victory this year was a bigger thrill than last year when he defeated Elsu and Jack Cade in 4.05.7.

“Beating Elsu was part of it,” he said.

“Everyone had pretty much dropped our horse.”

After sending his whip into the crowd on one side of the birdcage, and a cap to a ‘Lindauer Lawnian’ on the other, Todd considered what a superb track Addington was to drive on.

“I’ve had six drives in the Cup, won four, and the last three. I was just beaten by Homin Hosed in another and Facta Non Verba was my other drive.

“I’ve won two Easter Cups on the track, with Facta Non Verba and Gracious Knight.

“I’ve been pretty patient with them,” he said.

Emotional day for NZ Cup winners
Ollie Haines praises trainer’s diligence

by Mike Grainger

Cup Day was a cocktail of triumph and tragedy for Ollie and Irene Haines at Addington on Tuesday.

Minutes after watching Just An Excuse give Elsu a repeat beating in the Canterbury Draught New Zealand Cup, the Haines’s learned their good friend Graham Higgins had died in the stand nearby.

Higgins was a member of the Cambridge Harness Racing Club, President of the club from 1986 to 1989, and was part of the support team behind Just An Excuse.

Ollie, visibly shaken by the death of his old friend, took some consolation on hearing that he'd died calling out ‘Go Mitch’.

It was all part of a turbulent ride the Haines’s have had since winning the New Zealand Cup with Just An Excuse last year when he was a warm favourite.

Through one reason and another, Just An Excuse had fallen from favour, and Ollie sat on the sidelines as trainer Robert Mitchell used all his professional skills to put the jigsaw back in place.

“The time he spent on the horse was unbelievable.

“He has virtually lived with the horse for the past six weeks.

“Back and forth to vets, tooth men and farriers.

“I’m sure if he’d been in a big stable he wouldn’t be here now,” he said.

There was a chewing problem that some attention to his teeth fixed. There was a jarring up problem to his club foot that some special cushioning to his sole fixed. And then there was the abortive mission to Ashburton, which nearly unfixed their whole campaign.

“We were gutted after Ashburton,” said Haines.

“It didn’t seem fair; we wanted a rewind.

“It wasn’t the fact we didn’t win there, but the fact he didn’t take any part in it.”

But Haines didn’t lose faith in Mitchell, nor in the horse.

He chided the media for doing so.

“I don’t know why you fellas wrote him off,” he said.

Ironically, the Haines’s had been associated with the Butcher stable for 13 years, before Mitchell was given the horse after he’d been tried by Cambridge trainer, Brent Donnelly.

The Haines’s had dozens of horses at the time, but five years ago Ollie stuck to a principle and culled more than 30. One of those he couldn’t quit was My Excuse, a Smooth Fella mare and her Live Or Die colt foal.

The foal was Just An Excuse and the culling was successful, because only My Excuse and a Camtastic-Another Excuse 3-year-old remains.

Ollie still takes time to bless his Addington luck.

“I’ve only raced two horses here, and they’ve won five Group races. Just An Excuse has won two Cups and the Superstars, and Smooth Performer won the Oaks and the DB Fillies Final,” he said.

And while Todd calls Addington his second home, the Haines’s don’t mind the place either. They could, however, do without the emotion and high drama that came with their visit this time.


All Time Pacing and Trotting Records pre-2001 please refer to the Australian Harness Racing Annual.

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