1995 Pacers Series
In late December at the very time when Addington curator Charlie Anderson was personally carrying out the planting of 520 dozen flowers that from experience he knew would be in full and colourful bloom for the carnivals opening on March 3, Australias chances of even proving competitive at this carnival were looking rather grim. Injury had drastically sidelined all but one of the nations proven pacing stars. And it seemed like years since our line-up of classy trotters had looked so depleted.
Despite being off the scene for so long, early comments emanating from the Franco Ice NZ camp suggested this gelding might be ready to resume its career with a trip to Christchurch. But time was running out in December for what had surely become one of the most controversial horses of modern times. Desperately unlucky when
third in the 1991 Auckland Grand Final, Franco ice NZ had been sold to Australia for big money. When the gelding had won races on the Grand Circuit, his connections were confident their horse was poised to become the best in the land. Injuries prevented the opportunities for this step to be taken, rather than any shortage of ability on the part of the horse.
In years to come though it may not be his ability that Franco Ice NZ is best remembered for, but rather the behind the scene discord that existed between owners, with this son of Bo Scots Blue Chip USA having more trainers in two years in Australia than any other well known standardbred. Franco Ice NZ had undergone operations on both fore tendons and a hind fetlock bone chip. Because of his undoubted class, a trip to Christchurch had been planned for the horse, but in December, this was seemingly more wishful thinking than a reality.
It had been another Kiwi bred pacer that had claimed the crown "King" of the Australian pacers when Jack Morris NZ ascended the throne. But his reign was to be all too short, with a tendon injury hastening his exit from the scene on the eve of the horse defending his Inter Dominion title at Harold Park. Unlike the connections of Franco Ice NZ being forced to abort several attempts trying in vain to bring their horse back to racing, it was decided to give Jack Morris NZ time to recover.
At a time when the latest Grand Circuit was opening in Queensland, Jack Morris NZ was being sent across to the Victorian stables of Andrew Peace for the express purpose of being brought up slowly for a tilt at the Christchurch Inter Dominion. Late in December it was obvious these plans would have to be scrapped because the horse needed more time, and thoughts of his return to racing had to be put on a back burner.
When Chandon had come out of the west to stake his claim of possessing the stuff champions are made of in winning the first two Grand Circuit races in the way only great horses can do, it seemed only natural for racegoers to assume that here was the horse likely to serve it right up to those Kiwis. Of course, there did seem a possibility of Chandon not being seen at his brilliant best racing in four tough races in just two weeks. This line of thinking would never be tested, as the young stallion broke down badly in November, never to race again.
Then there was Warrior Khan, second in the 1993 Brisbane Inter Dominion behind Jack Morris NZ. A year later he had accounted for Blossom Lady NZ and Christopher Vance NZ in the opening round of the 1995 Sydney Inter Dominion. He went to be fourth highest on the points table for the Grand Final, only to have an interrupted passage in that race, preventing the Andrew Peace trained pacer finishing closer than sixth. He too was to be injured, and though it was the hope of the connections to have him ready for the trip to Christchurch, these plans also had to be shelved in December. This further depleted the hopes of Australia doing well on New Zealands home ground.
When it comes to any test of ability on a racetrack, class is what sets the stars apart from the handy performers. It expresses itself as speed, stamina and the ability to find that little extra when under pressure. Among environmental influences, which can assist or hinder class to be brought to the surface are nutrition, illness and injury, the variable wisdom of trainers, veterinarians and drivers. To demonstrate class in a single event is one thing. To be asked to repeat the effort three further occasions in a fortnight takes a special kind of class. This is what sets the Inter Dominion apart from other Grand Circuit events.
There are horses of considerable class whose speed can match it with the best when set for any one race. But it can be another matter over four hard fought races in so short a period. Pressed to the farthest limits of both speed and endurance, for a horse to come through it needs class and the assistance of a horseman who can help keep the animal injury free in this arduous campaign. A horse cannot communicate in words with its trainer should all not feel right, and it takes a keen and knowing eye for groom and trainer to play their part assisting the animal to remain sound in earning sufficient points to make it into the Grand Final.
A problem facing most hosting clubs of Inter Dominion Carnivals is the increasing difficulties securing major sponsorship. Gone are the days when cigarette companies are allowed to climb aboard, and the usually lucrative beer business seem to think it is no longer suited by an event that each year has to jump state and even national boundaries. So the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club at Addington went with the idea of using different sponsors for each race on its four meetings that went to make the "Battle of the Stars" Carnival.
Heading the depleted list of Australias nine pacing representatives was the Victorian Golden Reign, already the winner of six Group 1 races, picking up the Grand Circuit Championship on the way. The other eight Aussie acceptors were more than handy pacers. Whether they had the class to be rated along the best in New Zealand was open to question.
Also from Victoria was the ageing Sinbad Bay and Innocent Flight NZ. New South Wales would be represented by Weona Warrior, Young Mister Charles NZ and Tallowood Pursuit, and from Western Australia were Norms Daughter, Valley Champ and Southern Knight. Weona Warrior was the defending champion having been a surprise winner on his home track of Harold Park.
However, he had not won a race since, and it was stretching the imagination to imagine he or any of the other eight being in the same class as Golden Reign. And while the latter had handled Chokin NZ in the Victoria Cup, the following week he had been beaten by Blossom Lady NZ in the A.G. Hunter Cup. This provided some food for thought on how he might perform on New Zealand soil.
Australians could be forgiven believing there were two Chokins. On what they had seen from this son of Vance Hanover on visits to Australia, he had a habit now and then of failing to deliver the goods. In a total of 16 starts in Australia, he had won just seven of these with three seconds and one third. Yet, on New Zealand tracks his record was simply awesome. Until his effort in the New Zealand Cup in November, Chokin NZ had never been beaten around the spacious Addington track in eight starts there.
Chokin NZ had won 26 of his 39 New Zealand starts, taking his total earnings to $1,696,060. In one of his two Miracle Mile wins he had scooted around Harold Park in 1:56.2. Most of his appearances at home had been over staying trips, but back in 1991 he had won a mile at Franklin in 1:56.5. There may have been a few New Zealanders bold enough to have entertained thoughts that four hard races in two weeks might be his "Achilles heel", but in the main, Chokin NZ had an army of supporters who thought his class would leave his rivals lamenting at Addington that March. Among them was trainer Barry Purdon. His Auckland stable had taken eight pacers to the Inter Dominion, with Purdon rating Chokin NZ the best of the eight.
As the visitors began arriving for the "Battle of the Stars", Centrebets market on the Grand Final for Kiwi punters was a very much different to that being offered by bookmakers to their clients back in Australia. (Centrebet was an operation based in Alice Springs created for the purpose of accepting phone betting from known clients. With no registered bookmakers in New Zealand, Centrebet had established a good clientele among many Kiwi punters keen to test their early opinions on the likely outcome of the Grand Final).
Centrebet on February 28 listed Master Musician NZ the 4/1 favourite, from Victor Supreme NZ 5/1, and Chokin NZ and Bee Bee Cee NZ each 6/1 hopes. Golden Reign (a 7/2 favourite with most Australian bookmakers) was rated a 8/1 chance with New Zealanders. However, the South Island trotting writers viewed things a little differently again to the Centrebet market.
While they gave their local hopes Bee Bee Cee NZ, Blossom Lady NZ and Master Musician NZ good chances, these usually well informed writers viewed the Championship as a clash between Chokin NZ, the improving mare Victor Supreme NZ, and the visiting Golden Reign. If Christchurch officials thought of adding a little theatre by delaying the clashing of Chokin NZ and Golden Reign until late in the series, they threw this script out the window when making the barrier draw for the opening round of heats. Chokin NZ and Golden Reign were drawn to meet on opening night in the last of the three heats.
As the morning of March 3 dawned, New Zealand newspapers carried the story of a big move in pre-post betting for Chokin NZ. Gerard Daffy, a spokesman for Centrebet (formerly associated in Melbourne with bookmaker Garry Walsh) reported they had taken a "stack of money for Chokin NZ. All of it has come from New Zealand, including single investments by Kiwis for $A3,000 and $A2,000." Daffy reported the move for this horse was so strong they had to shorten Chokin NZs price for the Grand Final from 7/1 to 4/1. "We havent had much support for Golden Reign or Bee Bee Cee NZ, but several other New Zealand horses have been well backed by the Kiwis," He reported.
The bonny mare Blossom Lady NZ drew first blood in the opening heat beating New Zealand Cup winner Bee Bee Cee NZ and Koau King NZ over 2000 metres. It was generally conceded Blossom Lady NZ was at her best over longer distances, but in making her fifth appearance at an Inter Dominion, Blossom Lady NZ had commanded a lot of support from around Christchurch where she had long been a real favourite of local crowds, being accepted there as their own since transferring from the North Island to the stables of Derek Jones. The mare had started second favourite in the opening heat behind Bee Bee Cee NZ.
This race to open proceedings did nothing to throw much light on Grand Final chances, unless it was to confirm the unplaced horses had little chance of playing a prominent role during the carnival. Connections of Bee Bee Cee NZ had freshened this horse up following its brief trip to Sydney for the Miracle Mile when second to Chokin NZ. He was one pacer expected to improve with racing over the next fortnight.
Heat 1 - 2000m: Blossom Lady NZ (Anthony Butt) 1, Bee Bee Cee NZ (John Curtin) 2, Koau King NZ (J Hay) 3. MR: 1:58.9
Master Musician NZ had been bred in the district (by an Australian) and had been trained throughout its distinguished career by district horseman Robert Dunn at Broadfield, who raced the horse in partnership with local businessman Ken McDonald and the latters Auckland associate Eugene Storch. (McDonalds brother Terry, one of the South Islands most spectacular punters, had recently developed a model training establishment just outside Christchurch, reputed to be the best in the country, but this establishment would play little part in this Inter Dominion). Master Musician NZ never lacked for strong support, and this seven year old gelding son of New York Motoring was again strongly backed to win the second heat, along with Victor Supreme NZ from the North Islands much respected Wolfenden stable.
Punters were almost spot on. Sydneys Young Mister Charles NZ prevented Victor Supreme NZ making into second place to form the quinella with Master Musician NZ. The latter, so often the bridesmaid in major races, had opened his Inter campaign impressively. For the second time in the two qualifying heats, an all conquering Purdon stable had failed to return a dividend for punters. This was expected to change in the third and final heat of opening night, with the highly fancied Chokin NZ making its Carnival debut.
Heat 2 - 2000m: Master Musician NZ (Robert Dunn) 1, Young Mister Charles NZ (Dennis Wilson) 2, Victor Supreme NZ (Glen Wolfenden) 3. MR: 1:58.1.
When Tony Herlihy dashed Chokin NZ to the lead and could dictate his own terms, his many local supporters would have been delighted. Surely no horse could come from behind to beat this son of Vance Hanover around the spacious Addington track. Even when Chris Alford came charging forward with Golden Reign after having used up a little petrol by being forced very wide, thoughts of Chokin NZ having its colours lowered could hardly be entertained. But in the drive to the line Golden Reign stunned the locals and delighted Australians by edging ahead of Chokin NZ to win by a head.
Heat 3 - 2000m: Golden Reign (Chris Alford) 1, Chokin NZ (Tony Herlihy) 2, Desperate Comment NZ (Peter Jones) 3. MR: 1:57.3
New Zealanders are usually quick to respect a top horse, and following the impressive winning effort of Golden Reign on opening night, they were not backward in acknowledging this horse had turned in the outstanding effort of the first round of heats. However, among the widespread praise for the Victorian horse in the Christchurch media was a note of criticism towards its trainer having elected to remain in Australia, entrusting this five year old stallion to Jayne Davies on such an important crossing of the Tasman.
Noel Alexander had long operated with a short fuse, and woe-be-tide anyone who might criticise a horse from his stable, or for that matter, one of the staff of nine (and reinsman Chris Alford) that it takes to keep the stable functional. When word reached the trainer that some Kiwis found it curious he would remain home and allow Jayne Davies to be in charge of the champion in New Zealand, he was quick to respond.
"Jayne Davies is the boss around our stables, make no mistake about that. While I might look to be the stable frontman to the general public, they need only spend a morning down at our stables to see who it is who runs the show." In defending the decision to remain at home at Cranbourne, Alexander was placing on record the input of this remarkable woman. "Golden Reign is Jaynes property, having done most of the work with him."
The bond between Alexander and this 35 year old horsewoman who shuns publicity like the plague, is a special one that has endured its share of lows and highs. She had first served her apprenticeship with one of the best possible teachers, the highly successful horseman "Darkie" Wilson. Even as a young teenager she had ridden her pony to the Wilson stable before and after school just to be around standardbreds. On leaving school and to appease her parents she had tried her hand at hairdressing. But her heart was never in it, and Jayne left to work full time for Wilson.
That 10 year apprenticeship taught her a lot. After Wilson had been left a paraplegic following an accident at the Melbourne Showgrounds, Jayne Davies spent several months with Epsom thoroughbred trainer Arthur Clarke (father of jockeys Michael and Gary) before going back into harness racing hoping to attract owners to her new stable. After two frustrating years struggling to find owners, she accepted an offer from Alexander to join his operation. At least it did have owners - but of horses virtually worthy of racing only in the nearby country circuit of Gippsland.
They say that the school of experience offers no free scholarships and that one must suffer the painful lessons of loss before becoming a winner. If so, then Alexander had endured much pain as the horses he trained had simply lacked the ability to win their way into better class. Before long a somewhat disillusioned trainer sold his property in Ballarto Road Cranbourne and transferred the stable to Kilmore, hoping a change of scenery might change their luck. But with the clients they did have coming mainly from the Cranbourne area, it was only a matter of time before realisation hit home that they were going nowhere. Moving back to the district they knew so well, Alexander and Davies purchased 27 acres and set about building a house and stables.
The late 1980s were a difficult period for most people who had borrowed from the banks, as interest rates skyrocketed, blowing out the extent of their loans. Facing increasingly tough times, Alexander went back to driving trucks for a time to help ends meet, working some days up to 14 hour shifts. Jayne Davies channelled her efforts into long hours training the horses, including a newcomer to the stable, Remo Gold, the first of the horses the Alexander stable prepared for partners Don Collins and John McLeish. Alexanders ill fortunes were about to change dramatically, as these two owners provided the stable with several further pacers that could win handy races. Then came the horse that was to dramatically thrust Noel Alexander into the big time - a colt Collins and McLeish named Golden Reign.
The turnaround in fortune for the stable in only a matter of months was nothing short of remarkable. With Noel Alexander educating the colts and fillies that were then passed on to Jayne Davies to put the polish on for their racing careers, and a youthful Chris Alford becoming their driver; the trickle of winners from the stable became a flood. Before long other owners suddenly were finding it to be fashionable sending a horse to Alexander. Within two years such giants among Australias most influential owners as Perths Mick Lombardo and Pacers Australia (owners of Chokin NZ etc.) were sending horses to the team of Alexander, Davies and Alford.
Because of continued efforts by Jayne Davies to shun the limelight, it was not surprising New Zealanders might wonder why the colourful Alexander had not accompanied the stallion to Christchurch himself. He had insisted it was time for his partner to share in some of the triumphs with the horse that had done so much to improve life for them. After all the pair had gone through in their battle to become a highly successful partnership to have anyone now dare question whether Davies would be equal to the task in looking after the horse all Australians were pinning their hopes on, was pulling out the pin on Alexanders patience and his temper.
Racing on the second night moved up in distance to 2600 metres. Centrebets pre-post market published in Christchurch that morning suggested the first heat of the night was a two-horse affair, with Bee Bee Cee NZ and Chokin NZ both extremely tight odds, with Montana Vance NZ the only other runner in single figures. When Sydney reinsman Dennis Wilson took Young Mister Charles NZ onto the track to start from barrier 10, he took along for the ride with him the glorious uncertainty of horse racing. Chokin NZ and Bee Bee Cee NZ did have a hard fought battle to the line, but both were astern of surprise winner Young Mister Charles NZ at the post.
Wilson had good reason to be overcome with emotion after the race. he had been the trainer of this horse in 1992 when it had beaten Golden Reign by a nose in the New South Wales Derby. Later he lost the horse when connections transferred it to another stable. It had only been returned to Wilson six weeks prior to the Inter Dominion for him to campaign in Christchurch. "Ive won a lot of races, but personally for me, with this horse, is a real highlight," he said, brushing a tear from his eye. "They will have to carry me off the track if he happens to win the Grand Final," the charismatic Wilson predicted.
Chokin NZ had turned in another sound effort, pacing his last half in 55.6 seconds. Bee Bee Cee NZ was picking up points for his inclusion in the Grand Final, though the horse had not fought on as well as his supporters would have expected. Norms Daughter, Montana Vance NZ and Weona Warrior would each need to improve considerably on their latest efforts if they were to play a significant role in deciding the Championship.
Heat 4 - 2600m: Young Mister Charles NZ (Dennis Wilson) 1, Chokin NZ (Tony Herlihy) 2, Bee Bee Cee NZ (John Curtin) 3. MR: 2:00.7
Golden Reign looked the goods in the following heat, with Victor Supreme NZ tipped to be his only real danger. There was to be a sensation on the home turn when Sinbad Bay broke a hopple and crowded Burlington Bertie NZ, checking that horse and sending it back onto the favourite knocking Golden Reign out of the event. Meanwhile, Victor Supreme NZ, which had earlier swept past the early leader, Sinbad Bay, was never in any real danger of losing up the home straight, going on to beat Lento NZ and Nippon Home NZ in a tight finish.
Heat 5 - 2600m: Victor Supreme NZ (Glen Wolfenden) 1, Lento NZ (C Barron) 2, Nippon Home NZ (Tony Herlihy) 3. MR: 2:01.0
Backers of favourites who felt a little hard done by with the interference suffered by Golden Reign, threw in on Master Musician NZ for a quick return of their money in the third and final heat that night, with old Blossom Lady NZ the only other pacer in the betting. But it was to be a dirty night for those prepared to take cramped odds as a fired up Master Musician NZ and Southern Knight set a furious pace taking the field through the first mile in 1:57.7. Master Musician NZ hung on well after his tough run to be fourth, while Southern Knight only downed tools within sight of the post.
Such suicide tactics played right into the hands of the more patiently driven Desperate Comment NZ who finished on solidly to defeat Blossom Lady NZ and Ginger Man NZ. So fast had been the early pace that the time of 3:08.5 returned a mile rate of 1:56.6, slicing almost two seconds off the previous record for the distance.
That fast pace set when Robert Dunn was not prepared to hand over the lead and risk being carted back had the other horse stopped, resulted in some quick sectional times being achieved. The final mile was put behind in 1:55.9. The Australian owned Kiwi Ginger Man NZ, which ran on solidly for third, was timed for its last mile in 1:54.7. Local trainer Cran Dalgety was extremely pleased with Desperate Comment NZs win, believing the recent rip across to Melbourne for the Grand Circuit races, though unsuccessful, had helped "make" this stayer.
Heat 6 - 2600m: Desperate Comment NZ (Peter Jones) 1, Blossom Lady NZ (Anthony Butt) 2, Ginger Man NZ (Tony Herlihy) 3. MR: 1:56.6.
This final round of heats provided several horses on the borderline with their last chance to clinch a place in the following weeks Grand Final. The gruelling series had proven too much for three of the pacers with the scratching of the Australians Sinbad Bay (sore in a tendon) and Tallowood Pursuit (an upper respiratory viral infection), and the Dunedin trained Viewfield Duke NZ withdrawn when found to be tired and lethargic.
The Purdon stable, who had dominated the New Zealand scene for some years, had still to win a heat with any of its eight starters. The first of these final heats provided the Purdons with their best chance when Chokin NZ drew gate three in what appeared to be the easier of the three heats. As expected, Chokin NZ cruised to the front after Brian Hancock had briefly led with Weona Warrior, and easily shrugged off a challenge from Prince Rashad NZ in the last lap to win unextended on a track made somewhat slushy from rain which had deluged Addington on the night.
The Australians Weona Warrior and Southern Knight filled the placings. The latter was driven back in the field, vastly different tactics from its gut busting effort in the previous round of heats when its driver had taken on Master Musician NZ.
Heat 7 - 2000m: Chokin NZ (Tony Herlihy) 1, Weona Warrior (Brian Hancock) 2, Southern Knight (Dudley Anderson) 3. MR: 1:58.8.
Golden Reign, needing to finish in the first four to clinch a place in the Grand Final, had obviously taken no harm from the interference earlier in the week. He characteristically powered home with a last stride win in the second heat raced in torrential rain. Just as Chris Alford had done on opening night, Golden Reign moved around the field to be "parked" outside leader Bee Bee Cee NZ in the final lap, and proved too strong in the closing stages for the New Zealand Cup winner. Master Musician NZ was becoming a professional placegetter in these races, this time claiming third.
Heat 8 - 2000m: Golden Reign (Chris Alford) 1, Bee Bee Cee NZ (John Curtin) 2, Master Musician NZ (Robert Dunn) 3. MR: 2:03.0.
In a rough house final heat to the championship, Victor Supreme NZ confirmed the opinion of many North Islanders that this mare would go from strength to strength in the series when she won the race over outsiders Star Of Utopia NZ and Talk About Me NZ.
Stewards immediately inquired into interference which had taken place 600 metres from home when Glen Wolfenden had taken his mare to a front position and then appeared to take hold of Victor Supreme NZ, resulting in the trailing runners having to be suddenly restrained.
Wolfenden was the son of the all-time great New Zealand horseman Peter Wolfenden who had won an Inter Dominion with Cardigan Bay and was the trainer of Victor Supreme NZ. Glen Wolfenden expressed surprise that an inquiry should be opened over his driving tactics. "The stipes showed me the film, and I cant believe they were still in the room," said Wolfenden, waiting for the outcome of the protest. When the "all clear" was finally signalled, Wolfenden passed a sigh of relief.
It was the second win in the heats for Victor Supreme, enabling her to finish on top of the table with 43 points, followed by Chokin 42, Bee Bee Cee 37, Master Musician 36, Golden Reign and Young Mister Charles NZ 35, Blossom Lady 32, Desperate Comment 30, Lento 29, Weona Warrior 27, Koau King 26, Nippon Home 25, Ginger Man and Christopher Vance 24, Quick Trip 23, Mark Roy and Montana Vance 21, October Atom, Prince Rashad, Windbag, Southern Knight and Star of Utopia 20, Talk About Me 18, Valley Champ 17, Light Year 16, Magic Fella 14, Tigerish and Norms Daughter 13, Burlington Bertie and Mark Craig 11, Innocent Flight and No Return 10, Viewfield Duke 7, Sinbad Bay 5 and Tallowod Pursuit 2.
Heat 9 - 2000m: Victor Supreme NZ (Glen Wolfenden) 1, Star Of Utopia NZ (Colin De Filippi) 2, Talk About Me NZ (Peter Jones) 3. MR: 2:02.8
When programming the 1995 Christchurch Inter Dominion Grand final for a Saturday afternoon, officials of the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club at Addington felt the switch to a day meeting would have benefits for the club and its patrons. After all, the previous Novembers New Zealand Cup Day meeting had brought almost 20,000 people through the gate, with on and off-course betting that day totalling $5.52 million.
Unfortunately, officials were to be greatly disappointed in the numbers to attend the Grand Final, and betting on the meeting fell well short of what had been generated on the New Zealand Cup day. The latter had been held on a public holiday - Show Day. Many of those who attended the local show had only to walk through an adjoining entrance to be at the harness racing, helping to swell the big crowd to a figure that was well out of reach of a Saturday afternoon. However, those who did attend the 1995 Grand Final, would witness a truly wonderful spectacle.
Australia was not lacking in numbers among the many visitors to Christchurch, with the Aussies being given something to shout about by Golden Reign and Young Mister Charles NZ both racing right up to their brilliant best. Even at the Inter Dominion Yearling Sales held on the Sunday following the third round of heats, there were many Australians in attendance, with some not backward in making purchases.
These included Sydney restaurateur Carlo La Rosa who parted with $40,000 for Star Event, a half brother to Anvils Star NZ by B Gs Bunny USA. Melbourne owner John Fairweather had spent $35,000 purchasing Brother In Arms NZ, a brother to Australian Pacers Derby winner Newsbreaker NZ. A Victorian was also the under bidder on the top priced lot - $65,000 for Tala Queen, the half sister of Brad Adios and Tuapeka Star.
The 12 finalists included three Australians - Golden Reign, Young Mister Charles NZ and Weona Warrior. Half the field was trained in the South Island, with just three from the North Island earning sufficient points. Seven of the 12 were five year olds, with three six year olds, one aged seven, and Blossom Lady NZ a ten year old. She was also one of three mares to have earned their place in the race. (No mare had won this event in New Zealand since 1971).
Quite often the hopes of any horse going into a major race can hinge considerably on the barrier draw. But the outcome of the draw for this Grand Final threw no real light on the final result. Connections of two of the main fancies - Victor Supreme NZ and Golden Reign - were not concerned at drawing awkwardly. The Wolfenden trained mare had in the heats started from barriers 11, 10 and 10, and would again start out of ten. Golden Reign had become almost a permanent fixture on second row draws throughout his Grand Circuit races, and had now fared even worse on this large track by drawing the gate all Kiwi connections dread - outside of the front row.
Trotting writers almost to a man responded by dropping off the Aussie pacer in their predictions of the outcome. Even one of the stallions previous biggest fans, Melbourne professional punter and respected authority Bill Hutchison, in the Christchurch press on the day of the race left the horse out of a place.
If connections of these fancies appeared unconcerned with their barrier positions, it did, however, throw up endless points of debate about how drivers would go about adopting tactics to enable their charges to be in a winning position up the home straight.
Menangle horseman Dennis Wilson believed he had a realistic chance winning with Young Mister Charles NZ after drawing barrier two. "To tell the truth, he has handled the hard racing better than I thought he would. Ive driven in four Inter Dominions, with this being the first time Ive made it into the Grand Final." Young Mister Charles NZ and fellow NSW representative Weona Warrior both had great gate speed, and from their good draws, one of the pair was expected to be the earlier leader.
Brian Hancock agreed his horse had been lucky to have made it into the race and then have Weona Warrior draw a favourable barrier. Hancock, who had twice driven the winner of a Grand Final, added that this was surely the best field in years. "I dont think the Australians at home are aware just how strong this field is, as it compares well with the 1980 Final when we had Koala King, Pure Steel, Locarno and Paleface Adios." He admitted having great respect for Master Musician NZ, Blossom Lady NZ and Golden Reign, but if given his choice of any drive in the race, it would be Chokin NZ. "Hes my type of animal. You can sit him away, then bring him out and hell go whoosh."
Most reinsmen in the Grand Final were reluctant to talk openly about the driving tactics they might adopt in the big race, though several did name Master Musician NZ from gate four as the horse to beat, with Robert Dunn having several options from having drawn favourably.
Interestingly, Master Musician NZ had been bred by an Australian - Brad McDonald, who had cut his teeth on the sport when growing up in the Mildura district. After moving to New Zealand he had married the daughter of the breeder of the smart Ted Demmler trained Impressionist NZ. McDonald came to possess a keen eye for horses which has made him a much respected agent in the horsey city where it seems just about every second person an Aussie meets there wants to try and sell them a horse. In this crowded profession, McDonald continues to be noted as a "straight shooter" by many Australian clients who had done business with him over the years.
It was interesting to learn from Jayne Davies that the Golden Reign camp had gone into the series with a small doubt that their Grand Circuit Champion just might not be suited racing four times in two weeks.
"He has come through the three heats better than we thought, and hes as fit as a fiddle," she said. Davies added how the horse had been getting out of the gate a lot better than he had done in the past. "I guess Chris has only one option from outside the front row, and that will be to pull back early, then look at making a run round the field to get handy at some stage." My Lightning Blue NZ did win the 1987 Inter on this big track from outside the second row, but Golden Reign would have his work cut out from this barrier.
When the field of 12 was despatched in the big race, it was soon obvious that Brian Hancock (Weona Warrior) and Dennis Wilson (Young Mister Charles NZ) were more interested seeking cover for their horses than becoming engaged in any battle for the lead. It was the mare Lento NZ which had the honour of taking the field through its first half mile. A five year old who had gone into the series with 10 wins from only 34 lifetime starts, Lento NZ was still at the head of affairs after a lap, with Weona Warrior on its back. Blossom Lady NZ was off and running, passing Master Musician NZ to improve her position. Victor Supreme NZ was the next to make a move, going forward out three wide. Golden Reign was still back at the rear.
With Glen Wolfenden taking Victor Supreme NZ to suit outside of Weona Warrior, with Brian Hancock still happy trailing Lento NZ, it was looking even more obvious to all that it would take a superb effort from anything back in the field to get past Wolfenden. Leaving the bell lap astern, Chris Alford made his move from the rear on Golden Reign, with Chokin NZ attempting to following the Australian stallions charge forward.
It was down the back straight passing the 600m mark that the big sensation of the 1995 Inter Dominion Championship erupted. As Alford continued his forward move out in the middle of track, he picked up and passed several horses. On overtaking Blossom Lady NZ, the veteran mare broke, severely checking Master Musician NZ and Desperate Comment NZ. It was shocking luck for Robert Dunn as his horse had been travelling sweetly at the time, looking a real danger when virtually stopped in its tracks.
Another horse doing it well was Young Mister Charles NZ, with Wilson now desperately looking for a way out from behind Victor Supreme NZ in what had become a real traffic jam with no driver prepared to give an inch on the home turn. At first he tried angling for an inside run, but that was blocked by Weona Warrior. And adding to his frustration was Golden Reign having the cheek to still be grinding away in his relentless push to reach Victor Supreme which had now forged to the front at the top of the long straight.
Just when it seemed certain to be a triumph for the Wolfenden stable, that never say die spirit of Golden Reign dug deep into his courage for the ultimate effort, and the son of Whats Next grabbed the lead and the title virtually on the line. He was truly a champion horse in beating a gallant Victor Supreme NZ by a short neck, with a fast finishing and perhaps unlucky Young Mister Charles NZ grabbing third.
As these placegetters were being reined in by drivers in the back straight with Glen Wolfenden and Dennis Wilson quick to offer congratulations to Chris Alford, an angry Anthony Butt and Blossom Lady NZ were the first to return - Butt making his intentions clear to stewards that he wished to lodge a protest, claiming his horse had suffered interference from Golden Reign when the winner was making its run down the back. Blossom Lady NZ had indeed galloped at this spot, only metres from where the previous week she had broken and galloped in one of her heats.
Among the crowd who had watched the race was Noel Alexander, who had flown in from Melbourne to be there for what he sensed would be a special occasion for the stable. Like so many in the crowd, he had seen Blossom Lady NZ make a break and gallop, without knowing the circumstances surrounding the incident.
Fearing the worst, he quickly made his way down through the crowd hoping to speak with his driver. It might have taken him seconds rather than minutes, but it was probably the most agonising few moments of his life. Locals who recognised him had their opinions as to what had happened, and it was not looking good for the Australian camp. "Everyone wanted to tell me we were in deep trouble and that Anthony Butt was convinced our horse had interfered with him, which would cost us the race," he later stated.
On reaching Alford, the trainer was told by his driver that neither he or Golden Reign were responsible for any interference the Kiwi mare might have suffered. "I didnt hear and see anything of the incident," Alford stated emphatically. While Alexander later explained this news had reassured him "as Chris Alford never told lies," none the less, he and the owners of the horse underwent all kinds of trauma in the following half hour.
The inquiry into the protest lasted 35 agonising minutes as one can never be sure of what decisions may go against you in another country. During this lengthy hearing, film of the incident was played over and over. It supported Alfords claim that he had not caused the interference to Blossom Lady NZ, though Butt remained convinced otherwise. News of the protest being dismissed was greeted wildly by enthusiastic Australians and connections of this worthy winner who had won the title with a remarkable display of courage.
While New Zealands Sunday newspapers the following day were quick to run with the stinging criticism levelled at stewards by a disappointed Anthony Butt, most trotting writers agreed that the best horse had won and it would have been an injustice had the race been taken from Golden Reign. Perhaps Noel Alexander, having now officially won the biggest race of his life, could afford being generous in interviews with the media. After the presentations had been made, he told reporters he could understand Anthony Butts disappointment, then added how he himself was feeling a little angry at the thought the controversy from the race might detract from his horses victory.
"He gave a super field a huge start - and ran them down with his customary courage." Alexander was warming to the subject. "To think how good he could be next season with all this experience under his belt. Why, its frightening," he added, his face creased in a wide smile, thinking how his horse had again been able to do just enough in a punishing finish, winning by the smallest of margins in their three New Zealand victories.
Though no match for the winner, Chokin NZ had turned in a solid effort, finishing fourth. Without doubt the unlucky runner was Master Musician NZ who got going after the severe interference to pass a number of runners up the home straight. The Kiwi trotting writers were full of praise for Golden Reign and the tough way he had come from behind in his races to win. One interesting report of the Grand Final was that penned by Tony Clifford in "The Flash", the racing paper which sponsored the big race.
"We should have known that pre-series doom merchants from across the Tasman were really putting up yet another smoke-screen going into this 1995 Inter Dominion Pacing Championship. Leading up the Series Golden Reign was considered the only realistic chance the Aussies had."
"That Golden Reign overcame all of the obstacles placed in his way in the heats and the Grand final speaks volumes for his courage and ability, as well as the outstanding judgement of his 26 year old driver Chris Alford and caretaker trainer Jayne Davies. Although shrouded in controversy, there remains little doubt in most peoples minds that Golden Reign thoroughly deserved his win at Addington."
"Our best pacers were seemingly at their peak after some sensational form in the heats, and for Golden Reign to overcome the worst possible barrier draw at Addington, then come from last on the rails with a round to go, left room for very few excuses," he wrote.
Agreeing with this review of the event was leading trainer Barry Purdon. "When you analyse it, its impossible to argue that Golden Reign did not deserve the win." Glen Wolfenden (second) and Dennis Wilson (third) were rival reinsman also generous in their praise for the winner.
Another Inter Dominion Championship had been entered into the record books. It had been a series which earlier promised little for Australia, but in the end it had produced all the drama, colour and action that we have come to know about this great annual event. And for Australia, it produced one of the great triumphs in the race on New Zealand soil.
Long after all visitors had returned to their homes came the shock announcement that second and third placegetters had returned positive swabs. This latest drama would be a long drawn out process taking months to hold inquiries and to sort through the repercussions of it all. In the finish other horses were elevated to placings in the Inter Dominion Grand Final, months after its conclusion.