2000 Trotters Series
Moonee Valley, Melbourne

2000 INTERDOM Trotting Championship Series $750,000
Heats:  22, 29 January 2000
Final:    5 February 2000

The establishment of the first Australasian Grand Circuit for trotters in the last weeks of the 20th Century was a step forward for this majestic gait.  Using the criteria of Group 1 events carrying $50,000 or more in prizemoney, it would take in 11 races, beginning with the $100,000 Dominion Handicap at Christchurch on November 19.

Melbourne’s summer carnival would play a key role in deciding the first Grand Circuit champion, as Moonee Valley would host nine of the 11 races on the circuit. The first of these would be the Dullard Cup, followed by the four heats and Grand Final of the Inter Dominion, along with the Australasian Championship and the Millenium Mile. The circuit would briefly return to New Zealand for the Rowe Cup, and then culminate back at Moonee Valley in April with the Bill Collins Trotters Mile.

Steve Warren, president of the Victorian Square Trotters Association, was loud in his praise for Council introducing a Grand Circuit for trotters. The trotting gait had long been dead and buried in several States. Then, back in 1979 Victoria formed an association pledged to promote the gait. It began lobbying administrators to include a trot on every program staged by 23 of the 26 clubs in the State.

Within four years the fading fortunes of the trotter would be turned around. Victoria remains the stronghold for this gait having almost 90 percent of trotters in Australia, but NSW and even Queensland are now following behind South Australia with some support. "Having a Grand Circuit is something that had been missing, and with NSW and now Queensland interested in the gait, the trotting ranks can only continue expanding," said a delighted Warren.

The November announcement that Melbourne officials had secured two prominent European trotters for its Inter Dominion, promised to be the biggest milestone in the history of this event since it first began at Auckland in 1948. The quality of European trotting has been outstanding. Victoria’s Knight Pistol was not the first from this part of the world to compete in recent times in Europe, but the gelding was the first to taste success when it raced there two years earlier. That visit brought new interest in trotting in Australasia with European administrators now keen to secure the best of our trotters for some of their feature events.


Lyell Creek NZ - 2000 Inter Dominion Trotting Champion

Euro Ringeat EU was an eight-year-old from France, and Storstadsbusen a nine-year-old from Sweden. Melbourne handicappers believed the French horse to be slightly the better performed, as among its wins was one on the European Grand Circuit. It was made the lone backmarker on 35m with Storstadsbusen off 25m. Within days of handicapping the field, the Swedish trotter developed a swollen leg on the very morning it was to be floated off for quarantine. It was immediately withdrawn from the series, leaving Euro Ringeat EU to make the trip alone.

As with the pacing section of InterDom 2000, there would be points scored in the usual way for the Inter heats, with two feature races providing bonus points. The winner of each qualifying heat would collect 14 points, with each horse finishing thereafter receiving in order one less point than the preceding horse. For the winner of the Dullard Cup and the Australasian Trotters Championship, they would each collect 24 points with each horse finishing thereafter receiving in order two less points than the preceding trotter. This would give placegetters in both these races a healthy advantage over rivals.

The release of the first rankings of 80 trotters for InterDom 2000 were headed by Euro Ringeat EU (35m) at No 1, from Buster Hanover NZ (30m) NZ, Special Force NZ (30m) NZ, Mountain Gold NZ (20m) NZ, Sundons Way NZ (20m) NZ, Knight Pistol (25m) Vic, Storsstadsbusen (25m) Sweden, Merinai NZ (25m) NZ, National Interest (20m) Vic, Lyell Creek NZ (10m) NZ, Noopy Kiosk (20m) Vic, Sundowner Bay NZ (10m) NZ and Pats Sun NZ (10m) Vic, Africa NZ (10m) NZ, and Miss Whiplash NZ (fr) NZ making up the top 15. The withdrawal of the Swedish horse would be followed by the scratchings of Knight Pistol and the former smart mare Merinai NZ.

The most interesting of the Kiwi trotters at this early stage were Mountain Gold NZ and the promising Lyell Creek NZ. The biggest prices spent at yearling sales are far from a reliable form of predicting future racing ability. The chances of making handsome profits with going horses are improved, but even here there seems to be so much that can go wrong before expensive purchases with good potential can win back that outlay.  When Auckland trainer Barry Purdon helped stitch up a deal for a galloping-orientated syndicate that paid out $170,000 for the then five-year-old Mountain Gold NZ, it meant this trotter needed to win some major events to recover that outlay. Heading this syndicate was the best known breeder of thoroughbreds in this part of the world. Patrick Hogan had become an internationally known studmaster having stood and owned the great thoroughbred stallions Sir Tristram and Zabeel.

Following the retirement of veteran trotting mare Pride Of Petite USA, with Buster Hanover NZ and Special Force NZ off the scene for lengthy spells, Mountain Gold NZ had become the top Kiwi trotter during 1999. Among his notches was the setting of a new national record for 2600m. The now six-year-old was not foolproof performing at its gait, often becoming excitable in the early stages of races. As a lead-up to the Dominion Handicap, the horse had raced extremely well. It was the sole backmarker handicapped off 10m, a mark many believed would not prevent Mountain Gold NZ from winning the inaugural Australasian Trotters Grand Circuit race over the staying distance of 3200m.

This trot of $100,000 would be the last of the major events at the Addington carnival in November, three days after the NZ Cup meeting. Mountain Gold NZ let his supporters down badly that day by going into a break and relegated out the back before passing a few up the home straight. With the fastest trotter in the race virtually out of business, the lightly raced Lyell Creek NZ upstaged its rivals to lead throughout, trotting slowly through the first half of the race before powering away for an impressive win. It was its 10th win from 12 starts. It was unusual for such a lightly raced horse to have picked up one of the major races on the calendar. Had Lyell Creek NZ caught out several more seasoned trotters in need of hard racing over such a marathon distance?

Leg 1 Grand Circuit: DOMINION HANDICAP (3200m) 
Lyell Creek NZ fr (Anthony Butt) 1; Sundowner Bay NZ fr (Michael De Filippi) 2; Andrew Eyre NZ (Mark Jones) 3. Others: Miss Whiplash NZ fr, Sundons Way NZ fr, Little Rock NZ fr, Africa NZ fr, Globe Trotter NZ fr, Mountain Gold NZ 10m, Kipper De NZ fr, Diedre’s Pride NZ fr, Solar Fire NZ fr. Gross time 4:14.4. Mile rate 2:07.9.

After the event, trainer Tim Butt surprised by stating he would have been just as happy not to have started in this race. "Off the front row in the Moonee Valley Inter Dominion, I believe he would be a certainty. Now he will be given a handicap. But it is hard to turn your back on a $100,000 race on your own backdoor."

The Michael Boulgaris NZ National Trot in mid-December in Auckland was not a Grand Circuit race, but it would make the picture clearer about the quality of this latest trotting ‘find’ from the South Isle. Mountain Gold NZ was probably the only name missing from the country’s top 10 or so squaregaiters that would clash in the National Trot at Auckland. It included Buster Hanover NZ and Special Force NZ, each having won an Inter Dominion Championship in the previous two years.

When Lyell Creek NZ was installed the pre-post favourite for Auckland by the TAB’s fixed odds tote betting, Christchurch trainer Tim Butt was quick to play down the status of his smart but lightly raced trotter. Having earlier stated it could win the Inter Dominion if off the front, he now told the media his horse did not deserve to be favourite in Auckland, pointing out how this would be its first start the reverse way. It would also be the first time it had raced from a mobile gate.

"The way Special Force NZ leaves the gate, I can’t see anything holding it out if they want to lead," said Butt. "While Lyell Creek NZ trialled well from behind the mobile last week in his first look at Alexander Park, we will be looking to get out of the gate safely (barrier 4) and then take things from there. Our horse should not be favourite on the fixed tote odds. I think the TAB only have him favourite because he is owned by big betting Graeme Bruton," said Butt.

This highly promising horse from Christchurch was installed the $2.50 favourite by the TAB price assessors when they opened betting, with the defending Inter Dominion champion Special Force NZ paying $3.75. Lyell Creek NZ had been racing its way through the classes in the South Island, remaining unbeaten for the season. This would be its biggest challenge yet against a field of better horses than it had seen until then, albeit that some of the big names would be in need of hard racing.

Because of their lengthy stay away from New Zealand racing, Buster Hanover NZ and Special Force NZ had virtually become the ‘forgotten’ trotters. Until their comebacks two weeks earlier at Alexander Park, Buster Hanover NZ had not raced since its Melbourne campaign almost 10 months before. Special Force NZ had also been campaigned in Melbourne, and had then gone on to contest several events in Europe before returning home to be spelled. Last Sunset NZ was another on the way back. It had enjoyed good success in Melbourne until an injury on the eve of the Victorian Trotters Derby when the pre-race favourite for this classic had cut short that campaign. With this trio having been set for the Melbourne Carnival, the TAB price assessors when framing their market, obviously believed Lyell Creek NZ recent racing had it more forward in condition that the other big trio did in the National Trot.

Few southern trotters win a feature race when making their debut the reverse way at Alexander Park, especially if it is also the first time they have started from a mobile gate in public. If trainer Tim Butt had really expected his horse to have begun slowly for safety reasons in this $100,000 trot, he obviously had failed to communicate this to his brother and driver Anthony Butt. The horse not only began quickly, it pounced on the early lead and was never headed. Lyell Creek NZ was indeed a trotter with a big future.

Meanwhile, across the Tasman in Australia, the ranks of trotters likely to match it with the best from New Zealand were indeed thin. National Interest and Noopy Kiosk had been around for awhile, but on their latest form they would find it tough racing off 20m in the Inter Dominion. Homer Hawk was another getting on in years, though he seemed to be finding a new lease of life this time in. Ted Demmler had paid big money for Pats Sun NZ some 18 months earlier, but even this performer had failed to deliver when up against the ‘big boys’.

High Riser and Lacey Truscott were promising. In this kind of company, both needed to take another big step forward to be competitive. In past years Sydney on occasions had sent down what supporters there claimed were trotters they believed could bring honour to NSW. Almost without exception, the Sydneysiders were cut down to size at Moonee Valley. So, 10 wins from the past 12 starts might have been flattering form in NSW for the mare Tamra Nightingale NZ, a speedy but rather erratic mare if she had to be pulled around in her races.

When it came time for the Melbourne media to promote the Dullard Cup (Leg 2 of the Grand Circuit, on the opening night of the Melbourne carnival), they were quick to climb aboard two horses unknown by sight to the locals – Euro Ringeat EU, and the up-and-comer Lyell Creek NZ. In the case of the former, it was not difficult to whip up interest in a gelding all the way from France. Trots goers love to see a champion, and they were now told how Lyell Creek NZ had the potential to develop into just that.

The long trip to Australia for Euro Ringeat EU was sponsored by the Victoria Harness Racing Club. The gelding would race in Melbourne with Gavin Lang wearing the club’s colours. With Lang engaged to drive the horse, owner/trainer Theo Loncke accepted the offer to stable his horse at Melton with the Langs. This would enable the unflappable Aussie horseman to become familiar with the gelding for their important assignments on the racetrack. Euro Ringeat EU had won the German Grand Circuit race, the Grosser Preis Von Bilt in Hamburg on October 10, returning a mile rate of 1:57.8. At his next start on October 30 he had finished second over 4400m with a mile rate of 2:04.

The French trotter had undergone 14 days of quarantine in England at Wolverhampton racecourse from December 4. After arriving in Victoria, it spent its first two weeks in quarantine at Sandown’s facilities for international horses. The trotter could be given some work there while in quarantine, but still would have to be well prepped to be 90 percent fit for the Dullard Cup. For this reason, connections decided to start Euro Ringeat EU at Moonee Valley on January 8 to contest a TM2 or better trot over 2540m. This race was won by Mountain Gold NZ with a mile rate of 2:06.3, with Euro Ringeat EU losing no fans with its close-up fourth. It would obviously benefit greatly with that experience behind it.

One of the problems Lang had when initially speaking with the owner/trainer about the horse was Loncke’s little knowledge of English. It took a week or two before they both seemed to know what the other was on about. Not everyone it seems found it difficult to converse with the Frenchman.

As a young businessman in Christchurch, the name of Graham Bruton had not been all that familiar to many. Neither was it so when he had tried his hand driving in a few harness racing events in the 1970s. When Bruton first dabbled at the punt there was nothing to suggest he was anything more than one among the many who liked a small flutter on the horses. With no bookmakers in New Zealand, Bruton’s involvement with the TAB began to slowly but surely develop, revealing a keen and active mind on how best to play the percentages. There are a few professional punters in Australia who have developed the ability and discipline to a stage where they can enjoy a good living from betting on harness racing, using their skills in a much different way to how those legendary gamblers of pre-TAB days matched their wits with bookmakers and whom we are told invariably finished up broke.

The reputation of Bruton as a successful punter began to grow, embellished by what people said had become almost regular collects, made all the more colourful by reports of large wins off the TAB, sometimes in excess of $200,000. To add to his growing fame, he became known as ‘Steel Balls’ with trotting writers for his fearless resolve. Journalists had come to respect the man for his frankness and his obvious flair and skill at betting on the tote. The public became enthralled by dispatches from meetings in newspapers at how the mysterious ‘Steel Balls’ had struck again. It was only later that the harness racing in New Zealand came to know the name of the Runyan-like character who had the knack of winning big. His keen eye for a horse also made him an astute buyer of the occasional pacer and trotter.

When a promising five-year-old trotter by Roydon Glen NZ from Kahlum was offered for sale at $20,000, he showed interest. Its sire was pacing bred (by the Most Happy Fella (US) horse Smooth Fella USA, sire of some 850 winners) from a Lumber Dream mare. There was trotting blood lurking in the background of Kahlum. Still, it was not the pedigree one would expect to find an extra smart trotter in the making. From three starts, Lyell Creek NZ already had one win to its name. The price did seem a little excessive, and Bruton sought a second opinion, asking Tim Butt to look at the horse. Butt was to reaffirm Bruton’s opinion that $20,000 was a little over the top. When Bruton had to make the decision, he decided to go with his gut feeling – if he and the trainer believed the horse was a $15,000 buy, then what the hell, he might as well go the $20,000.

Lyell Creek NZ arrived in Melbourne with a record of 12 wins from 14 starts, including all seven of its starts this season. The Dullard Cup would be its first race on Australian soil. It fared none too well in the barrier draw being No 12, outside the second row. The field and barriers were: 1 Mountain Gold NZ, 2 Euro Ringeat EU, 3 Poets Corner, 4 Lacey Truscott, 5 Special Force NZ, 6 Buster Hanover NZ, 7 Armbros Pride NZ, 8 National Interest. 2nd row – 9 Cool Fortune, 10 Bonspiel Tui NZ, 11 Sundons Way NZ and 12 Lyell Creek NZ.

A week out from the Dullard Cup, Kiwi horseman Dave McGowan was relishing the unexpected anonymity one would usually be associated with training the defending Inter Dominion champion. Based at Pukehohe, south of Auckland, there had been earlier times when McGowan was the first to admit he had struggled to provide a square meal for his young family. Special Force NZ would change all that. McGowan had brought this now six-year-old gelding to Melbourne on several visits where it had usually performed well. It arrived in Melbourne this time having won 18 races for stakemoney of $417,431.

In an interview with respected journalist Tony Clifford, the trainer said: "To begin with, I was a bit annoyed at how quickly people had forgotten about Special Force and what he had done last season – not just in New Zealand, but in Australia and Europe. I then wanted so badly to prove to everyone how he is the best trotter in New Zealand. But now, with a little hindsight, I think it is great for us there are horses like Lyell Creek NZ and Mountain Gold NZ around at the moment. Their presence and the high standards they are setting, have taken the focus away from Special Force NZ, easing away a lot of pressure."

McGowan said he had been shocked when his horse had met Lyell Creek NZ for the first time. This was in Auckland on December 17. "I was surprised that night when Special Force NZ could not come off the back of Lyell Creek NZ and then outsprint him. But after watching the replay and timing the sectionals, I found he had run his last 2400 metres in 2:58, the mile in 1:58. And that was after coming out of the gate in 26.8 to take the early lead. He had never gone that fast in his life. There was no reason to be disappointed, as the horse was fat inside and would improve greatly with more racing." McGowan was obviously looking to further clashes with Lyell Creek NZ.

There are some horses, which are not always advantaged when drawing the pole. One of these is Mountain Gold NZ. In the Dullard Cup, it failed to make use starting from gate 1, as no sooner had the field been dispatched, when the excitable trotter trained and driven by Barry Purdon went into a break, dropping back through the field. Special Force NZ, the reigning Inter Dominion champion and a noted fast beginner, trotted away solidly for Todd MacFarlane, crossing to the early lead. Before long Anthony Butt showed he was not prepared to sit back near the rear with Lyell Creek NZ, going forward stylishly to race outside of Special Force NZ.

While this early action was taking place, Gavin Lang was driving the French trotter the way he usually prefers to do, having it parked away off the speed. Characteristically, Lang is one of those rare horsemen who is rarely seen hammering away up front in races, time and again bringing a horse home late with a finishing burst that has him getting up only in the final stride or two. With the two Kiwi trotters eyeballing each other out in front, Lang and his gelding were waiting for the right time for the showdown with Lyell Creek NZ and Special Force NZ. The well performed Buster Hanover NZ and National Interest were back in the field, with a lot of work to do if they were to make it into the placings.

Special Force NZ had not won in four starts since resuming racing. Even though it now had the advantage of racing on the inside, Anthony Butt allowed his horse to ensure a genuine speed was maintained. The first half of the last mile was a quick 60.8 seconds. In normal circumstances this would have set the race up nicely for something coming from behind. When Butt allowed Lyell Creek NZ to surge forward and go to the front up the home straight, the only rival coming on strongly was Euro Ringeat EU. If there was any doubt about its fitness, it seemingly was about to be answered as it almost drew level with the favourite close to the line. Suddenly, the French trotter broke, losing some momentum. That the official margin was a mere half-head in favour of Lyell Creek NZ, the winning sequence for this outstanding prospect from New Zealand could have ended right there and then.

No sooner had the pair crossed the line together with the European gelding in a break, a worried Theo Loncke went in search for any official he might recognise. Back in Europe when a trotter broke like this, the horse would be instantly disqualified. He was greatly relieved when told his trotter would retain second place as the break had come so late in the race there had been no time for it to have gained ground from the incident. Euro Ringeat EU would earn 22 points towards a start in the Inter Dom Grand Final.

Both horses had been impressive. For Lyell Creek NZ having his first look at the Melbourne track, it had come from an awkward draw and had raced throughout in the ‘death’. It was also noticeable that the favourite had not been comfortable trotting around the turns at Moonee Valley. This impression did not seem a major flaw, and might well be corrected for next time with a slight adjustment to shoeing. Both trotters had met on equal terms in this mobile start. If and when they would meet in the Inter Dom heats, Euro Ringeat EU would have to give the Kiwi 25m at the handicaps.

Tim Butt told the waiting media that this opening event at the carnival for trotters had seen Lyell Creek NZ at its most vulnerable. "I have been taking it a fraction easy with him because it’s only the second time he’s been away from home, so there is a lot of improvement to be expected from him after this." Brother Anthony was also loud in his praise for the winner. "He is by far the best trotter I have ever driven. He has such a good attitude that makes him a great racehorse." The driver then acknowledged the tough competition out there. "Mountain Gold NZ might have been out of business early tonight, but he is very good. But my bloke has a big drop in handicaps on them and the French horse, which will be a big advantage during this series."

The first major trot at the Melbourne carnival had been a real thriller. But it was not a good result for Australian trotters. The New Zealanders, and the French visitor, had dominated the affair. A pacer representing New Zealand may not have won an Inter Dominion on Australian soil for 26 years, but this certainly was not the case for the squaregaiters. Even at this early stage it seemed yet another series was already threatening to see Aussie trotters ‘eating’ dust thrown up by Kiwis at Moonee Valley.

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Lyell Creek NZ (Anthony Butt) 1; Euro Ringeat EU (Gavin Lang) 2; Buster Hanover NZ (Tony Herlihy) 3. Others: Special Force NZ, Sundons Way NZ, Mountain Gold NZ, Cool Fortune NZ, Armbros Pride NZ, Poets Corner, Bonspiel Tui NZ, Lacey Truscott. Gross time 3:10.4. Mile rate 2:00.6.

The following week there would be two heats of the Inter Dom Championship of $50,000 each over 2540m from standing starts. These would be Leg 3 and Leg 4 of the Grand Circuit. Having already pocketed big points towards a start in the Grand Final, Lyell Creek NZ and Euro Ringeat EU would remain at home in their stable this night as two 14-horse fields would be vying for the points. Once again there would be little joy for the local trotters.

Leg 3: HEAT 1 INTER DOM TROT (2540m) 
Sundowner Bay NZ 10m (Mike De Filippi) 1; Sunny Action NZ fr (Mark Purdon) 2; Homer Hawk fr (Rita Burnett) 3. Others: Key Everest fr, Tamra Nightingale NZ fr, Ground Floor NZ fr , Miss Universe fr, Riegle Boy fr, Kims Fantasy fr, Just Like Jack fr, The Keystone Cop fr, Bulla Boy fr, Great And Small fr, Velvets Bee Gee fr. Gross time 3:21.1. Mile rate 2:06.9.

Leg 4: HEAT 2 INTERDOM TROT (2540m) 
Kawarau Invasion NZ fr (Tony Herlihy) 1; Miss Whiplash NZ fr (Mark Purdon) 1; Africa NZ 10m (Colin De Filippi) 3. Others: Lester Scot fr, Pats Sun NZ 10m, Chiolas Dragon NZ fr, High Riser fr, Noopy Kiosk 20m, Villa Glory fr, Gridiron NZ fr, Westland Dee Jay fr, Keystone Rule fr, Watchmewin fr, Classical Whiz NZ fr. Gross Time 3:19.9. Mile rate 2:06.6.

The win by Sundowner Bay NZ in Leg 3 was payback time for respected Kiwi horseman Mike De Filippi. He had taken this promising trotter to Melbourne the previous year expecting to share in some of the major riches, only to have his horse suffer a health problem and miss racing there. With the Inter Dominion in his sights, he had elected to pass over the trotting races at Auckland to dodge a then rampaging Lyell Creek NZ. After arriving back in Melbourne, he again passed up the chance to race in the Dullard Cup, electing to contest the heats. Winning this race gave them some much needed points. But he could no longer expect to dodge Lyell Creek NZ, and they would clash in the Australasian Trotters Championship.

It probably went unnoticed by the crowd at Moonee Valley immediately following Leg 4 of the circuit, but down in the winner’s enclosure there were tears in the eyes of trainer Dave McGowan as he watched Tony Herlihy bring his horse Kawarau Invasion NZ back in pride of place. The tears were the release of a lot of pent-up frustration with the stablemate of Special Force NZ. The horse had been a real problem child for McGowan, who had been waiting for such a moment for a long time with this horse. McGowan is a horseman who wears his heart on his sleeve. Now he was the successful trainer of two smart trotters, both raced by market gardener Bernie Lim.

Lyell Creek NZ remained a short-priced favourite in early pre-post betting on the Inter Dominion Grand Final with bookmakers, from Euro Ringeat EU, Mountain Gold NZ and Sundowner Bay NZ considered each way prospects. The NZ TAB at this point had Lyell Creek NZ favourite at $1.75, from Mountain Gold NZ $5.50, Euro Ringeat EU $8 and Sundowner Bay NZ $11. It rated National Interest the best of the Australians at the outsider’s price of $41.

Mark Purdon, who had won the Adelaide Grand Final with Pride Of Petite USA, had started three of his trotters in the series for a fifth with Sundons Way NZ, a second driving Sunny Action NZ, and another second with Miss Whiplash NZ. Mike De Filippi had won a heat with Sundowners Bay NZ, and brother Colin was third driving Africa NZ. Australian representatives were making hard work of it. However, several would turn around their fortunes on the night of January 29 when THREE further legs of the Grand Circuit were decided. There would be two further heats, along with the featured Australasian Trotters Championship with 12 of the best performed horses making up the field.

Leg 5: INTERDOM TROT HEAT 3 (3020m)
High Riser fr (John Justice) 1; Armbros Pride NZ fr (Kerryn Manning) 2; Lacey Truscott fr (Chris Alford) 3. Others: Chiolas Dragon NZ fr, Classical Whiz NZ fr, Just Like Jack fr, The Keystone Cop fr, Cool Fortune NZ fr, Poets Corner fr, Westland Dee Jay fr, Watchmewin fr, Ground Floor NZ fr, Bulla Boy fr. Gross time 3:59.5. Mile rate 2:07.6.

Leg 6: INTERDOM TROT HEAT 4 (3020m) 
Riegle Boy fr (Paul Railton) 1; Lester Scot fr (Chris Lang) 2; Villa Glory fr (Max Wishart) 3. Others: Noopy Kiosk 20m, Key Everest fr, Kims Fantasy fr, Velvets Bee Gee fr, Tamra Nightingale NZ fr, Miss Universe fr, Pats Sun NZ 10m, Keystone Rule fr, Gridiron NZ fr. Gross time 3:59,2. Mile rate 2:07.4.

With the front row of the 2000 Australasian Trotters Championship having only three starters - Kawarau Invasion NZ, Miss Whiplash NZ and Homer Hawk – circumstances were favouring the exciting Lyell Creek NZ to extend its winning run. It would carry the No 5 saddlecloth and start off 10m, next to Sundowner Bay NZ. Mountain Gold NZ off 20m was No 9, Special Force NZ was off 30m inside Buster Hanover NZ, and Euro Ringeat EU the backmarker on 35m. In past years backmarkers had every chance of making up their handicap over these marathon distances. But rarely had such notable backmarkers had to contend with giving starts to a rival of the ability of Lyell Creek NZ.

Just when trots goers believed Lyell Creek NZ could not get any better, he did. This trotting sensation seemed to toy with its rivals in the time-honoured Australasian Trotters Championship, powering away up the home straight to beat Sundons Way NZ and Africa NZ, with Mountain Gold NZ a close-up fourth. Euro Ringeat EU again showed his manners were not foolproof, and Special Force NZ was not the power he could be when in front. For the first time in the history of the event, Australia was down to just two representatives, with Homer Hawk fifth and National Interest eighth.


Lyell Creek NZ 10m (Anthony Butt) 1; Sundons Way NZ 20m (Mark Purdon) 2; Africa NZ 10m (Ricky May) 3. Others: Mountain Gold NZ 20m, Homer Hawk fr, Special Force NZ 30m, Sundowner Bay NZ 10m, Kawarau Invasion NZ fr, Buster Hanover NZ 30m, Miss Whiplash NZ fr, Euro Ringeat EU 35m. Gross Time 3:56.5. Mile rate 2:04.6.


The dominance of New Zealand over Australia with the trotting gait has long been highlighted at Inter Dominion time. Just five Aussie horses have been crowned champion – Yamamoto, Bay Johnny, Derby Royale, Scotch Notch (twice) and True Roman. Three of these five titles were driven by Graeme Lang and his son Gavin.

There have been hard luck stories by several trotters that might have won, with the most interesting of these being a mother and son. Maori Miss broke badly in the 1966 Grand Final when looking a winning chance. It was won by Yamamoto fr, with Gramel off 72 yards a half-head second. Anyone trackside in 1978 will remember Maori’s Idol to have been something beaten. Coming off 30m, driver Bryan Healy over-did his waiting tactics, and the stallion was just winding up to top speed at the winning post. A win that night would have made it 25 on end for this great champion. It was the only Inter Dominion he ever contested won by Derby Royale trained and driven by Cliff Powell of Elmore.

The field for the InterDom 2000 Grand Final: 1 Armbros Pride NZ fr (emerg.), 2 High Riser fr, 3 Homer Hawk fr, 4 Lester Scot fr, 5 Kawarau Invasion NZ fr, 6 Riegle Boy fr, 7 Africa NZ 10m, 8 Lyell Creek NZ 10m, 9 Sundowner Bay NZ 10m, 10 Mountain Gold NZ 20m, 11 National Interest 20m, 12 Sundons Way NZ 20, 13 Buster Hanover NZ 30m, 14 Special Force NZ 30m, 15 Euro Ringeat EU 35m. This race would be a triumph for Kiwi breeding, as eight of the 14 starters were bred that side of the Tasman. Six of the first seven horses to clock in were also representing New Zealand.

Lyell Creek NZ was probably the only horse among the Kiwi invasion that 12 months before had not been set for this race by connections. After changing stables, this gelded son of Roydon Glen NZ had just gone on its winning way, appearing to become faster and stronger each time he stepped on to a track to race. He had gone into this race having had just 16 lifetime starts. In its rise to the top it had become a trotting machine, not once breaking gait in any of its wins that season. It had made light of its 10m handicap to become Inter Dom champion, beating off Africa NZ and Armbros Pride NZ in the home straight.

After the race owner Graham Bruton confirmed he would resist all offers and attempts to lure his horse to race that winter in Scandinavia. "Right now he doesn’t deserve to be beaten, and for once in my life I cannot be lured by a dollar," he stated with conviction. "Although we believe the horse is good enough to compete on level terms with the elite overseas, my biggest fear that after a hard campaign this season, the travelling would take its toll. I would never want to flog this horse for third or fourth and demean him. It’s an honour and a pleasure to own a horse like this, and just by racing him, it has given my wife Meyson and I opportunities to meet some great people. It would be a shame to race him now at the end of an arduous campaign, when we can wait until next year."

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Lyell Creek NZ 10m (Anthony Butt) 1; Africa NZ 10m (Ricky May) 2; Homer Hawk fr (Rita Burnett) 3. Others: Armbros Pride NZ fr, Sundons Way NZ 20m, Buster Hanover NZ 30m, Special Force NZ 30m, High Riser fr, Kawarau Invasion NZ fr, Mountain Gold NZ 20m, National Interest 20m, Riegle Boy fr, Euro Ringeat EU 35m, Lester Scot fr. Gross time 3:56.3. Mile rate 2:0.5.

Normally an Inter Dominion Grand Final brings a carnival to its end. The following Saturday night Leg 9 of the Grand Circuit was the $50,000 Millenium Mile over one mile. Even though Lyell Creek NZ had easily wrapped up the inaugural circuit, it was back for one more appearance at Moonee Valley. So too were the likes of old Buster Hanover NZ, Special Force NZ and Euro Ringeat EU. And again the result was never in doubt, with this latest champion extending its record to 16 straight victories.

Leg 9: MILLENNIUM MILE (Mobile) 

Lyell Creek NZ (Anthony Butt) 1; Sundons Way NZ (Mark Purdon) 2, Buster Hanover NZ (Tony Herlihy) 3. Others: Kawarau Invasion NZ, Gridiron NZ, Special Force NZ, Tamra Nightingale NZ, Homer Hawk, Euro Ringeat EU, National Interest, Noopy Kiosk. Time 1:58.0.

The $100,000 Rowe Cup has been New Zealand’s biggest annual race for trotters for 82 years. When the latest was to be decided on March 31, there were butterflies that afternoon in the stomach of trainer Tim Butt at the prospect of Lyell Creek NZ being back to somewhere near his best after a short let-up that followed the Grand Final in Melbourne. Not only was harness racing history about to be created, but the supremacy and reputation of the best horse he had ever been associated with was at stake. In hindsight, Butt had nothing to worry about. Lyell Creek NZ was indeed a champion, and at Auckland from a standing start over 3200m, he came off the backmark of 15m to build on his winning sequence.

Leg 10: ROWE CUP 3200m
Lyell Creek NZ 15m (Anthony Butt) 1; Sundons Way NZ fr (Mark Purdon) 2; Special Force NZ 10m (Todd MacFarlane) 3. Others: Buster Hanover NZ 10m, Triffid fr, Sunny Action NZ fr, Kipper Dee NZ fr, Mountain Gold NZ 10m, Africa NZ fr, Meander In Eden NZ fr, Kawarau Invasion NZ fr, Last Sunset NZ fr, J K Dee NZ fr, One Kenny NZ fr, Liberator NZ fr. Gross time 4:05.8. Mile rate 2:03.5.

The inaugural Australasian Trotters Grand Circuit ended back at Moonee Valley on April 29 when connections decided it was time to give Lyell Creek NZ a good spell. This paved the way for a good field to have a realistic chance of going after the winner’s cheque in the $50,000 Bill Collins Trotters Mile. Three of the leading members of this gait in New Zealand again made the trip to Melbourne.

Special Force NZ (Colin De Filippi) 1; National Interest (Chris Lang) 2; Sundons Way NZ (Mark Purdon) 3. Others: Miss Universe, Africa NZ, Key Everest, Homer Hawk, Noopy Kiosk, Tamra Nightingale NZ, Poets Corner, Gate Keeper NZ, Avatar NZ. Time 2:01.0.

The final Grand Circuit points emphasis the greatness of Lyell Creek NZ, as it won the title with a total of 30, followed by Sundowners Way NZ and Sundons Way NZ on 7, and Special Force NZ 6, with Kawarau Invasion NZ, High Riser and Riegle Boy each with 5. The circuit had distributed a total of $1,200,000 in stakes, with Lyell Creek NZ winning all six of its starts for $574,190.

Perhaps the pedigree of Lyell Creek NZ may not have sent a buzz around a yearling sales ring had it taken this pathway, but with the horse having displayed all the characteristics of a real champion, one tends to go back over its pedigree. It would seem the trotting influence can be attributed to that fine US stallion Nibble Hanover which stood at Hanover Shoe Farm, as it appears as a 4 x 5 x 6 x 4 cross down to Lyell Creek NZ. The interesting point is that Nibble Hanover’s half-sister Tisma Hanover (US) appears in the sixth remove of the pedigree, being the second dam of Tuft, imported to New Zealand and who became the sire of Tee Kahu. Lyell Creek’s dam Kahlum was by Noodlum from Kahu Del, by Armbro Del from Tee Kahu.

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