Hall of Fame inductees 2017. A Knight to remember

24 August 2017 | Trots Media - Max Agnew
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Congratulations to this year's VHRMA Hall of Fame Legend, Vin Knight. On hand to accept his award were wife DIane and daughters Natasha and Hayley.

Congratulations to this year's VHRMA Hall of Fame Legend, Vin Knight. On hand to accept his award were wife DIane and daughters Natasha and Hayley.

Legendary trots scribe Max Agnew gives his take on tonight's Victorian Harness Racing Media Association Hall of Fame inductees, on a night at Tabcorp Park Melton when Vin Knight was awarded 'Legend status'. 

 

Ron Peace

Ron Peace grew up in Northern Victoria where at the local primary school his teacher later became Mrs Jean Pascoe, who with her husband Jim, would open Keilor Motor Raceway. He was 19 when he came to Melbourne with a pacer, stabling it at Dale’s Community Stables at Maribyrnong while he went to work for trainer George Gath for several years to learn what he could.

To say that he learned plenty off the wily George would be an understatement.

Most trainers will have a bet on a horse they believe can win. So successful was the man they called ‘Tubby’ in setting up a horse to bet on, it helped him secure a fine property at Yan Yean to build his stables; then later another major collect enabled him to purchase more than 80 cows to conduct a dairy; selling his milk to a well-known South Melbourne outlet where the two owners were members of the Trotting Club at Moonee Valley.

Ron employed others to milk his cows, and the money this regularly brought in provided further ammunition to fire off at bookmakers. He kept on frightening the hell out of bookies with successful plunges that before long led to him being offered shorter than expected odds. 

All this encouraged him to try and outsmart bookies by trying to sneak under their guard. Like the time he secured a pacer from Mrs Faye Barron. Somehow he was so busy that he overlooked making the change of name for owner and trainer with the Board, so several months down the track when it was produced for the first time by him, when it won he collected $27,500, asking his little tote down the road he needed it in cash. This led to the TAB sending out a Security Van with the money – and not for the first time either.

Because Sydney back then had the strongest betting ring in Australia, his battles with Bill Waterhouse were tactical and at times quite hilarious as each tried to better the other with various ploys. There were several occasions when his collect from bookmakers was upwards of $70,000. This was at a time when $12,000 would have bought you a fine house.

When his money went on the TAB, it was usually in the daily doubles, or a quadrella, as any large collect would not be made public. He also brought in some big names to race horses in their name, including Bert Newton.

He was able to have Sky Channel set up a dish to receive a telecast of all racing when successfully applying for it under the name of the local licensed dart club with D.R. Peace the secretary. The only thing, no such club existed.

When his son Andrew emerged as a fine reinsman, Ron toned down much of his betting activities. This led to him training six winners on a program at Moonee Valley in 1987, all driven by Andrew. He followed up with six winners on a Cranbourne meeting in 1988, and several occasions having further meetings with five winners. His son Harry was also smart in a sulky -- he too would win a city driving premiership with horses from his father’s stables.

He trained many smart horses, from Dale’s Gift to Scottish Fusilier, before it went to the US; He also raced Australia’s top 2YO Nicotine Prince. After Andrew took over the driving, Hyperstat won 19 races in a row, and Provocative set a new Australian record for mares of 1:53.8. Indemnity and Man Of The Moment were just two other smart winners. He never worried about premierships, but he was crowned top Victorian trainer in 1988/89. Ron Peace, a remarkable horseman, and a well-deserved inductee into our Hall Of Fame.

Richmond Lass

Richmond Lass was bred by Fred Miller in 1963. By Aachen, at one stage the No.1 sire in Australia, her dam Chevro was a daughter of Robert Derby, so she carried a double cross of the blood of the great Globe Derby. Owner/breeder Miller then lived at Bung Bong, between Avoca and Maryborough, with this bonny lass trained by Jack Moore.

The winner of several two-year-old classics, Richmond Lass at three won the Oaks in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.  Trainer Jack Moore later set her for the 1969 Adelaide Inter Dominion. 

One of the few who thought she could win this race at big odds was a young staff member of the Victorian Trotting Control Board who loved a punt. When early betting opened before the series began, Bill Hutchison had several wagers on her at 33/1. He was given a few uneasy moments during the series with the mare being the last to scrape into the Final.  But that night when driven by Kevin Brook, she won the big race by several lengths. From Hutchy’s large collect he purchased an expensive fur coat for his girl-friend.

Richmond Lass returned to Victoria the hero of all at Bung Bong – that had a population then of almost 20. Today at last count the official claim is the little town is deserted.

While Richmond Lass, the winner of 31, races went on to have four foals for Freddie Miller with two of these quite successful, the story has a sad ending. When a bushfire swept through the district in January of 1985, this once great mare was among those burnt to death.  Ironically, in that fire, her old trainer J.P, Moore and his foreman, John Carey, both dived into a water trough to escape the flames, but each suffered some burns. 

Fred Miller had a plaque erected at his property Richmond House to remember this wonderful mare. And tonight we also celebrate her life with her induction into the Hall Of Fame as one of Australia’s finest pacing mares.

Clarrie Allen (trainer-driver)

In the early years of night trotting at the Melbourne Showgrounds, the majority of the leading horsemen had grown up out in the country, later moving to have stables in the city.  Among them was Clarrie Allen, born at Charlton in 1917.

His harness racing father Ron had earlier trained and driven the smart Gay Venture.

With the coming of night trotting to the Melbourne Showgrounds, Clarrie moved to the city to work for the legendary Jack Barron for a time, before going out on his own with stables at Ascot Vale, within walking distance of the Showgrounds.

In those days the Melbourne season in Melbourne closed down from July to the end of September, thus limiting the opportunities to win races like today’s leading drivers.

What made Clarrie so well respected was his consistency, usually finishing among the leading five drivers each season, and winning the premiership in 1961/62.  His total number of winners in Melbourne of 172 might not seem that great on today’s standards, but back then it was quite an achievement.

Most of the winners he drove he also trained.  Among his most successful pacers were the likes of Requisite – Tarport Song -- Blazing Arrow – Ariki Whero – Joyoro – Moon Reveller, on which he won the 1971 Victorian Derby – Tranquill Scott – Smoke Dash – Dean Reveller – and the smart Border Luck.

He also won good races with Belroy, a pacer caught up in the notorious incident involving Howard Craig when he was outed for a lengthy spell for having reached out and grabbed Belroy’s sulky shaft for some 30 or so metres at a meeting at the Showgrounds.

In 1963 Portland owner Claude Jobe called on Clarrie to take the reins of Tail Light in the Victoria Oaks where they led throughout to win the classic.

Clarrie broke his left arm in a race fall at Kilmore driving Journeyman. If he was here with us tonight, he would surely have mixed thoughts about this pacer, as later he won with Journeyman at a Cranbourne meeting. Melbourne newspapers the following day had the story how a punter associated with the Allen stables, went around the betting ring after the victory with a brand new satchel, stuffing large amounts of money into the bag.

It was also at Cranbourne on a heavy track in 1975 that led to him being pictured on the front page of the Melbourne Sun. Terry Phelan, the top photographer of the day, had Clarrie getting off his winner Dean Reveller with his face thick with mud, and his then four-year-old grandson Dean Allen looking frightened at his mud-splattered Pa. The horse had actually been named after young Dean. Harness racing could not buy such publicity today on the front page of Melbourne newspapers.

Clarrie cut back on his commitments in 1980 when moving to stables in the Goulburn Valley, before later moving to train several horses from near the Bendigo track.   He battled on with cancer until passing away in the Tatura Hospital at the age of 67 in 1984.

Clarrie Allen – a much respected horseman that tonight we welcome into the Hall Of Fame.

Russell T. White      (Administrator)

Born in 1895, Russell White it was said was a handy rover in the local football competition at Ballarat. He was a dairy-farmer and involved with horses on the farm at Cardigan. During the 1930s he raced two pacers with his best success coming when one of the pair won a Geelong Cup.

Ron Peace, who himself later had a dairy farm at Yan Yean, used to delight in telling the story about Russell back in the days when he would load up and drive his horse and cart into Ballarat and go around selling milk out of a large drum to house-holders.

The day came when It seems after a couple of his customers had claimed to the powers-to-be how they thought some of his milk was being watered down, an inspector was sent out to find if this was true.

When catching up with Russell when nearing the end of his round for the day, the wily farmer recognised the fellow lying in wait for him as he went forth carrying the last bucket of milk. Just as the inspector approached, Russ suddenly tripped over, sending the last of his milk spilling over the ground. No test would be done that day.    

Russell White became the first President of the Ballarat Country Party in 1945, and the following year was elected to State Parliament. It was at a time when the trotting association that had run the sport since 1919 with the support of John Wren, was being challenged in Parliament by a new group – the M&CTA  with the support of the Melbourne Show Society, and the idea to race at the Showgrounds.

It was actually Russell White who got to his feet and proposed these changes to the Racing Act – with the challenge getting up by just one vote.

Russ White served two terms as the Minister for Agriculture, until in 1960 he was appointed the Chairman of the Victorian Trotting Control Board.  He would spend 13 years as the boss of the sport, with his first years proving him a fine spokesman for harness racing, becoming widely known as ‘The Hot Gospeller of Trotting’.   

He and his Public Relations Officer, Bill Burns, would travel to the major country meetings where the aging Russell would often make a similar speech to his flock, changing the name of the club and the town they were in.

When one Mildura Cup meeting was coming to an end, Russ suddenly remembered how he had forgotten to buy his apple and a lick of molasses that he never went to bed without, sending Bill on a trip around any shops that might have been open in search of molasses for the boss.

Russell will be remembered as a popular chairman who truly loved the sport, though in his last year or two when illness was taking hold of him, he became pre-occupied in rattling his many tins for charity at the main gate of trotting meetings. Russell T. White, an early leader of night trotting that we celebrate his induction into our Hall Of Fame tonight. 

John Peck

When still a teenager, John Peck went to work for the Australian Trotting Record in West Melbourne until its closure, when he moved to the Australian Trotting Council, now Harness Racing Australia.  Later, when Ken Dyer became Secretary of the industry in Macau, John briefly took over the role of Australian Secretary and for a time was the Keeper of the Stud Book, until deciding to take his leave.

His passion for harness racing history over the following years would see him spend hours most weeks at the State Library delving into old newspapers and records. But for him, much of this early work might well have been lost in the mists of time. He still devotes a great deal of time researching the industry’s past.

He later spent time with Harness Racing Victoria, and then began the publication, Harness Racing International which he edited successfully for more than a decade, collecting numerous National awards for his successful writing.

John has compiled in-depth works on the history of clubs at Ballarat and Horsham, and the researching of other trotting specials.

Perhaps his crowning glory has been his remarkable work of elite performers listed in what is named – Classic Families – a major work he co-wrote with Dr Ron Groves from Perth, and Peter Charles from New Zealand. Not only does it include the winners over the past 150 years, but there is no other work like it anywhere in harness racing.  Among those to heap praise on this project was the famous United States official publication, Hoof Beats.

Because of his passion for the sport, he has for years been making an invaluable contribution to harness racing, and has come to be recognised as the most outstanding authority on our industry. John Peck thoroughly deserves his recognition tonight, and we welcome his induction into Harness Racing’s Hall Of Fame.

Dan O’Grady

Dan O’Grady, the man who was chosen to represent Harness Racing when Chester Manifold was asked by Premier Bolte in 1958 to investigate creating an official off-course tote betting in Victoria, trained both thoroughbreds and pacers on a small scale.

Back in 1944 at a public meeting in Terang to test if the support was there to begin a new trotting club, Dan and Kevin Ryan were asked to follow up this unanimous passing of the idea. Ryan was then the District Handicapper for local meetings of the gallops, also calling these races on 3YB Warrnambool and 3HA Hamilton.

At that time Dan O’Grady used a trotter he had secured from Eric Cochran to drive around a paddock at the large property known as Dalvui, leading a galloper or two behind for its trackwork.  One of his thoroughbreds was the good winner Chahtool, which ran in a Melbourne Cup for Dan.

Before the formation of the new trotting club could be established, Ryan was appointed the official Handicapper for the VRC. The day he left town for Melbourne, he handed over to Dan the books he had begun for the coming of this new club. Dan O’Grady would retain these books as the only club secretary Terang had right through to the day he died in 1977 aged 74.

Both O’Grady and Kevin Ryan had earlier been on the committee of the local club for thoroughbreds at a time when a few trotting races were held at the turf track, but tossed in this role after being disappointed at how the club was treating trotting people.

When the new club was formed at Terang, Dan was asked to approach the Heffernan brothers to ask if they could rent or buy the piece of land at Dalvui where Dan trained his horses. The brothers not only agreed, but actually donated this area for free to the new club. Because Dan’s training routine had been around a virtual circle, leaving a clear pathway there, the new track in its first years virtually followed what Dan O’Grady had unknowingly created.

Several of the committee of the new club would meet in the kitchen of Dan and Mrs O’Grady to sort out the fields for the race meetings several days later. This was an era before Melbourne officials came to handle such duties. Before long Dan O’Grady came to be recognised as one of the truly outstanding club secretaries in Victoria. 

After Dan became a team with Chester Manifold in pushing harness racing’s involvement in what in May of 1961 became the first TAB operations in Australia, he refused to accept any formal acceptance for his work, while his friend Manifold became Sir Chester. Their close friend Premier Bolte four years later would become Sir Henry.

Some old-timers in our sport might remember the success Dan had training the pacers Grey Vance and Cordoba brought him, usually driven by Neville or Bruce Clarke. Many a harness racing matter was carried out at Dan’s hardware store in Terang, which probably sold more trotting gear than it did hardware.

Each time Dan O’Grady was approached to become a member of the Harness Racing Board in Melbourne by the Government, he would turn down this idea, claiming how he could do more for the sport out among the grass roots of trotting.  Dan O’Grady, a truly outstanding inductee into the Hall Of Fame.

  

Vin Knight (Legend)

In the 15 years leading up to 1991, Vin Knight became to harness racing what Walter Lindrum had been to billiards, and Don Bradman to cricket.

Vinnie was very much different from your normal top class horseman. He worked harder around the stables than just about anyone, and away from the track he would play just as hard. He was always driven by an untamed spirit and a boundless raw energy, becoming a handful for any rival who tried to compete with him.

In the few short years he had at the very top of the tree in harness racing, he drove a record 721 metropolitan winners, collecting six Melbourne driving premierships along the way.  He rarely drove horses from other stables, with his winners coming from the horses he came to train himself, usually in the name of his father Bob as trainer.

Four times Vin drove five winners on a program.

He drove four winners at a meeting no fewer than nine times.

His number of trebles was 45, and he steered home 143 doubles.

Twice he won the A.G. Hunter Cup, and six times he won the Victoria Cup.

In his short time at the top he drove a record 18 Inter Dominion Heat winners.

Vin Knight was just 36 years-old when he died tragically in May, 1991. He was so far ahead on the leading premiership for drivers at that time with several months of the season to run that he easily collected another driving premiership.

This hard-working horseman had dominated harness racing like no one before or since. In his own flamboyant style, Vin Knight took our sport to the public like no other horseman has ever done.

Tonight we recognise the remarkable talents in harness racing by Vin Knight with Vinnie becoming a Legend in the Hall Of Fame.

 

Media enquiries to:

Cody Winnell (HRV Media/Communications Manager)
t: 03 8378 0288 | e: cwinnell@hrv.org.au | tw: @codywinnell