Day At The Track

The Thomson brothers on a roll

09:34 AM 10 Jul 2019 NZST
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Lindsay Thomson with Get Lucky, Alister Black and Ian Thomson,Harness racing
Lindsay Thomson with Get Lucky, Alister Black and Ian Thomson with Vintage Cheddar
Bruce Stewart photo

Branxholme brothers Lindsay and Ian Thomson have been enjoying their best harness racing season as owners, their horses having won a total of ten races.

There was also excitement when they won three races back to back on premier nights at Addington in May.

On the 10th  Vintage Cheddar won the last race on the card, then on the following Friday night Get Lucky and Vintage Cheddar won the first two races.

The brothers winners have also helped their trainer Alister Black to enjoy a successful season, his thirteen winners equalling his previous best season.

Black also achieved the third best national UDR rating of the season for trainers with ten wins or more. His 0.3889 was only bettered by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen 0.4603 and Barry Purdon 0.3947.

In fact 50 of Black’s 65 career winners since he started training in 2010, have been owned by the brothers. Most have been owned by Ian and Lindsay but they also raced The Jinja Ninja in partnership with Sheree Black, Craig Milne and Paul Duggan.

In all the brothers have won sixty races since Highland Heights won for the pair at Forbury Park in June 2006. Their biggest winners have been Vintage Cheddar (7), Six Diamonds (6), Ossessione (6), New York Town (6) Kilowatt Kid (4) and Get Lucky (4).


Vintage Cheddar                              - Photo Bruce Stewart

Lindsay and Ian have been interested in harness racing for a good while with their father Frank and Uncle Ernie having been keen followers.

Frank and Ernie had a trotter called Wilton Lad which raced in the mid-1950s. By Swordsman, he won five races – four as a six year old. His first win was at Invercargill in March 1956 and he followed it up with wins at Wyndham, Invercargill (where he dead heated with Jean Able) and finally at Ashburton. His Ashburton win was on the same day as False Step won the New Zealand Futurity Stakes by twenty four lengths.

The following season he won once from seven starts at Invercargill. All his wins were for Winton trainer Harry Cox.

“He went in the throat,” said Lindsay who added that Ernie and Coxs were great mates. “The story they told years ago was about a day at the trials at Addington. Ernie looked a bit like Harry. Harry reckoned that Ernie wouldn’t be game to drive at the trials. He put all of Harry’s gear on and drove in the trials and got away with it. He actually won the trial and as they were pulling up old Doug Watts came alongside and spoke to him, calling him Harry. Ernie just muttered something and kept going. Les Norman and Ken Balloch were up there and they knew about it,” he said.  

Ernie left Southland when he was nineteen and went to Wellington where he was breaking in draft horses.

“Uncle Ernie broke in thousands of horse over the years. He used to break in all the Cummings horses. He had a farm at Otahuti and then he retired on a wee thirty acres place next to the Makarewa Freezing Works. He spent all his time breaking in horses for the likes of Brian O’Meara,” said Ian. 

In later years Ernie shifted to Ashburton and became great friends with Jim Ferguson.

Lindsay and Ian grew up in Morton Mains and went to Morton Mains Primary School before heading to Southland Boys High School.

“The year we left school Dad died so we just kept the place ticking over. The farm wasn’t terribly big at the time. It was only about 240 acres. At that stage we started working at the freezing works. I had 21 seasons at Makarewa. We just ran the farm at nights and over the weekends. Over a period of time we bought a little bit of extra ground here and there. We spent fifty years at Morton Mains before we shifted here,” said Ian.

Lindsay also dabbled in breeding and getting foals out of Moreover (Tuft – Vitesse Lass) including Star Bay (Count Bay) and Young Reb (Yankee Reb) which won two races for trainer Brendon McLellan. Lindsay also bred from Star Bay with some success, breeding Star Reb (Yankee Reb) the winner of three races for Jim Ferguson and Star Invasion (Armbro Invasion) the winners of two.

At that point the Alliance Group, which ran the Makarewa Works were looking at streamlining their Southland operations and Makarewa went down to one chain.

“We had an opportunity to lease our neighbours’ farm. We also bought another block up the road,” said Ian.  

They ended up 480 acres with 300 acres on lease from the neighbour but sheep farming was falling on hard times.

“We talked to another neighbour on the other side of the road. He was about the same age. We talked about selling up at some stage and the dairy boom was just starting to take off. The neighbour said if we were ever going to sell to let him know. He said the whole lot can go in one big amalgamation,” said Ian.

After three bad years the brothers decided to get serious about getting out of sheep farming.

“Lamb prices were about fifty odd dollars. The second year they said it was just a correction so we thought we’d sit tight. The third year came and things weren’t much better. We came in one night, it must have been a wet night and we’d had a guts full,” said Ian.

But that wasn’t the only reason Lindsay and Ian were thinking seriously about selling. In those days the Alliance was paying a premium over and above schedule price to its big suppliers and that didn’t impress some of the company’s smaller shareholders.

“We’d heard stories that ranged between five and ten dollars a head. We were out in all the shitty weather feeding stock and weren’t happy. We had a shareholders meeting at Wyndham one night and it opened a few eyes as to what was going on,” said Lindsay.

In 2008 it was time to sell.

“The neighbour we were leasing the place off also decided to sell. Where we were, the land prices had doubled in twelve months. Less than 48 hours the deal was done and we thought we’ve sold too cheap. As it turned out later the shit hit the fan. We got out at the absolute peak,” said Ian. 

They decided to buy a nice piece of land, put in a training track and as Ian put it ‘play around with horses.’   Subsequently they bought a property at Branxholme from local stock agent Stephen Joseph.

“It started as just a hobby that’s got out of hand (laughter),” said Lindsay.

Initially they had horses with Longbush trainer Alan Paisley, including their first winner Highland Heights. He was by Tinted Cloud and won two races. His wins, both at Forbury Park, were back to back in June and August 2006 and he was driven both times by Alister Black.  

It was from there that the brothers relationship with the young horseman began.

“Originally Alister was just going to be pre-training them and would then pass them onto Alan but we decided we might as well keep them here,” said Ian.     

At the time Black was working night shifts at the Venison Plant but that changed after a bad accident.

“He was breaking in Successful Way and he bolted on him one day. He hung onto him instead of letting him go. He hit the end of the gate and Alister broke his neck. He was within two millimetres of death. He ripped his sternum, had a punctured lung and had some cracked ribs,” said Lindsay.

The accident lead to other complications and Black had to give up his job at the works and that’s when he started working full time at Branxholme.

“He shoes all the horses himself other than Get Lucky. That’s important and in the last few seasons a few nice horses have come along,” said Ian.        

Over the years the brothers have also been regular buyers at the yearling sales. Highland Heights was their first purchase.

“We had no intention of buying, and this horse came up. We quite liked the look of him so we bought him, and ever since then we can’t keep away,” said Ian.

After having years around stock they have a sharp eye for conformation and also a good understanding of pedigrees.

“Someone asked us about what we look for at the sales. We get the catalogue and you look for something that has as much breeding on the dam side as you can afford. We’re not frightened to go to a new season sire that’s been a top race horse in America. We’ve had quite a few horses that have been by first season sires. Alister’s been coming along in a last year or two and just going over them,” he said.

Over the years they’ve been under bidders on a number of good horses including Ultimate Machete, Bettor Move It, Copperfield and Idealindiamonds.

“We’d picked him (Ultimate Machete) out later on the second day. We were going to push the boat out and have a go. We stood back and were watching and no bugger was going near him. We thought we might have a bit of a show here. But we never got a look in. They kicked him off at $40, 000 and he went either for eighty or eighty five,” said Ian.

The brothers are also in the fortunate position of not needing to sell their horses.

“Everyone knows now we’re not sellers - we just want to race them. The only horses we ever sold were Aveross Brochole and New York Town. We’ve had six figures offered for Kilowatt Kid, Lawrence, Vintage Cheddar and Get Lucky. Some Aussie fella wanted to take the whole four of them all at six figures,” said Ian.

New York Town was the brother’s first good horse and he won six races here before heading to America. He was by Falcon Seelster out of Top Of The Pile and was bred in Southland by Russell Morton.

“He had bad quarter cracks and he ended up at the Hopes. They won a couple of races with him,” said Lindsay.

Lawrence is another Sales purchase. He’s won two races but hasn’t reached his potential. He looked to be in for a good season this season but suffered a stress fracture to the pastern after running second at Gore.


Lawrence warming up prior to his run at Gore                       - Photo Bruce Stewart 

“He was washed down and got put back in the box. An hour later when we went to go home he couldn’t walk. He was scanned a month or so ago and it’s a 100% so he’s back in work now,” said Ian.

Kilowatt Kid, despite winning once from six starts wasn’t able to complete the season after disappointing in the Roxburgh Cup where he dropped right out.


Kilowatt Kid at Gore with driver Terry Chmiel                   - Photo Bruce Stewart 

“He’d picked up a bug. His lungs were full of it and it took a good while to get over it,” said Ian.

The brothers are very much hands on and all the horses are spelled on the 106 acre property. They also have another 14 acres at Makarewa.

They usually have 25 horses on the property and undoubtedly the stable star this season has been Vintage Cheddar who has come a long way in a short time.

“When Vintage Cheddar was younger he had a few funny little tricks. He hated the sound of Velcro on the shin boots. He’d climb the walls. Each time he came back in he was better and he grew out of it, said Ian. They both agree he’s the best horse they’ve raced – so far!! “As Alister says he’s got that high speed but he’s also tough,” said Lindsay. 

He looked above average when he won on Diamonds Day last season but his second to Mach Up at Addington three weeks later stamped him as a real up and comer.

“Just as they were turning in he was blocked for a run. He had his head in the air trying to get a gap, and he finally got one. He dived through and Purdon (Mark Purdon driver of Mach Up) had kicked clear. Vintage Cheddar was closing and got beaten by a half neck. We thought ‘shit we have a bit of a nice horse here,” said Ian.

In among the good winners, like any owners, they’ve had their share of disappointments, with perhaps the biggest being Abraham Jones. He was by Southwind Vernon out of the three win Armbro Invasion mare Jani Franco. Jani Franco is a full-sister to Jag’s Invasion, the winner of ten races.

From just twelve starts he won twice before he broke down.

“He showed a ton of ability,” said Ian.

It didn’t put them off trotters and they also have high hopes for a half-sister to Show Gait called Sienna Lindenny.

“She’s three now and she’s never stopped growing. You’ve got to wait on them. It’s not all success,” says Lindsay.

Another young horse showing promise is Plaschke (Sportswriter Holm’s Spirit).

“He qualified at two real easily but we’re not great fans of racing them as juveniles. He’s back in work now,” said Ian.

He’s a half-brother to good winners Springsteen, The White House, and Pulling The Strings which the brothers won three races with.

“Noeline Ferguson once told me if you haven’t got the best two year old in the country you’re wasting your time. That’s the philosophy we work on,” added Lindsay.

Lindsay and Ian both have their roles at the Branxholme property but they also get excellent support from their old stock agent at Morton Mains Craig Milne, and Paul McIntyre who recently retired after being foreman in the yards at the Alliance Lorneville Plant.


Craig Milne and Alister Black working horses at Branxholme           - Photo Bruce Stewart

“When he’s (Craig Milne) not here Alister and I do all the driving. There’s not too much point in having them if you can’t be hands on,” said Ian.

Lindsay’s in charge of the jogging frame.   

The brothers are breeding from five mares which reside at their Makarewa property.  “There are nice sheltered paddocks and we shift them two or three times a week,” says Ian.

They’re breeding from Howfarnow which is by Grinfromeartoear out of the ten win Sands A Flyin mare Whanau. Whanau’s biggest win was in the 2002 Nevele R Fillies Final. She’s the dam of Vintage Cheddar, a rising three year old filly by He’s Watching, A Rocknroll Dance yearling filly and is in foal to Betterthancheddar.

Also on their books is Trieste Franco. She’s by Badlands Hanover and is out of a Live Or Die daughter of ten win mare There’s A Franco. Trieste Franco was unplaced in three starts and from four live foals she’s left Ellie May which qualified at Gore in March. She’s in foal to Betterthancheddar.

“We bought her at the sales but she injured herself,” said Lindsay.

Chilli Franco, which raced for the brothers, won once in twelve starts before she was retired. “She had a wind operation and it didn’t work so we didn’t persevere” said Ian.

Chilli Franco is by Vintage Master out of Cherish A Franco and is a half to Franco Cristiano (which won nine races in a twenty one start career) and Cruiser Franco the winner of twelve races. She’s in foal to Captaintreacherous.

On the trotting side of the breeding list is Star Commando. She’s by CR Commando out of Charlotte Galleon. Star Commando won four races for Bruce Hutton. Her third dam is Rob The Nest, the mother of King Of Stratfield (21 wins), Galleons Assassin (13) and Thedonson (9). Star Commando’s fifth dam is Robyn Evander the mother of Diamond Field. Star Commando has foals on the ground by Trixton and Father Patrick and is in foal again to Father Patrick.

Their second trotting mate is The Jinga Ninja. She’s by Sundon and started her career with Alan Clark before Brent White took over training her. He got one win out of her before Black took up the challenge, and he managed another three wins before she was retired.


The Jinja Ninja after her Ascot Park win                 - Photo Bruce Stewart

She’s well related, being out of the CR Commando mare Ezackly. She was a half-sister to Moon Princess the winner of six races, Rona’s Jewel which won eight and Midnight Moon which won five here and another six in Australia. The partnership have a Quaker Jet filly out of the mare and she’s in foal to Father Patrick.

They were active buyers at the February Yearling Sales in Christchurch this year, paying $42,000 for an Andover Hall colt out of Bree which is a half to their star trotter Get Lucky.

Bree’s dam Naraya, is the mother of Stig the winner of both the Rowe Cup and Dominion Handicap and $784,033. He won twenty two races in all.

“We were pretty keen on him (Andover Hall). Chris Lang was the under bidder and if we’d pulled out the Williamsons were going to chase him. So we had good judges against us on that one,” said Lindsay. “We spent a bit more than we wanted to there,” added Ian.

They also bought a He’s Watching colt out of Millwood Touché. She’s left six foals that have raced and all have been winners, with the best being Ohoka Texas which won twelve races in New Zealand and another thirteen in America.

“He’s a half to horses thay have won seventy seven races. We picked him up for $12,500 because he was by He’s Watching,” said Lindsay.

They also bought a Bettors Delight colt Keep On Dreaming for $45,000.

He’s the first foal out of the Mach Three winning mare Secret Notion. The colt is well related to a host of winners including Secret Potion, Expresso Martini and Silver Lined Pocket.

After a great season that culminated in Lindsay and Ian Thomson having two runners at the Harness Jewels, the brothers have plenty to look forward to in the new season. They have plenty of quality racing stock to go on with and the next generation of Thomson owned horses to look forward too.

“That’s why we got into,” said Lindsay.

 

Bruce Stewart

Southland Harness Racing

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