Maurice McKendry believes he will appreciate his history-making achievement at Thames yesterday (Sunday) more when he’s retired and when he can sit down and look back on his career.
The reinsman they call “the Magic Man’ became just the second driver in the history of harness racing to notch up 3,000 career wins when he steered the Ken Sefonte trained favourite Letz Hope to victory in the seventh race.
In typical McKendry laid back fashion the 58-year-old then deflected his achievement on all the trainers, owners, and horses that had got him over the 30 century mark.
“You are only as good as the horses you drive. I would have driven hardly any winners had I not had the support from trainers and owners. It’s their achievement as well.
“It’s really nice to do something like this but you have to remember it has been done before. I think it will sink in more when I’m old and retired and I can relax and look back on my career,” the Pukekohe horseman said.
McKendry’s 3,000th winner came almost three years (24 days shy) of Tony Herlihy’s 3,000th victory, which he recorded at Alexandra Park.
‘Maurie Mac’ gave his good mate a wee dig about nailing the accomplishment after him.
“I was the first to 2,000 but then I pulled up and let him go past,” he joked. “It’s a great honour but there’s more money in winning the big Group ones,” he added.
McKendry, the 1991 world driving champion, has yet to win an Inter Dominion grand final or New Zealand Cup, but has won almost every other Group One race on offer in this country – the last big one being Sir Lincoln’s 2012 Auckland Cup triumph.
McKendry and Herlihy are the only horsemen in either the harness racing or galloping codes to achieve 3,000 winners in New Zealand.
McKendry said he was chuffed that he could do it in front of his family, especially his daughters (Stacey and Kylie) who had flown in from overseas to witness the feat first hand.
“It was special that my girls and my wife Susan could be there to see me do it. Nana Nola (Town) even won the flounder raffle, so it was a great family day all round,” he said.
McKendry went into yesterday’s annual grass track meeting at Thames on 2,998 wins. He saluted the judge won four times and duely won the TAB driver’s challenge.
His three other victories came behind Atomic Jet (race 5), Miss Sophie (race 8), and Rykaard (race 11).
For the record McKendry has also conditioned 120 winners since taking up training in 1980.
McKendry started driving in the mid-1970s. Here are some other facts you may not know about the Methven-born maestro:
+ His first win came behind Pleasant Command at Cambridge Raceway on August 26, 1975. Win 1,000 came behind Great Helmsman at Alexandra Park on July 21, 1991, and his 2,000 victory was also at Alexandra Park behind Smooth Latin on July 30, 1999.
+ He drove 10 winners in his first season and for 20 years he held the New Zealand record of 161 wins in a season – that was until Dexter Dunn broke his record of 161 wins in the 2008-2009 season.
+ No man in the history of harness racing in New Zealand has won more driving premierships. He won his first in 1985-86 and 10th in 1997-98.
+ McKendry hasn’t driven less than 50 wins in a season since 1984-85.
+ McKendry is as humble as what a world boxing contender is a show-off. He didn’t even know how many Group One victories he had nailed. “I’m not a numbers man’,” he said.
+ But he did remember the first: “It was behind Placid Victor in the New Zealand Derby at Addington – I do know that,” he said.
+ McKendry competed in four World Championships in 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1993. As well as claiming the crown in 1991 he also finished second in Canada in 1989. He is one of five New Zealanders to have nailed the World Crown. The others were Kevin Holmes (1978), Robert Cameron (1983), Tony Herlihy (1995) and Mark Jones (2003).
+ McKendry's grandfather Archie introduced him to harness racing in the late 1960s in his home town of Methven.
+ Ironically the best horse he had driven is the same Vance Hanover gelding that Herlihy also named as the best he had sat behind - millionaire pacer of the early to mid-1990s - Chokin.
+ Biggest driving victory? “I don’t know. I’ve won a few Derbies and Sir Lincoln’s Auckland Cup was nice. I won’t forget my first Derby though – Placid Victor winning the 1985 New Zealand Derby at Addington Raceway. The Rowe Cup (2008) on Our Sunny Whiz was also memorable.
+ People he admired or respected most in harness racing? “Maurice Holmes, Peter Wolfenden, Robert Cameron and Derek Jones”.
+ The biggest influence on his career? “Irvin Behrns, who gave me a lot of opportunities early on”.
+ The best horse he has seen? “Christian Cullen”.
+ The one piece of gear he has found most useful in harness racing? “The whip”.
+ Favourite movie and TV programme ? “Shawshank Redemption and Mrs Brown’s Boys”.
+ Favourite singer/band? “The Bee Gees”.
+ Outside racing McKendry’s greatest love(s): “My family and rugby”.
+ Ambition: “I’d like to train a Group One winner”.
Top ten drivers by wins
1. Tony Herlihy
2. Maurice McKendry
3. Ricky May.
4. David Butcher
5. Colin DeFilippi
8. Anthony Butt
9. Maurice Holmes
10. Jim Curtin
By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)