Bob Sandford has owned standardbreds since the mid-1970s, but he and his wife Jennifer only started to get serious about ownership in the early 1990s.
Now almost a quarter of a century later the Canterbury couple have arguably the best 3-year-old pacing filly and colt going around at present.
Both Tiger Tara and Venus Serena have are last start Group One winners, and the Sandfords, who are both 72, still say they can’t quite believe that both champion pacers have really come into their own in 2014.
“We are over the moon. We have spent several decades trying to get a top-line horse and now we have two. It’s quite unbelievable really. It’s a dream come true,” Sandford (Bob) said.
With the Harness Racing New Zealand Awards still a few months away the Sandfords must surely rate as warm favourites to win their first ‘Owner-of-the-Year title.
“I must have owned about 60 plus horses over the years and last week’s (Woodlands Northern) Derby is the richest race I have won. We flew up to Alexandra Park to watch Tiger Tara win.
“We were also on track the week before to watch ‘Venus’ win the (Northern) Oaks. It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” Sandford said.
To be fair it’s been an incredible couple of seasons.
Since making her debut in February 2013 Venus Serena has won 11 of her 16 starts and placed in three others for $503,622.
This includes four Group One victories, a Group Two and a Group Three. The four Group Ones came via the Nevele R Caduceus Club 2yo Fillies Classic at Alexandra Park on April 19; the Magness Benrow Sires Stakes 2yo Fillies Championship at Alexandra Park on May 3; the Ashburton Guardian 2yo Fillies Harness Jewels Diamond at Ashburton on June 1; and the Pascoes The Jewellers Northern Oaks for 3yo fillies at Alexandra Park on February 28.
Tiger Tara has won seven of his 18 starts and placed in seven others for $277,375.
This comprises two Group One victories – the NRM Sires Stakes 3yo Final at Addington Raceway on November 12, and of course the Woodlands Stud Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 7.
Sandford said he was introduced to ownership by his late brother Brian, who bred many good horses over the years, including the 10-win ($588,106) son of Mach Three, Fiery Falcon.
“The first horse I owned was Tarbar in the mid-1970s and then my brother and I owned Tarsudi. I dabbled in a few more over the years but it wasn’t until about 1990 when we started to buy two or three a year from then on,” Sandford said.
He said 2002 Wellington Cup winner Agios Nikolaos (eight wins) was one of the better horses he owned. He also rated Rocket Reign (14 wins) and his full brother Cullens Reign (eight wins) as another couple of his well performed pacers.
“The two that are going around at the moment have the potential to be my best. I think they will race against each other one day but not this season.
“Ultimately I’d love to win a big Cup with one of them. They both stay pretty well so it’s not an impossibility. I’d really like that for Geoff and Jen,” Sandford said.
Geoff is Geoff Dunn, Sandford’s trainer since 1992.
“He’s a great horseman and has done a wonderful job with my horses over the years. ‘Tara’ and ‘Venus’ are very much evidence of his great horsemanship,” Sandford said.
Cheviot born and Christchurch Boys High School educated Sandford said he bought two fillies at this year’s yearling sales and bought back a half-brother to Venus Serena named Bettor Bolt (bettor’s delight – Inspiring Dash).
The two fillies are named Nikita Banner (Bettor’s delight – Corporate Banner) and Flyingretna (Mach Three – Gretna’s Girl).
They also bred Venus Serena from their Falcon Seelster mare, Inspiring Dash, who won five races for Dunn.
By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)