Day At The Track

Harness racing in the 1920s Pt 48

09:57 PM 15 Nov 2004 NZDT
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The 1920s. (November 16, 2004)

New Zealand Trotting was invaded in the 1920s by a procession of horses and men from Australia and further abroad who more than made their mark on the sport here.

Man o’ War, Sheik, Happy Voyage and the trotter Grand Voyage were champions in their own right from Australia who met and beat the best that New Zealand had to offer.

J. J. (Jack) Kennerley and W. J. (Bill) Tomkinson came and conquered here, and stayed on to train and drive with quick and continuing success.

Peter Riddle, another great horseman, came and went, performing well here then returning to Australia where he later made his mark in galloping.

J. R. (later Sir John) McKenzie, who had moved across the Tasman more than a decade earlier, got into trotting and, as he did with everything else he touched, made his participation a lasting and successful one.

Welshman F. J. Smith, replete with all the trappings he garnered while studying the sport in the United States, set up in Auckland, where he became the sport’s number-one figure.

And, of course, there was ‘Scotty’ Bryce, the expatriate Scotsman, with his boys James jun, and Andrew, continuing to dominate the headlines and now even putting New Zealand on the map as far away as Western Australia.

The major attraction of New Zealand trotting was its lucrative spoils in comparison to Australia’s then pitiful prize money. Stake money in New Zealand in 1924 was as follows:

New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club: New Zealand Cup £3000, National Handicap £1500, Courtenay Handicap £1000, Christchurch Handicap £1000, Easter Handicap £1000, President’s Handicap £1000, King George Handicap £1000, Midsummer Handicap £1000.

Canterbury Park Trotting Club: Canterbury Cup £1500, Park Handicap £1000. Auckland Trotting Club: Auckland Cup £2000, Alexandra Handicap £1000, Rowe Handicap £1000, Summer Cup £1000, President’s Handicap £1000, Campbell Cup £1000, Prince of Wales Handicap £1000.

Otahuhu Trotting Club: Jellicoe Handicap £1000, Liverpool Handicap £1000, Otahuhu Cup £1000, Dominion Handicap £1000, Forbury Park Trotting Club £1025, Forbury Handicap £1000.

During 1923/24, in 60 days of racing, the New Zealand trotting clubs provided £160,000 prize money.

Thirty-two owners and 29 horses won more than £1000 each.

Logan Pointer’s progeny had 75 wins and earned £22,939. The Australian pacer Don Wild was the Dominion’s leading money-winner with £3202.

His main wins were the Christchurch Handicap and Canterbury Cup Handicap.

It was an era in which the sport developed greatly in status and class, steadily building an identity of its own; an era also in which such great horsemen-to-be as Maurice and Freeman Holmes jun., Cecil Donald and, in the north, Jim Paul, made their first impressions.

It was, too, a period in which the detection of a sensational series of ring-ins helped boost the sport’s credibility and put a virtual end to this particular unscrupulous operation, hitherto fairly common.

At the Wyndham Racing Club’s meeting on New Year’s Day of 1924, a horse entered as Look Out placed third in the Diggers’ Trot Handicap (1 ½ miles, saddle) but was disqualified when the rider failed to weigh in.

The next day, Look Out competed at Invercargill.

Backed heavily with bookmakers in Dunedin, Christchurch and further afield, he spreadeagled useful opposition in the Oreti Harness Trot (1 ½ miles), scoring by 20 lengths in 3:38.

With the old handicapping system in vogue and horses handicapped according to the time they did, Look Out remained on the front mark in the Roslyn Harness Trot the second day.

The race was a real gift to his connections, who had no legitimate excuse for not starting, and he won easily from Dark Rosine, a well-performed Southland horse.

A former owner of a horse called Look Out, reading of his cast-off’s wins and times, and considering the horse’s efforts to be impossible for the failure that he was, communicated his suspicions to the trotting authorities.

The horse had been quickly removed from the course after his second

nvercargill win, but officialdom worked quickly, too, and the horse was impounded at Dunedin, just as he was entrained for Christchurch.

It was then suspected that the same horse had been used to race under the name of Eulius to win the Gisborne Handicap at the Poverty Bay meeting the previous August.

Christchurch owner-trainer J. N. (Jimmy) Clarke, who had trained Eulius earlier in his career, was contacted. He promptly recognised and Look Out to be in fact Willie Lincoln.

It was unfortunate for the swindlers that, besides training Eulius, Lincoln, who under his guidance had been a high-class pacer and top stake-earner for the 1920/21 season with £2880.

The police took prompt action, and five arrests followed.

All of the parties received prison sentences and were disqualified from trotting for life.

Eulius (who meantime had been sold, his owner representing him as a Gisborne Cup winner) and Look Out had the wins gained for them by Willie Lincoln taken away.

During the case, the official handicapper stated that if he had been called upon the handicap Willie Lincoln (as Willie Lincoln) for the Oreti Harness Trot at Invercargill on 2 January 1924, he would have placed him on 336 yards behind and not on the front mark.

One of the investigators in this famous case was Detective F. J. (Fred) Beer whose work led to him later becoming the Trotting Conference’s chief stipendiary steward.

A New Zealand horse was to figure, too, in a notable Australian ring-in of these times.

Moneyspider, winner of the 1928 Dominion Handicap for James Bryce, was sold to Australia and wound up being raced in Victoria under the name of Landlock.

His Melbourne owners, plus a prominent Sydney trainer and an associate who passed the horse on to them, were all give disqualifications of varying length.

Although the Gaming Amendment Act of 1920 made bookmaking illegal, it still flourished.

The bookies could give what many thought to be more all-round service than the totalisator, and they had a monopoly of doubles betting, for at that time there was no authority for doubles wagering on the tote.

Many punters were prepared to take the restricted maximum payout offered by bookmakers just to able to bet with them.

This state of affairs was to continue until the advent of the TAB at the start of the 1950s; and it was estimated at the 1946 Finlay Royal Commission that illegal bookmakers in New Zealand had an annual turnover of £24 million.

Our Thorpe’s national mile pacing record of 2:06 1/5 in 1918 was reduced in 1923 to 2:04 1/5 by Australian Happy Voyage (who did it twice on the grass, at New Brighton and Alexandra Park), and then to 2:03 3/5 by Acron in a flying-start race at Addington in 1924.

Revenue’s trotting mark of 2:11 4/5, accomplished in saddle against time at Forbury Park in 1910, remained unscathed through the 1920s.

With some major trotting features under way, there was some sharp improvement in the times for trotters over longer distances, and by the end of the decade the two-mile mark had been improved from Reta Peter’s 4:31 3/5 in 1920 to Peterwah’s 4:23 4/5 at Addington in 1928.

Visiting Australian horses plundered New Zealand’s feature events.

Two of them, Man o’ War and Don Wild, became top earners for a season each, while Bill Tomkinson, who brought the Australian star Happy Voyage and remained here to make a deep impression, topped the trainers’ list in 1924/25, 1927/28 and 1928/29 and the reinsmen’s list in 1924/25.

Another outstanding Australian horseman, Peter Riddle, won the 1924 New Zealand Cup and Sheik (the last Australian horse to win the even if Tasmanian-bred Stanley Rio is not counted), while Man o’ War (1920 and 1921), Minton Derby (1922) and Blue Mountain King (1923) were Auckland Cup winners for Australia during the 1920s.

Grand Voyage in (1922), Sheik (1923), Dalavan’s Quest (1924), Orion (1925), Machine Brick (1926), Glide Away (1929), Machine Gun (1930) and Auto Machine(1932), were all Australian-breds who added their names to the list of Otahuhu Cup winners.

After H. F. Nicoll topped the owners’ list for 1920/21, big names to rise to the head of this roster over the next few years were J. R. Corrigan, who lead the field in 1921/22 and 1922/23; R. M. Morten, 1923/24 and 1924/25; John McKenzie, 1925/26 and 1926/27; then George Barton, 1927/28 and 1928/29.

Logan Pointer assumed Harold Dillon’s mantle as top sire, which he wore for six straight seasons, until Nelson Bingen succeeded him in 1928/29.

James Bryce was the leading performer among the trainer-drivers in the early part of the 1920s, but new names began emerging in the latter part of the decade – such as C. S. (Ces) Donald, Drum Withers, M. B. (Dil) Edwards, and F. G. (Freeman jun.) and Maurice Holmes.

Smartest among the young horses of this era were Acron, Taurekareka, Kohara, Wrackler, Great Hope, Nelson Derby, Daphne do Oro and Arethusa.

The Australasian Championships appeared briefly in Perth at the mid-way point of the decade, and there New Zealand’s best were the Bryce family and the top pacers Great Hope, Taraire and Great Bingen.

New trotting clubs formed in the 1920s were Thames, Methven, Taranaki, Wyndham, Northland and Cheviot, while the Invercargill Trotting Club was given its first tote permit.

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