Peter Wolfenden and ‘Cardy’. (December 12, 2006)
Wolfenden, born and bred in Auckland, was 26 when Cardigan Bay came into his life in mid-1961. As a lad he learned a good bit about horses from two veterans, his uncle Wes Fleming and George Webb. Work on a dairy farm in his youth gave him further experience with animals. After hanging around the Alexandra Park stabling area like a horsefly, he was 16 when finally given a job by Auckland trainer Vern Mackie.
A year later, Wolfenden drove his first winner: the Mackie-trained Anthracite, with meeting. Breaking into New Zealand trotting was never easy, and success did not come quickly, even for Wolfenden. Breaks came his way after he joined another prominent Auckland trainer, Carl Paul, form whom he began piloting the good mare Petite Yvonne to important wins in the mid-1950s.
At the 1955 Auckland Interdominions, Wolfenden won a heat with Petite Yvonne, then finished third with her in the Grand Final behind Tactician and Johnny Globe. Immediately after, he drove Petite Yvonne to beat Johnny Globe, Tactician and Thelma Globe in the Wellington Free-for-all at Hutt Park, while a couple of months later the combination prevailed in strong free-for-all company in Auckland.
Wolfenden was on his way. At 22 he set up his own training stable at Epsom. While his team averaged eight or nine wins a season over the next few years, his skills as a reinsman saw him getting more outside work. By 1958/59 Wolfenden was up into the top 10 of the nation’s drivers.
When Cardigan Bay and Wolfenden joined forces in 1961, they were a team on their way to stardom.
Between the 1960/61 and 1961/62 seasons, the Alexandra Park track was being re-formed. For the first three months that Wolfenden had Cardigan Bay in his care he was limited to long road work and jogging on the dusty inside track at Epsom, waiting for the new strip to be completed. The first time Wolfenden ‘brushed’ him when the track was finally ready to perform on, ‘Cardy’, as he called the horse, breezed in from the half-mile in 59 seconds.
Wolfenden knew then that Cardigan Bay was something special. ‘Driving something else and them him is like stepping form a Morris Minor into a Jaguar,’ he told Auckland Star reporter of the time, Dave Bradford.
By the time the 1961 New Zealand Cup carnival came up Cardigan Bay boasted a string of seven wins; four out of four under Wolfenden, the last of these easily from 1959 Auckland Cup winner Scottish Command, with Blue Prince unplaced.
Cardigan Bay’s Final Handicap and New Zealand Free-for-all victories at the Addington carnival took his winning streak to nine. He stormed to his Free-for-all win at the height of a spectacular fire that completely gutted the main public grandstand. The big crowd calmly vacated their seats and flocked to the rail to view the race that was eventually run after being delayed for the best part of an hour.
While he had appeared to be in top condition on his trip, Cardigan Bay had actually not travelled well and had gone right off his feed; but Wolfenden had Cardigan Bay back in good shape for the Auckland Cup, and from the front mark he was not seriously tested to win by 2 ½ lengths in 4:18 from King Hal, with Samantha and Scottish Command third and fourth.
It was Wolfenden’s second straight victory in the race. In 1060 he scored an epic win with Aucklander Les Barrett’s good Lucky Hanover – Bashful horse Damian, who broke a hopple 10 furlongs from home and travelled a good distance with one of the loops flapping dangerously round his legs.
ardigan Bay was racing again three nights after his Cup win. Wolfenden, anxious to beat War Buoy’s New Zealand record of 10 straight wins (in the late 1930s), which Cardigan Bay had now equalled, heeded misguided advice to give the gelding an easy time between races.
It was Cardigan Bay’s undoing. Too fresh, he pulled hard and beat himself into fifth in the Champion Handicap. It was a lesson Wolfenden, remembering the poor traveller ‘Cardy’ had proved on the Addington trip was against taking him to Western Australia. Merv Dean had other ideas, and arranged for Cardigan Bay to compete in Perth under the guidance of New South Wales trainer Bill Wilkins.
Cardigan Bay’s reputation preceded him to Perth, and he confirmed it by bolting away with his first two heats at Gloucester Park. Following his good New Zealand form he was handicapped on 12 yards for the series, with the brilliant New South Wales horse James Scott on 24 yards, the only horse handicapped behind him.
Trained by Perc Hall for New South Wales Trotting Club committeeman Ray Fitzpatrick, James Scott was one of 301 individual winners sired by Noble Scott. Bred by Sir John McKenzie, who imported his parents (U. Scott and the Peter Volo mare Widow Volo), Noble Scott was six successive times leading Australian sire from 1956/57 to 1961/62.
Vain Peak, James Scott’s dam, was by the Lawn Derby horse Peak Hill (sire of the dam of Apmat). And Vain Peak’s dam, Vain Alto, was by the all-American-bred Win Alto (Dixie Alto – Winona).
Fitzpatrick paid £6000 for James Scott 20 months before the 1962 Interdominions, when the horse had won 18 races. By the time he reached Perth, James Scott had won Fitzpatrick 15 races from 21 starts.
When James Scott won his first two heats in Perth every bit as impressively as Cardigan Bay, trotting buffs anticipated a thrilling contest when they clashed at two miles on the third night and then at 13 furlongs in the £12,800 Grand Final.
But it was not to be. While he was working quietly at Bernie Cushing’s training stables at Cannington, about 11 kilometres from Perth, on the morning of Tuesday, 27 February 1962 – the day before the third round of heats – one of Cardigan Bay’s jog-cart wheels hit a bump near the outer regions of the track and stablehand Tom White was unseated. Cardigan Bay took fright and careered off into the stabling area. Catching a wheel of his flailing cart on a fitting, Cardigan Bay came crashing down on to a concrete kerb. Apart from badly gouging his lower hind legs, Cardigan Bay chipped and completely displaced his near-hind hip.
It was feared Cardigan Bay’s racing days could be ended forever and there seemed to be bad luck all round for the camp. Mrs Dean had to enter hospital for an operation, and to add to her sorrows received the news of the death of a relative in New Zealand.
Negotiations by Yonkers chief Marty Tananbaum to have Cardigan Bay compete in that year’s Yonkers International series had to be cancelled, and Tananbaum concentrated on attracting James Scott and the good New Zealand mare Patchwork.
Back in Auckland at about this time, Wolfenden was kicked in the face by a horse at his stable, and was rushed to hospital where he underwent surgery that laid him up for several agonising months.
It seemed as if the Cardigan Bay story was history.
James Scott carried on to brilliant wins in his heat and the final of the Interdominions, the first horse to win all his heats and become Grand Champion. Logan Derby had won all of his heats and the first Grand Final in Perth in 1936, only to lose the Grand Champion award on points to Evicus.
After time-trialling in 1:59.2 at Harold Park, James Scott was flown to America, where a virus infection prevented him from racing successfully. He returned to stand at stud in Australia, the winner of 46 races from 74 starts, including a Lord Mayor’s Cup and Summer Cup at Harold Park, where for some years he held the single-session record of 11 wins. He proved a successful sire with some 200 winners.
Cardigan Bays was set up in a sling and left in the charge of Perth trainer Ted Greig, who lavished loving care on him. Within in a month of the gelding was walking without pain, though limping noticeably.
Four months after his disaster Cardigan Bay was frisking around his paddock so zestfully that the Deans had him shipped back to New Zealand. Wolfenden, his wounds also now healed, took ‘Cardy’ in hand again and found that, though his old charge now had a stilted way of going and would never again be the armchair conveyance of his earlier days, he still was a model racehorse with terrific reserves of speed and stamina.
Cardigan Bay resumed racing in September 1962, and came from 36 yards for an easy win over 12 rivals over 13 furlongs at Alexander Park. A week later at Auckland, on an easy track that did not now help his way of going, he failed by a length to catch Caricature after giving away starts of up to 42 yards at 13 furlongs. And from the same mark at the same distance in the Auckland Trotting Club’s F. J. Smith Memorial on 20 October he went under by a half-head to Roy McKenzie’s latest up-and-comer Jay Ar.
But four nights later, slow track and all, Cardigan Bay clinched a trip to the 1962 New Zealand Cup carnival by coming off 42 yards to easily beat Caricature, Call Boy, Gentry and company in the 13-furlong Spring Handicap at Alexandra Park. In the New Zealand Cup that followed, Cardigan Bay was troubled by slushy going, and finished an unimpressive fifth. All the glory that day went to the four-year-old Lordship, whose connections had wanted to scratch him but were talked out of it by club officials. Lordship came with a bold run to beat Falsehood, Blue Prince and Sun Chief into the minor money, and in doing so joined Lookaway as the only four-year-old winners of the New Zealand Cup.