Robalan…free-legged star - Robalan, the best free-legged pacer seen in New Zealand since Lawn Derby, capped his fine career in 1974 by winning the New Zealand Cup and storming to his third straight victory in the New Zealand Free-for-all. (January 18, 2007)
By top Axworthy-line free-legged pacing stallion Lumber Dream, Robalan was from a winning daughter of U. Scott named Elsinore.
Trained by George Mouritz, who raced her with Christchurch dance-band leader Colin Campbell, Elsinore impressively won a maiden race at Greymouth in January 1956.
Mouritz took ill son after and his friend Don McKinley persuaded Eugene McDermott jun. (son of the prominent Canterbury horseman of an earlier era) to partner him in buying the mare.
Subsequently disappointing (though she won two races for McKinley), Elsinore was put to stud.
She left nothing of much account until, on missing to Garrison Hanover, she used the free-return privilege to visit Lumber Dream, then standing at Bill Denton’s Russley Lodge. The result was Robalan, who was offered along with his dam at the 1967 National Sales.
Ernie Broad, of Invercargill, bought Elsinore and Robalan for 475 guineas, and, asked to try and straighten out Robalan, Invercargill studmaster and trainer Gil Shirley found him ‘as mad as a snake’.
After weaning him and teaching him to tie up and lead, Shirley was given the choice of either Robalan or another of Broad’s weanlings – and took the other one.
As a late yearling Robalan was further educated by Invercargill butcher John Henderson, whose main success in trotting cam with Honest John in the 1973 Worthy Queen Handicap.
Invercargill stock buyer Alan Devery indicated to Henderson that he and a friend, Bob Pollock, were keen to buy a young horse. At Henderson’s suggestion they leased Robalan from Broad with a right of purchase at $1500. Broad died shortly after this.
Registered as Robalan – derived from his lessees’ first names – the youngster had his gaiting completed by Devery, who found he showed aptitude for pacing free-legged.
But the big, powerful gelding was very headstrong. Handed as a two-year-old to Wyndham trainer Alec Townley, Robalan at his second run at trials finished swinging a leg, the aftermath of a shoulder injury sustained on a gate as a yearling.
An old wound had healed badly; but an operation corrected this and after winning a juvenile parade at Gore he went back to Alec Townley in January 1969.
Twice placed as a two-year-old Robalan was sent to Doody Townley at Tinwald to prepare for this three-year-old campaign.
But after a couple more trails runs Robalan began signalling a wind affliction.
He was operated on in October 1969 and put back into light work by Devery. Sent back to Alec Townley he won the Central Otago Stakes at Roxburgh in January of his three-year-old season, but the wind affliction flared again requiring a further operation.
Robalan was then transferred to Denis Nyhan’s Templeton stable and quickly produced good form, winning at Cheviot and Ashburton meetings before the end of his three-year-old season.
At four he won three quick races including the Waikouaiti Cup and was entered for the 1971 Addington Interdominions.
Nyhan was convinced Robalan was much faster with the hopples off and had been leaving them off with some success.
But he reasoned he could not risk this at Interdominion level, and so back on they went. Robalan raced poorly through the series. Nyhan discarded the hopples and gained wins with him at Duniden and Auckland before the season was over.
Nyhan and a friend, Peter Hope, of Blenheim, now bought a half-share in the gelding for $15,000. He had then won eight races and owner Pollock got out to buy a taxi business.
At five Robalan won five races (one in 4:14 for two miles at Forbury Park) and beat all but Rauka Lad in the Easter Cup final, but finished well back in the New Zealand and Auckland Cups.
At age six Robalan won a further five races in New Zealand, including the New Zealand Free-for-all and Wellington Cup and was a solid third to Globe Bay and Scottish Charm in the 1972 New Zealand Cup.
Taken to Sydney he romped home in his heat on the first night of the 1973 Interdominions, came from last at the bell for fourth on the second night, was a moderate third the third night and in the Grand Final put his foot through Reichman’s wheel in a skirmish two furlongs out.
For the second year on end Robalan won a double including the G. J. Barton Memorial at the Forbury Park October meeting.
Then in the Kaikoura Cup, from the 35-metre back mark, he placed second to Royal Ascot (30 metres). Both clocked 3:03, but Royal Ascot was given exclusive rights to this national record, as from the start of 1973/74 place times were no longer considered for records.
In the 1973 New Zealand Cup Robalan came from well back early for a good fourth.
Far too good in the New Zealand Free-for-all he won by 5 ½ lengths 2:34.4, while in the Stars Travel Mile he beat Young Quinn by a half-head in 1:58. In Auckland he easily beat Young Quinn, Arapaho and company in 2:00.3 in the National Flying Pace but, squeezed for room in the early rush in the Auckland Cup, went offstride and was pulled up.
Robalan won his next six stars on end, including the Wellington Cup in 3:04 for 2400 metres from a stand and Canterbury Park Free-for-all in 1:57.6 – 0.2 seconds outside Wag’s national race mile mark set in the 1972 Stars Travel Mile.
In winning 12 races in the season Robalan bettered New Zealand’s previous best, established by Nyallo Scott who racked up 11 victories under Leo Berkett in 1946/47. Noodlum in 1973/74 also bettered Nyallo Scott’s effort with 11 outright wins plus a dead-heat for first.
Robalan continued on his winning way as an eight-year-old in 1974/75, despite several severe setbacks. Coming to hand nicely in August he scraped his near foreleg to the bone on a wire fence when playing with colts in an adjoining paddock.
Soon after he burst a blood vessel in his stifle through his habit of kicking while on the lead. His first win this term was in the G.J. Barton at Forbury (giving him a hat-trick in this event), but he was back on the ailing list when he collapsed in a trial at Addington in mid-October. It seemed his metabolism had been upset.
Veterinary treatment restored him quickly, however, and he went well at the trials at Addington five days before the New Zealand Cup.
Favoured with a good run in the Cup, Robalan came from fifth on the home turn to win by 2 ¼ lengths from four-year-old Kotare Legend, with Young Quinn and Hi Foyle next. Robalan could obviously have improved in his 4:09 for the 3200 metres had he been required.
It was Nyhan’s third New Zealand Cup win, as he had driven Lordship in his 1962 and 1966 victories.
Asked after the Cup if there was any chance of Robalan (a gelding) being sold to America, Denis replied: ‘No money in the world will buy him. He’s got the second row from my stable and it’s his for life.’
In the 1974 New Zealand Free-for-all, Robalan set the seal on his greatness.
Winning the race for the third straight year, he paced the mobile 2000 metres in 2:26.6 – a 1:58 mile rate and by far the fastest recorded for the journey since metrics were introduced in August 1973.
The world record for the slightly longer mile and a quarter at that time was Irvin Paul’s 2.29 3/5 (1:59.7 rate), set in 1962. Robalan paced his first 400 metres in 27 seconds and his final 1600 metres in 1:59.6. And he still had something in hand crossing the line well clear of runner-up Hi Foyle.
Robalan next won the National Flying Pace in 1:59.3 in Auckland.
Young Quinn, with 20 metres start on a rain-affected track, beat him comfortably in the 1974 Auckland Cup, but Robalan won the Canterbury Park Clarendon Free-for-all a few nights later by seven lengths in 1:59.3.
He then went amiss again and had to bypass the Auckland Interdominions.
But he recovered to crown his race career with an exceptional staying performance to win the 1975 Easter Cup finial in 4:07.4 after doubling his 35-metre handicap with a slow start.
An Addington track record, this was 0.7 seconds outside the national record established by Young Quinn at the Interdominions the previous month. Robalan was timed by experienced horseman Bill Doyle (Denis’s father-in-law) to pace the 3200 metres post to post in 4:02.4.
At age 10 Robalan was constantly worries and restricted by a leg ailment.
Yet in September he won the New Brighton O. Hutchinson Free-for-all in 2:33 (0.6 seconds outside the national record for 2000 metres from a stand) and then at Hutt Park added the Port Nicholson Handicap (from 35 metres at 2400 metres) and Roydon Lodge Free-for-all.
He was sent out favourite for the 1975 New Zealand Cup and after Nyhan gave him every chance he fought on for a good third, a head and a length from Lunar Chance and Final Decision. The $5000 Robalan earned for that placing boosted his earnings to $176,790 which took him past Young Quinn’s $174,616 and made him the greatest earner within New Zealand.
Breaking down three starts later at the Canterbury Park 1976 New Year meeting, Robalan was retired. From 123 starts over seven seasons, he won 40 races (17 at Addington) and gained 39 minor placings for $190, 820, which included the $12,150 he earned at the 1973 Sydney Interdominons.
Robalan’s sire Lumber Dream, whose career was restricted by a leg injury, won 12 of his 30 races and took a 1:58 2/5 mark as a three-year-old.
Also a free-legged pacer, he was by the Little Brown Jug winner Knight Dream (1:59 at three years).
Consistently high on the New Zealand sires’ list without topping it through the 1970’s, Lumber Dream’s 200 individual winners also included Josias, Dreamy Morn, Rocky Tryax, Sleepy Fella, Apollo Fifteen, Westburn Vue, Flying Dream and Imperial Dream, all very smart pacers. He had 23 two-minute credits to July 1982; behind only Lordship and Local Light (24 apiece).
By U. Scott, Elsinore was from the Lusty Volo mare Volometre, whose dam the Grattan Loyal mare Millimetre also left Centimetre, dam of outstanding mares Petite Yvonne (in New Zealand) and Sibelia (in Australia), both placed in Interdominion Grand Finals.
Millimetre was from Golden Bond, by Worthy Bond from an unnamed daughter of the imported Peter the Great trotting stallion Petereta.