Day At The Track

Peter O'Rourke: The Lazarus link

10:41 AM 22 Jul 2019 NZST
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Lazarus N,Harness racing
Lazarus
Hoosier Park Photo

When Christchurch harness racing buff Peter O’Rourke was offered the role as booking agent in New Zealand for the mighty Lazarus he didn’t need to think twice about accepting the position.

“How could you not want to be involved with the past pacer I’ve ever seen?” Peter said.

Lazarus, the dual NZ Horse of the Year and Inter Dominion and Miracle Mile hero who is lining up for his first season at Yirribee Pacing Stud, Wagga (NSW), is gaining widespread interest from Kiwi broodmare owners, according to Peter.

“I’ve already had more than 40 confirmed bookings to him in New Zealand,” he said.

O’Rourke is unquestionably one of the best known and most respected figures in Harness Racing breeding and racing - on either side of the ditch.

His secondment to the Lazarus team adds yet another string to his bow.

O’Rourke’s involvement in the sport began way back in January 1977.

“Bob McArdle wanted me to give him a hand with his bloodstock business,” Peter recalls.

“And I stayed for 23 years!”

Peter, whose working life began as a high school teacher in Melbourne, was appointed as manager of the fledgling Nevele R Stud, near Christchurch in 1977.

Peter O'Rourke

“When I first started the three horses standing on the property were Timely Knight, Nevele Romeo and the trotter Gerry Mir,” Peter said.

“Holmes Hanover, Live Or Die and Falcon Seelster were the three best sires to stand at Nevele R during my time.”

The exalted trio won more than 20 NZ Sire Premiership between them.

In 1999 Peter became the marketing manager of the late Wayne Francis’ Spreydon Lodge, the home of the ‘Franco’ breed, as well as general manager of Nevele R Stud Limited.

“I sold more than 100 ‘Franco’ horses to both Australia and NZ including derby and oaks winners, two Australian Pacing Championship winners, a Chariots Of Fire winner and a Golden Nugget winner,” he stated.

Some of the best horses sold by Peter include the NSW Oaks winners Scent and Shrub, Madam Steward (Queensland Oaks), the Chariots winner Kentuckiana, the Australian Pacing Championship winners Swapzee Bromac and Atitagian and the cup class pacer Our Ian Mac.

One of his most expensive sales was the Boyden Hanover gelding Swapzee Bromac.

“I purchased Swapzee Bromac as a foal off Bob McArdle and later sold him to clients of Perth trainer Trevor Warwick,” he said. “He went on to win more than $200,000 before being sold to USA for $100,000 plus.”

In 2013 O’Rourke joined forces with well known Adelaide harness identity and good mate David Shammall to establish Stallions Australasia, which transports frozen semen for elite trotting sires from North America.

“Unlike their pacing counterparts, the top trotting sires don’t ever shuttle to Australia or NZ,” Peter stated. ”So we identified a niche market for the trotters.”

The Stallions Australasia roster includes the world’s No. 1 trotting sire Muscle Hill and his brilliant, young sons Trixton, Southwind Frank and Tactical Landing.

Peter said the best horse he ever raced was Michele Bromac (Besta Fella-Milne Bay), who won 11 races including two heats of the Nevele R Fillies Series and finished second in the final and third in the NZ Oaks.

He also tasted success recently with the three-year-old Artsplace gelding Arts Dash.

“He had three starts for us for a win, a second and fifth before we sold him to Victoria where he won on debut at Geelong last week,” Peter said.

Married to Sue, and the father of two children and grandfather of Lulu, 7, and Harry, 5, the 68 years-old O’Rourke still really enjoys harness racing.

“I love the industry and I want to stay involved for a few more years yet,” he stated.

By Peter Wharton

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