On this 'Back To The Track' weekend of celebrating harness racing, we thought it apt to catch up with Peter Wolfenden, one of the greatest drivers Alexandra Park and New Zealand has seen to have a look back on a stellar career and what his current movements are.
Obviously when people associate Peter Wolfenden with any given horse it's Cardigan Bay but what of some other horses you drove that might have been not too far behind Cardy? "Petite Yvonne, she was a great. I remember her winning a free-for-all against the Inter-Dominion horses in Wellington. She beat Johnny Globe and others at a special meeting put on for the horses coming back from Christchurch.
Laureldale was a great wee horse. Under 15 hands, he was 10/10 in the betting in the Cup, off 24 yards and he ran down Caduceus to place second behind Thunder.
Single Cash was a good stayer. Won two Rowe Cups and didn't have an ounce of trotting blood in him. He was a bit of ratbag too."
Agua Caliente and Victor Supreme? "They were both great horses too. She was so tough and he was so fast. He (Agua Caliante) would have won a lot more races if he was sounder."
Have you a funny, quirky story you can pass on? "I remember when I was 18 (years-old). Of course there were no (video) cameras at the races in those days. Racing was very tight and in big fields. I was driving against Free Holmes, who was a tough man out there but I managed to grab his shaft and push him out to win a race at Alexandra Park
I actually wasn't sure what would then come of it. I asked the caretaker, Harry Wadham, if anything was said by Free, who was in his prime at that time? He replied that Free evidently stated", "he's a game little devil isn't he"."
Your first driving winner was Anthracite at Hawera in 1952. Do you remember it well? "I remember he was a ratbag. That's why drove him. The first time I drove him I ended up in the macrocarpa trees after the start at Te Awamutu. He backed up that day later on and ran second though.
He ended up going to Hawera and winning twice in the one day. Did you know that Anthracite is the best coal you can get from the West Coast?"
What's the one endearing memory you have of racing at Alexandra Park? "Definitely when Cardy won the Auckland Cup off 78 yards. What a big achievement that was!"
What were some of the other career highlights? "Special Pride, her effort to win the Rowe Cup as a four-year-old was something special and that I'm proud of.
The first Rowe Cup winner I drove was a horse called Jewel Derby. He later was sold to America. He was a top horse!"
What about a disappointment perhaps? "The one the got away... I drove Holy Hal in the 1969 Auckland Cup. I'd never driven him before and warming up he was a bit scratchy and noddy, I thought the stipes might have called me off the track and scratched me. Anyway, when they let them go he threw away the crutches and went to the lead.
We were able to crawl along in front until we got to the three (furlongs), Derek Jones and Leading Light came at me. I clicked him (Holy Hal) up and he took off! Leading Light was able to slot in on my back. He then came off my back in the straight and beat me by half a length or so. If I knew what he was like I would have won that race.
Lot tougher sitting parked for that last bit than trailing."
Are there any other disappointing or lower moments that stick out? "When Cardy went to Perth and had that heavy fall when trained by Billy Wilkins of Australia. They had him in a sling for six weeks. I thought that was the end of him but he came back won Cups, went to America and did all that he did. That was great but it was the shock of it at the time he had the fall."
What was it like the day the stand burnt down at Addington in 1961? "Well, we were 30 minutes late for the race (New Zealand free-for-all with Cardigan Bay), which was one thing. They all came for Derek Jones' horse Smokeaway when the fire broke out. I think he ran third to us that day."
What's in racing for Peter Wolfenden these days? "We, Glenn and I train six these days. Two racehorses and the rest are young ones. We have Murcielago at the races but he's going to take time. He's a."
Here are Peter's thoughts on Murcielago's chances at Alexandra Park (Race 6) on Friday night. "He's still learning and he's athat's had just five starts. He has potential but it won't be easy in a sprint with a full field. We're hopeful though."
Peter Wolfenden Fast Facts:
- Career NZ Driving wins 1762 - formerly all-time leader.
- First winner driven was Anthracite at Hawera in April 1952
- 14 times national driving premiership Winner.
- 7-time NZ Rep at the World Drivers Championship.
- Has trained a total of 798 winners over 54 years in NZ.
- Has won 6 Auckland Cups, 5 Rowe Cups and 4 NZ Cups
- 2-time Australasian Drivers Championship winner.
- Countries Peter has driven in include Norway, Finland, Germany, Italy, France, USA, Canada, Macau, Wales and Australia.