Day At The Track
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This week’s funeral notice in both the New Zealand Herald and Christchurch Press summed up how much harness racing meant to 70-year-old John Devlin: Devlin, John William (J. D.) passed away peacefully on New Zealand Cup Day (November 12), 2013 after a short illness. Late in the advertisement it read: “Keep backing winners Dad.” But J.D. was more than just a punter; he was a man with extensive harness racing knowledge who boasted CV dating back four decades. On August 31 the industry endorsed that when he won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing Award’ at the North Island Harness Racing Awards at Alexandra Park. He said that was the pinnacle of 40-plus years in harness racing career. “Winning the Great Northern Derby and this year’s Breeders Crown with Ideal Scott was my career highlight up until I was presented with that award. “This beats them all. It means so much to be recognised by your peers. This beats everything I have achieved in harness racing,” J. D. said. On July 4 J. D. was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He knew that ceremony was one of the last opportunities for him to farewell his trotting buddies. Back then J.D. said he didn’t want the doctor to tell him how long he had to live when informed he had incurable cancer of the pancreas and liver. He said he didn’t fear dying because his Catholic faith had made him strong, and didn’t want to know when he was going to die. “I’d rather not know. I just want to carry on and live each day to the fullest. I’m a man of faith and I have a ninth grandchild on the way. I still have plenty to live for,” J. D. said. J. D. was a true Anzac. He was born in Brisbane and attended St Laurence’s College. He came to New Zealand in 1963, and even though he supported Australia in sport, most of his family are Kiwis. He has two sons – Bradley a Kiwi, and Shane an Australian. J. D. came to New Zealand with a few mates from the Gold Coast. They were on a working holiday. “When I got here night trotting was relatively new and I took to it immediately. Four years after getting here I married a Kiwi and have remained here since,” J. D. said. He then got a job writing for Ron Bisman and the Auckland Star. A renowned journalist J. D. later started South Auckland Bloodstock before being employed by Woodlands Stud. He worked at Woodlands Stud doing promotions work virtually right up to his death. He had a couple of Group Two galloping winners but Ideal Scott was the best horse he has owned. His first horse was Sir Vance, whom he bought for $1,500 and sold for $100,000. He also had Auckland Cup starter, Riley. J. D. was humbled by his North Island award and the amount of support he had received since his diagnosis. His words at that function were rather pertinent. “The support from the harness racing people in both Islands has been absolutely tremendous. They have been so wonderful. “It is a fantastic industry to be involved in. To you all: I thank you so much for your kind words and gestures,” Devlin said. A service to celebrate JD's life will be held on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 1.30 p.m. at Holy Cross Catholic Church, 3 Carruth Road, Papatoetoe. J. D. is the loved father and father-in-law of Shane and Melanie, Bradley and Aimee, Kylie and Mike. Loved brother of Stafford Devlin (Philippines) and Denise Devlin (Brisbane). Grandfather and great mate of Hannah, Josh, Jake, Martine, Holly, Olivia, Braydee, Taine and one to come. Also the former husband of Vianney. Rest in Peace J.D. Thank-you for your interview in September. Forever inspired and never forgotten. By Duane Ranger

This 1956 photo shows harness racing at Moonshine Upper Hutt, Wellington New Zealand. Sadly there is no more harness racing in New Zealand's capital city - Hutt Park closed in June 2003 after opening in 1929 with a six furlong (1200m) track.

The New Zealand Trotting Hall of Fame has lost some mighty committee members in recent years - Les Callender, Bill Moat, Neville Southey, last month Kevin Coutts and now Leo George is close to heaven's call. So when harness racing journalism giant Ron Bisman attended the quarterly meeting last Friday (February 11) it was just the tonic the committee was looking for.

As we closed off the coverage of this all-embracing treatise at the end of the 1981/82 season we noted harness racing in New Zealand to be - like many other facets of life in these times - facing some daunting obstacles.

Sold for $150 as riding hack after failing to show promise as a youngster, Stormy Morn gained a reprieve and began atoning for his early disgrace after being produced for racing as a late three-year-old by Belfast horseman Trevor Thomas.

Young trotters to show exceptional ability in the first couple of seasons of the 1980s were Jenner and Mister Square. In a Vintage crop of three-year-olds in 1980-81, Jenner had four wins and 13 placing from 21 starts for $15,735.

Following his outstanding and colourful form of the late 1970s, Scotch Tar continued his spectacular highs and lows in the early 1980. So well did he win twice at Addington in August 1980 and then the Ordeal Cup there the next month that owner-trainer slim Dykman - now his regular driver - announced he was interested in having a crack at the New Zealand Cup.

When Hilarious Guest had completed her two-and three-year-old campaigns at the end of the 1981-82 season, there was no need to look past her to find the best filly produced in New Zealand. On the score of juvenile form, Olga Korbut previously held the honours with her 15-5-6-1-1-$15,020 read-out for 1974-75. Hilarious Guest topped this with 13-7-1-0-1- $32,880. Both won the Sapling Stakes and Juvenile Championship; Olga Korbut in 3:15.5 and 2:53.1 and Hilarious Guest in 3:12.5 and 2:15.6.

Gammalite showed up in New Zealand in November 1981 with the New Zealand Cup his main mission. Flying in to Christchurch from Melbourne while the pre-Cup trials were in progress on the night of Thursday, 5 November, he boasted excellent credentials.

Armalight became big news as a three-year-old in 1979/80 when her 12 wins (including two under 2:00) and three seconds from 15 starts made her top earner of her age with $73,365. Her victories included three heats and the $21,250 final of the DB Flying Fillies' Stakes, the New Zealand Champion Stakes and the New Zealand and North Island Oaks.

Bonnie's chance, a daughter of Majestic Chance and the Aksarben mare Bonnie Countess, came to national prominence in 1980/81 as a 5-year-old from Richard Brosnan's Kerrytwon stable. Mrs Bonnie McGarry, of Timaru, and Mrs Karen Grice, of Invercargill, Paid $1000 for her dam, a daughter of Countess Ada, who also left top pacers including Gliding Princess.

In winning the 1980 New Zealand Cup, Hands Down returned to Prominence the family that produced the mighty Cardigan Bay. Christchurch breeder Harold Kay bought Cardigan Bay's grand-Dam Pleasure Bay (Quite Sure - Helen's Bay, Guy Parrish) cheaply in the late 1940s after she had produced Cardigan Bay's dam Colwyn Bay for Alex Jopp.

If Delightful Lady was something special at the end of the 1970s, she was supreme in 1980-81, the season in which she was an overwhelming choice for Harness Horse of the Year - winning by 35 votes to Hands Down's 7 and Scotch Tar's 1.

An exceptionally high standard of racing prevailed in the first two seasons of the 1980s, highlighted by several world-class performances by three great mares - Armalight, Delightful Lady and Bonnie's Chance.

In August 1980 the first full-scale harness racing operation in Asia was launched at the Portuguese-governed colony of Macau, some 60 kilometres south-east of Hong Kong on the South-east Asia coast. The brainchild of Wealthy Chinese businessman and Gambler Yip Hon, the Macau Trotting Club was formed on a private-enterprise basis by a consortium comprising Yip Hon and colleagues.

In 1980-81 a group of concerned trotting men tried to grapple with various problems facing the advancement of harness racing as an industry in New Zealand.

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