Day At The Track

Hectorjayjay is an amazing bargain

01:42 PM 08 Dec 2016 NZDT
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Hectorjayjay and Josh Aiken winning a heat of the Inter Dominion
Paceway Photo

Exciting Victorian pacer Hectorjayjay, an abysmal failure at his harness racing debut, is poised to become one of greatest bargains in recent times by proving the master of his nine rivals in the $1.1 million final of the TABtouch Inter Dominion championship at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

The six-year-old is only the second pacer owned by school maths teacher Matt McLellan, who became interested in harness racing seven years ago and did not even go to the Shepparton yearling sales in early 2012 when he relied on a friend to act as his agent, with a budget of just $15,000.

“I had never set eyes on any of the yearlings and I got in touch with Cranbourne Harness Racing’s CEO David Scott and asked him to pick out a yearling for me,” the 38-year-old McLellan said.

“The first yearling he selected was out of my price range and the second one was a Dream Away colt who cost $10,500.”

Now a six-year-old gelding by the name of Hectorjayjay, the brilliant pacer has amassed $672,184 in prizemoney in a glittering career of 36 wins and 20 placings from 69 starts. A win on Friday night will result in his earnings rocketing to $1,277,184.

“I named Hectorjayjay after my late grandfather Hector James Johnstone and he was only the second pacer I owned,” said McLellan, who admitted he had a sinking feeling after watching the pacer fail at his debut, finishing a distant last in a two-year-old event at Geelong on March 19, 2013.

“I was told ‘you might have a good horse here’ but after he finished a long last I thought that he’s not much good by the looks of it. He was just holding on, but with about 400 or 500m to go he completely lost touch with the rest of the field.”

McLellan, the senior mathematics teacher at the prestigious Brighton Grammar School, was heartened when Hectorjayjay showed improvement to finish third at Cranbourne at his second start and the youngster quickly blossomed into a highly-promising pacer.”

“He has never looked back since those early days,” said McLellan, who revealed a remarkable side of his unselfish nature when he decided to sell shares in the pacer last February while retaining the majority 67.5 per cent shareholding.

Hectorjayjay had earned $243,471 from 23 wins and 17 placings from his first 52 starts at that stage when the gelding’s ownership swelled significantly.

“I made this decision to sell some small shares, for two reasons,” McLellan said. “One was because the financial offer was getting too nice to reject and the second reason was that you don’t get the same excitement when you race a horse by yourself.

“Financially it was fantastic, but you don’t get the same excitement as a sole owner as you do when you’ve got a few others in the ownership. It was enjoyable when I had the horse by myself, but now it’s more enjoyable sharing with people you like. It was remarkable how much bigger the offers were earlier this year compared with the offers when he was a three-year-old. Selling the shares has enabled me to buy a couple of other horses.”

Driving the bid to get shares in Hectorjayjay was Sydneysider Mick Harvey, a keen student of horseflesh who had never met McLellan when he started communicating with him and asking for a share of the pacer.

“I saw Hectorjayjay win a group 2 race at Melton and saw that he possessed unbelievable speed,” Harvey said. “After backwards and forwards a few times we came to an agreement and I split my share among the others --- my partner Jane Hughes, Sky Racing’s pacing expert Gareth Hall, a mate of mine from Manly, the Stokie family and Earl Sakareassen, a prominent businessman in Victoria and owner of a big thoroughbred stud farm in central Victoria.”

Several members of the Stokie family will return to Australia from a trip to England in time to watch Friday night’s final and Sakareassen will be delighted to watch the big race in which Hectorjayjay is the first pacer in which he has an involvement.

Sakareassen has a Norwegian background and Hectorjayjay races in the colours of Norway’s national flag --- red with an indigo blue Scandinavian cross fimbriated in white which extends to the edges of the flag.

Hectorjayjay raced in white with a purple star when he was trained by Bill Walker and then his daughter Simone. McLellan had no hesitation in agreeing to the change of colours, saying that the Brighton Grammar School’s colours were red and blue.

“Earl is the only one I actually knew before I decided to sell a few shares in Hectorjayjay,” McLellan said. “I had to convince him to get into the standardbred scene and now he’s loving it with his very first pacer.”

McLellan’s first harness horse was Marlon, an Our Sir Vancelot gelding who won one minor race from 13 starts in New Zealand (early in 2011) before being bought by the school teacher. The gelding raced in Victoria as Za Marlon, with McLellan explaining he added the prefix because he had a superstition about the letter Z.

Za Marlon won at his 17th start (at Cranbourne) for McLellan and driver Simone Walker and was retired after having 41 starts for McLellan for just one win and ten placings for stakes of $10,600. But this lack of success did not deter McLellan, who has struck it rich by his decision to buy a yearling at the 2012 Shepparton sales.

But everything that McLellan touches does not automatically turn to gold. He’s had a few ups and downs in the sport. He paid $16,000 to purchase Hectorjayjay’s half-brother Maycasaurus, who has inherited none of Hectorjayjay’s wonderful ability.

“I tried to get him to the racetrack, but he was never good enough,” McLellan said. “After three trainers tried him out and said that he had no hope of racing, I’ve put him in a paddock at Earl’s property and just use him as a riding horse.

”Recently we purchased a couple of Christian Cullen youngsters from New Zealand --- and one of them had a heart attack and died when jogging four weeks ago. That’s the racing game; you’ve got to take the good with the bad. It’s a lottery.”

McLellan has not seen all of Hectorjayjay’s races. He was in England as coach of Brighton Grammar’s first and second cricket elevens in the middle of 2015 when the gelding was competing in feature events for four-year-olds in Victoria. He was watching on his mobile phone when Hectorjayjay led and was just beaten in the final stride by Messini in the $110,000 group 1 Vicbred Super Series final.

He and his new partners will form a highly-excited group at Gloucester Park on Friday night as they cheer on the brilliant Hectorjayjay.

“It’s a very open race and there’s lots of variables,” McLellan said. “I’m just proud that my horse has made it to the big dance and whatever happens, happens.”

Ken Casellas

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