Back to the future for Stiven
By Garrick Knight
The training sect of small West Otago town Tapanui had a day out at Sunday’s Winton races with two of its three licensed horsemen recording wins.
And for John Stiven, better known as a highly successful commercial breeder, the win of Countess Of Arden gave him a memorable first training success.
It’s not the first time he’s held a training license, but with 2019 being a landmark year for Arden Lodge, he was compelled to give it another crack.
“This year is the 50th anniversary for Arden Lodge,” said Stiven.
“It was established here in 1969 and that milestone was part of the reason I thought I’d have a wee crack at training again this year.”
Stiven is no stranger to the craft, having helped his late father Doug with a team on the same property before his passing in 2001.
“I’d been thinking about getting back in to it for a long time,” he told HRNZ.
“I took over the licence when dad died, and had just one starter before giving it away to focus on the breeding side of things.
“I used to help dad back in the day and knew the times they used to run back then.
“So, I spoke to (fellow Tapanui trainer) Alan Shaw about it and he said I wouldn’t need to do much different than what we used to.”
The first issue was the farm’s training track, which was somewhat dilapidated after 18 years without being used.
“It had a fair bit of grass coming through it in parts that had to be worn off. I actually re-grited it a couple of weeks ago.”
Then all he needed was the key part of the equation – a horse.
Enter Countess Of Arden, who was a rising four-year-old daughter of Net Ten EOM that had been born and raised on the farm before going through three different stables.
“She had been leased to Bob Sandford and Geoff Dunn and they sent her home in May after a couple of starts.
“Well she arrived here with new shoes on and I thought, well, rather than pull them off, I’ll wear them off her.”
After an encouraging fifth and second at the two Gore meetings, Stiven went to Winton on Sunday semi-confident.
That was only magnified when white-hot favourite Chevron Flies was late-scratched an hour before the race.
After showing early speed from the mobile start point, Countess Of Arden settled in the trail for junior driver Ben Laughton, whose appointment carried the added bonus of a penalty-free win.
The short Winton straight meant she needed to show some zip to reel in leader, Betterthanspraying, but she got there by a half-head in the shadows of the post.
With Barry Purdon, Brad Williamson and Dunn having handled her previously, it’s somewhat intriguing that Stiven has managed to get the best out of her.
“She’s enjoying life. She’s happy to be home in Tapanui, just like we are.”
So, does Stiven have any plans to ramp up his training operation?
Probably not immediately with 16 mares nearing foaling and nine yearlings to prepare for next year’s sales.
“Just for the moment we will see how it goes, but it’s probably fair to say I’ve got the bug back now.”
An added thrill for Stiven was the win earlier in the day of Rah De Rah, who is prepared by fellow Tapanui trainer, Matt Saunders.
“Those two horses worked together during the week so it was quite exciting to see them both win on the day.
“Matt works them on the galloping track and does a great job.
“He’s been up here once and I’ve been down there probably half-a-dozen times.”
Like most of Saunders’ winners, he was a recent purchase out of Canterbury and was having his first start from new quarters.