C is for Christian Cullen
When All Black star Christian Cullen first met his equine namesake in the 1990s it was awkward to say the least.
It was a choreographed rendezvous for the cameras and got a lot of coverage. But it’s fair to say Cullen, the fleet-footed fullback, didn’t have much of a clue.
“Had much to do with horses?” he was asked.
“Not much,” came the reply.
But somehow there was a symmetry between two fine athletes, Cullen the rugby player who scored 46 tries in 58 tests and a majestic pacer that seemed unbeatable at times and was New Zealand harness racing’s biggest star.
Both had dazzling pace, and both brought the crowd to their feet.
Trained by Brian O’Meara, Christian Cullen amassed over a million dollar in stakes and it would have been considerably more but for a series of leg injuries.
Cullen had his first two wins with Peter Jones in sulky, but it was Ricky May (5 wins) and O’Meara’s stable foreman Danny Campbell (15 wins) who were his regular pilots. In his stellar four-year-old campaign (1998-89) he won 12 from 12, including the New Zealand Cup, the Auckland Cup and the Miracle Mile. .
In the 1998 New Zealand Cup May opted to drive defending champion Iraklis, only for 25 year old Campbell to guide the $1.90 hotshot to victory over his arch rival in what was then a record-equalling time (4:00.4).
It was driver Campbell’s biggest moment. Tragically, he died five years later after being kicked in the chest while handling a couple of yearlings.
Having earned over $1.2 million from 22 wins (31 starts) Christian Cullen was retired to stud, after running third in the Victoria Cup in January 2000.
By boom sire In the Pocket, Christian Cullen was a gun as a stallion as well. His progeny included New Zealand Cup winner Mainland Banner, as well as millionaires , Miracle Mile winner Christen Me and Stunin Cullen. In his prime he was the most sought after stallion in the country. He also stood in the USA for a year though this was not as successful.
In Canterbury, Christian Cullen stood at Wai-Eyre Farm and then Nevele R Stud. Now 25 he is enjoying life at Dancingonmoonlight Farm in North Canterbury, alongside dual New Zealand Cup winner Monkey King.
Tomorrow it’s D – and yet another legend of the sport.