Curtin remembered with Auckland win

NZ HARNESS NEWS

There were emotional scenes at Alexandra Park on Friday night when Morrinsville pacer Count Landeck was victorious at double-figure odds.

Not only had the horse landed a significant betting plunge for connections, his driver Benjamin Butcher also donned a black armband after a tragedy 30 hours earlier.

Former Morrinsville Trotting Club President Russell Curtin, a good friend of Count Landeck’s trainer Roger Villiger, and racenight caretaker Phil Coppins, died suddenly at the local training track on Thursday morning.

Curtin had been helping Coppins with a blocked drain at the Scott Reserve property when suffering what was believed to be a heart attack.

Despite the best efforts of Coppins, a number of other horsemen on site at the time, and local ambulance staff, he passed away, aged in his early 60s.

Curtin had run a horse transport company for a number of years after earlier being involved in the bloodstock industry with his brother, prominent agent John, in the 1980s.

Coppins was understandably emotional thinking back to yesterday’s events, but proud to have been able to honour his good friend the best way he could.

“Russell was a very good friend of mine, and my father’s (Brian) for many, many years.

“I still remember when I drove my first winner, back in 1995 at Cambridge, my parents were busy and Russell was the one that took me to the track that day and enjoyed it with me.

“It was a pretty hard day yesterday for all of us at Morrinsville.

“And for me personally it’s been very hard to accept.

“We all had a few beers last night and agreed all the horses from the town would wear black armbands.

“We hoped one could get the job done, and it’s such a great thrill that we managed to do it.”

An added cherry on top for Coppins, Villiger and a few other locals was that they cleaned up on the punt as well.

The horse opened at $33 with bookmakers yesterday afternoon but had closed in to $14 by race start time.

“We all got plenty; it was a great result and we are very pleased with how it’s played out.

“His last two runs were good – he didn’t get any luck but it tightened him right up for tonight.

“I asked Ben to look after him over the 2700 metres tonight and he did. He drove him perfectly.

“You can never be that confident from the outside of the gate, but over the longer trip I thought it would be negated a little bit.”

Villiger wasn’t on course to celebrate the win, but that is nothing new.

He hasn’t been on course in Auckland for many years and no one really knows why.

“We’ve given up trying to persuade him to make the trip,” says Coppins.

“I’ve told him the Chinese restaurant on course is the best he’ll ever try, but it didn’t make a difference.”

Villiger has been enjoying a charmed run in the winter, winning five races since the start of June, including four at Alexandra Park.

Tonight’s win was his 10th of the season and it took him in to double figures for just the third time in 30 years of training.

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