D is for Devine
“Old school” – that was Cecil Charles Devine and he made no apologies for it.
"If paying attention to detail is tough, then I am tough,” he said during one interview.
A no-nonsense type, Devine was born in Tasmania in 1916 and he only came to New Zealand because his older brother Eric opted not to bring some of his own horses to race here.
“Ces” came instead – it was meant to be for a month. He stayed for more than half a century.
"I suppose I was about 20 at the time. I took on the job and was supposed to go back when the horses returned. But Wellington looked so good - they had a beautiful six furlong grass track at Hutt Park in those days - I decided to stay on to see if the rest of the country lived up to that early promise."
It wasn't long before he was offered a job with Vic Leeming who was training just out of Christchurch and then leased a property at Prebbleton.
Over the years he became incredibly successful with some of the best horses of a generation.
To date no one else has ever trained and driven six New Zealand Cup winners. He did it with Van Dieman (1951), Thunder (1956), False Step (1958-59-60), and Lord Module (1979). Only Ricky May has driven more, with seven.
When Devine was asked to compare three of his champions he said:
“False Step didn't have as much speed as Lord Module, but he was a top racehorse, Van Dieman was probably faster but needed to be covered up. Lord Module can do it from anywhere, over all distances.”
Thunder and Devine were involved in an incredible win at Methven, according to various reports.
Devine was dislodged at the start, only to then scramble back and take hold of the sulky. Not only did he make up the 100 metres to catch the body of the field but Thunder continued on to win the race to rave reviews for driver and horse.
But it was the NZ Flying Stakes at Addington in 1957 that Devine is also remembered for, and not fondly.
The great Caduceus was well clear of the field and duly won, with Don Hall (Devine) and False Step (Jack Litten) both vying for the minors. For whatever reason, over the concluding stages Devine and Litten engaged in a whip fight, one suffered cuts to his face, the other to his hands. It prompted outrage at the time and they returned to the birdcage to widespread boos and jeers.
Both were suspended from driving at any meetings for six months.
Ironically it was Devine who would later take over the training and driving of Litten’s horse False Step and guide it to three consecutive New Zealand Cup wins, and become just the second to do so along with Indianapolis (1934-35-36). Terror to Love became just the third in 2013.
When he turned 65 Devine was forced to give up driving on raceday – and no he wasn’t happy about it – but those were the rules at the time.
He trained his last winner eight years later in 1988 when Jack Smolenski reined home Cheeky Module at Motukarara.
C.C. Devine died in 1990, aged 75.
Tomorrow it’s “E” – not so much a horse, but a winning performance.