Harry Webber farewells “best horse I’ve ever had”

by Dave Di Somma  

Remembered as a horse with a “gorgeous” temperament Gillespie has been put down, just a month out from what would have been his 35th birthday.

“He had a great life,” said breeder-owner Harry Webber, “and he deserved it, he was the best horse I’ve ever had.”

“He had a ‘je ne sais quoi’ – he was special.”  

Foaled in 1985 Gillespie was by Smooth Fella out of Pernod. He got his name from well- known vet Peter Gillespie, a friend of Webber’s.

“So that’s why we called him ‘Pete”.”

After debuting as a three-year-old “Pete” won seven from 73 and nearly $50,000 in stakes, including five wins as a five-year-old. One race in particular stands out for Webber.

“He missed away and was last by 50 yards and caught the tail of the field at the 600 and won by two lengths. He never left the fence!”

His last race was in 1993 and he was then retired to Webber’s property just outside Christchurch.

“He had arthritis all his life but when he was racing he’d go through the pain.”

In recent years Webber says Gillespie had turned into the “patriarch”.

“He was the guardian of all the young horses. He’d look after them. He had a gorgeous, wonderful temperament.”

But time was catching up with the 34-year-old.

“I went out to feed him and he just didn’t get up and everybody knows when that happens, it’s time.”

The 73-year-old has been retired himself in recent years after running the family’s “world famous in Christchurch” Webbers Barber Shop. He was giving people buzz cuts and high razor fades well before the current trend.

“After I left school my father said what are you doing and when I replied “I’ll just see” he said no you won’t. I started in the shop and stayed there 50 years.”

With his snakeskin shoes and flashy outfits Webber was sometimes referred to as the mayor of Upper Merivale.

In retirement Webber still has plenty of horses to keep him busy though only one is race ready. With what’s happened this week it would be a poignant result if Ashes to Ashes can deliver at Addington on Sunday.

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