How Gav is a winner - on and off the track

By Barry Lichter

Meet Gav. He’s harness racing’s Mr Nice Guy. He’s the type who, quite literally, wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Everyone loves Gav. His owners dote over him, saying he’s the kindest horse you could wish for.

Gav loves people so much his trainer Doug Gale had no hesitation in supplying the horse for a recent gearing-up for the public promotion at the New Zealand Rural Games, which Harness Racing New Zealand supports along with the Taranaki Kidz Kartz.

While his stablemates were doing wheelies in their paddocks at home, Gav spent the weekend in Palmerston North Square, standing tethered for up to three hours a day while kids and adults alike patted and prodded him.

And not once did he flinch, even as greenhorns fiddled with his harness and wrestled with how to put on his head collar.

Even when Cambridge trainer Nicky Chilcott, in town as one of the Norwood finalists for rural sportswoman of the year, took on the clock, it was like Gav wanted to help, lifting his feet up for the hopples as if sensing she was getting behind.

For much of the day, the most animated Gav had been was the occasional flick of his tail to ward off the flies, a remarkable display of temperament given he was in full racing trim and just a couple of days away from his next race.

That is, until the crowd applauded Chilcott for her display, a sound he wasn’t really used to hearing to be fair as only a two-race winner.

Rural Games founder Steve Hollander, who races Gav with a big team of mates, loves the fact the horse has the exact same temperament as the man he is named after.
Though broken in by Canterbury’s Gavin Smith, Gav actually carries the moniker of the late great Australian horseman Gavin Lang. Lang secretly used Hollander as a spotter for buying horses back in the day and the Dairy Flat entrepreneur became used to listening to his laconic drawl.

Gav, the horse, like Lang is an absolute gentleman, says Hollander, almost to his detriment.

“He seldom runs out of a place, and then mostly for reasons out of his control, but he just doesn’t have a killer instinct.”

Last Wednesday, at Manawatu, Gav looked to be content to settle for another placing, many lengths off tearway leader Manny and in behind a wall of horses.

But when driver Dylan Ferguson was thwarted for an inside run, and Gav politely gave way to his opposition, in desperation, he hooked out five wide.

Perhaps Gav knew his new driver liked doing things fast, as a former winner of the Rural Games gearing-up challenge, for he responded in unprecedented style, gathering in the leaders so fast he eventually ran out a three and a half length winner.

Hollander, who likes a fiver each way on his runners, didn’t have a bean on Gav at his $18 price because the horse had been nursing a slightly sore foot all week and Gale wasn’t sure how he’d perform.

Now that he’s won a third race, Gav has presented his owners with a problem, says Hollander, who’d promised they’d sell one of their two horses at the end of the Manawatu season.

Who to sell? The easy-going Gav, who like other members of his family seems to be improving with age, or their one-race winner who does have a killer instinct and has regularly “brained” Gav in work, but is very badly behaved.

If it was up to one of the owners, National MP Ian McKelvie, a former spokesperson on racing, and now chairperson of the select committee for governance and administration, I reckon Gav would be the keeper.

His name, Call Security.

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