IRT Legends Night tips hat to racing greats

By Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk

Harness racing legends of yesteryear will be celebrated at Addington Raceway on Friday courtesy of the night’s key sponsor – IRT.

As the naming sponsor of the Group 1 New Zealand Trotting Cup (3200m), the equine airfreight firm has sponsored an entire race card in the lead-up to the great race, and being in their 50th year of business they decided to do something a little different this time.

“Getting together this year we decided that we wanted to do something a little different and we felt one of the things that really hadn’t been done in either code was a remembrance evening,” IRT managing director Richard Cole said.

“The idea from us was to address and identify some of the legends of our sport in harness racing and devote a race to them on the evening.

“From a process point of view at IRT, we contacted all of those families involved and asked if they were happy for us to do so, and in all instances people were incredibly supportive and very grateful that we would put on a remembrance evening for their past family members and legends of the sport.”

Eight greats of the game will be part of the tribute night, including Charles Roberts, Cecil Devine, Jack Smolenski, Peter Cole, Derek Jones, Jim Dalgety, Roy Purdon, and Bill Feiss.

Cole is looking forward to the evening, and the New Zealand Cup meeting next month, which has become a strategic event for the leading airfreight company.

“We are into year three (of sponsoring the New Zealand Cup) and our intention is to continue that association moving forward,” Cole said.

“We find it an incredibly important part of our direction at IRT – sponsorship is a key part of giving back to the racing industry that supports us so well.

“It is a fantastic day and one that I believe is the biggest on the racing calendar. It is set to be a great day for the industry this year with crowds allowed back on the course.”

The harness racing industry has played a key role in IRT’s success over the years, and Cole said it is rewarding to give something back to the sport.

“We are in our 50th year of business and well before I was involved in IRT they used to run charter flights to the US just about weekly with large numbers of (standardbred) horses,” he said.

“It is an integral part of the business, and my personal involvement in the industry has been born out of being at IRT and I am loving the involvement in ownership in racing horses in the standardbred world as well.

The IRT Legends :

Charles Roberts :

Charles Roberts has left a legacy that will go unrivalled for many years. He has achieved such on several fronts through his pioneering work as an equine veterinarian, his roles in both equine racing codes as an administrator and breeder and finally, his efforts as the co-founder of Woodlands Stud.

With many accolades in breeding and racing, what flies under the radar for many, is just how talented Charles was as a veterinarian. A leader in that field, Charles was a pioneer in establishing some of the technology that is common place in veterinary practice today. He introduced the swabbing of racehorses, the use of scanners for broodmares to New Zealand, the use of kerosene to flush mares and, the crushing of twins at an earlier stage.

Charles enjoyed breeding and racing horses in both codes for decades before co-founding Woodlands Stud in 1992 where the harness racing accolades flourished. Through astute decisions, Woodlands Stud has grown into one of the best standardbred studs in the world and is home to Bettors Delight – arguably the greatest harness racing stallion seen in Australasia.

Inducted into the Hall Of Fame, Charles was a regular winner at the Harness Racing Awards where his greatest haul came in 2013 winning five trophies including Breeder of the Year, as well as Champion Stallion with Bettors Delight, Broodmare of the Year with Scuse Me and Filly of the Year with Adore Me.

Charles is the only breeder to be awarded Breeder of the Year in both the Harness and Thoroughbred codes and his legacy to his profession and our great industry will be everlasting.

Roy Purdon MBE :

Roy Purdon was a Champion Harness Racing trainer and patriarch of harness racing’s most famous family. Following his father and uncles into the Harness Racing code, Roy always wanted to be a trainer.

A hard-worker from a young age, Roy began training with his father Hugh after WWII on a farm close to the airport in Mangere. After years of toil and little success, the decision was taken to move to Pukekohe where there were more racing people and subsequently, more horses.

Roy went out on his own after being offered a property next to the track in Te Awamutu. His first big winner came in 1958 when Call Boy was promoted to first in the Great Northern Derby. Noted by his sons as being extremely patient, with great attention to detail, it wasn’t until Sole Command came along in the 70’s that things really took off with champion after champion coming out of the stable.

Horses like Luxury Liner, Christopher Vance and Chokin were headline acts and played a big part in two decades of domination by Roy, who trained many of his winners in partnership with his son Barry, whilst other son Mark, and son-in-law Tony Herlihy, steered a majority of the stable winners to success.

Another Hall of Fame member, Roy won 21 trainers’ premierships, a total of 2019 races in New Zealand with 56 at Group One level. He trained some of New Zealand’s greatest harness horses of all time. A gentleman of the sport, he is remembered as a true legend both on and off the track.

Jack Smolenski :

A magical period of success during the 1970’s established Jack Smolenski as a leading trainer and driver across New Zealand. Throughout his career, he trained 742 winners and as a driver, was an early member of the exclusive “one thousand club” with a total of 1059 victories.

Jack was associated as driver and/or trainer of many feature race winners tasting success in a plethora of New Zealand’s greatest races including the New Zealand Derby, New Zealand Oaks, New Zealand Trotting Cup and Auckland Trotting Cup, Interdominion heats, Flying Stakes, Breeder’s Stakes whilst he also tasted success in the New Zealand and Great Northern Trotting Derbies.

Some of the horses that Jack trained and/or steered to victory include Amaze, Sovereign, Times Up, Gina Rosa, Arapaho, Vanadium, Lord Module, Giovanetto, Pompalier, Nardinski, Mels Boy, Colonel Grace and, Seaswift Franco to name but a few.

The Smolenski family is synonymous with Harness Racing in New Zealand and will continue for generations to come.

*Information sourced from the Addington Hall of Fame website

Jim Dalgety :

Jim Dalgety wore many hats in the Harness Racing industry – breeder, owner, trainer, driver, stud master - and his involvement in the industry spans generations.

Jim got his start in the industry as a 17-year-old after leaving his parents’ farm. He gained a probationary license to drive in the 1955/56 season when he was working for Maurice Holmes. Granted a license to train in November 1958 having stated he had worked for Cecil Devine as well as Maurice Holmes, he gained his first win as a trainer and driver in January of 1959.

Jim travelled horses to North America in the late 1960’s where he worked for five months and later purchased stallions to stand at his Lantana Lodge operation.

In various capacities, Jim was associated with the winners of an Auckland Cup, multiple Great Northern Derbies and Oaks, the Taylor Mile, Nevele R Fillies etc and as a breeder, bred the dam of NZ Cup-winner Lord Module, Pacing Filly of the Year Happy Hazel, 3 &4YO Pacer of the Year Melton Monarch among many others.

As a stud master, he sourced Premiership winning sires such as Bachelor Hanover and Out To Win and was awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing Award at the 2009 HRNZ Awards.

Undoubtedly a Harness Racing legend!

*Information sourced from the Addington Hall of Fame website

Cecil Devine :

In 1936, as a stable hand, Cecil Devine accompanied two horses from Tasmania to New Zealand to compete in the Interdominions at Addington Raceway when his brother was unable to make the trip.

He came for a month and stayed for a lifetime.

He established a training set-up in Prebbleton and soon through his skill and dedication to detail, he became one of the most respected trainers and horsemen of his time.

In the 9 years between 1951 and 1960 he won five New Zealand Cups with Van Dieman, Thunder, and False Step - who won it on three consecutive occasions - and a Royal Cup with Van Dieman, presented by Queen Elizabeth. In 1979 he trained and drove his sixth New Zealand Cup winner – the brilliant but erratic Lord Module.

Cecil, who was often known as Tassy, was one of the true champions of Harness Racing and several of New Zealand’s latter leading trainers did their apprenticeship under his guidance.

*Information sourced from the Addington Hall of Fame website

William (Bill) Feiss :

Part of one of Australasia’s most successful ownership forces, Bill loved the harness racing game and it brought him great joy over many years.

While harness racing came to Bill later in life, he could not have been more passionate about it.

He was a strong supporter of his wife Jean, going to the yearling sales to purchase yearlings to later race and he would then watch with great pride when the yearlings purchased went on to be quality racehorses. One such purchase by the name of “Vincent” was given the stable name of Bill as it was his favourite.

Having forged an extremely successful relationship with All Stars Stable, Bill loved nothing more than to travel from Melbourne to New Zealand to follow the horses. He and Jean would go out to the All Stars stable to watch the horses work and then after that, go to the local coffee shop at Rolleston for his favourite breakfast then it would be off to the races to cheer on the horses that evening.

Sadly, as time passed because of illness, Bill was unable to travel anymore with Jean so each Friday night he would go to the local RSL to watch the races with his mates.

Derek Jones :

Derek Jones needs little introduction to most harness fans, for besides being a highly successful horseman, trainer and administrator, he was in fact once of the great characters of our game.

Whilst harness racing wasn’t his first vocation into employment – he was initially trained as a hairdresser – it wasn’t long before he returned to the industry he had worked in as a youngster and after putting in the hard yards, the rest as they say, is history.

With a stint in the North, Derek returned to Christchurch in the late 1940’s when he accompanied two horses – Soangetaha and Barrier Reef – putting him into the “big league” with Soangetaha being one of the finest pacers of his generation having won the Great Northern Derby, then later two Auckland Cups.

Through the 1960’s, Derek won two trainers’ premierships in partnership with Jack Grant but resisted the urge to train large teams, which saw him take some time to join the 1000 club in training wins.

In more recent times, his greatest moments came with the likes of Hands Down and Blossom Lady who in turn advanced the careers of his son Peter (Hands Down) and grandson Anthony Butt (Blossom Lady).

An industry figure that was well-liked by his peers, and all involved in Harness Racing in Australasia, it is no wonder he is a member of Addington’s Hall of Fame.

*Information sourced from the Addington Hall of Fame website

Peter Cole :

Peter Cole was destined to have a love of racing with his Dad, Alf, a thoroughbred trainer and his Uncle George, a trainer of standardbreds.

Raised around Takanini, which at the time was the racing hub of New Zealand, there was no doubt that a passion for the industry would develop. This passion was shared with his Dad and brother, IRT founder and Director, David Cole, and later his son Richard, IRT’s current Managing Director here in New Zealand.

A very successful businessman in his own right, Peter loved a punt, and over the years this developed into racehorse ownership that saw him enjoy many a successful moment on the track. From a racing family, he was well known and respected by many in both the thoroughbred and harness codes.

Having become ill over recent years, Peter’s visits to the track became less and less frequent however, his Saturdays were spent in front of the TV watching the racing channel, with plenty of banter back and forth across the Tasman between he and Richard as they placed their bets.

Around the time of his passing, Peter tasted success one last time on the track with Talent Agent, whilst a mare he and Richard owned and raced, Standing Ovation, foaled a cracking first foal by Astern. This colt holds a special place in the heart of the Cole family.



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