Obituary - Owen Crooks
Owen Crooks was a passionate horseman and entrepreneur from an early age. Born at the end of the great depression and before the start of World War two, he learned to ride at his grandparents’ place, bought unbroken ponies, educated them, and sold them on for a decent gain.
Horses always played a big part in Owen's life, so much so that It was said he never took holidays unless a horse was involved.
Born in Invercargill, he was the eldest son of Ossie and Bessie Crooks, who arranged for him to learn the violin.
At one stage, instead of going for tuition, he visited the blacksmith to study shoeing horses. It only came to light when the teacher rang to see if he was well enough to come back for lessons.
His father Ossie had a major role in the operation Southland Construction Company. Owen joined him in the business and in 1963 they created the all-weather harness track at Ascot Park. Larger tracks followed at Wyndham and Winton.
Owen also turned his hand to dairy farming and his daughter Jackie Barron recalls it fitted in well with his other duties. A typical day, she said, involved a trip to Southland Construction to heat the tar for the bitumen, home to milk the cows and feed the horses, back to Southland Construction, home to the cows again and then work the horses. When he began standing stallions, more space had to be found in his schedule.
Long before he went farming, Owen had begun training racehorses and his first winner was the galloper Desperation. Owen obtained a harness matinee and trials driving licence in 1955, became a probationary driver in 1956, began training in 1960 and had his first training and driving win with Lady McCoy at Oamaru on 23 October, 1961.
He became an open horseman at the beginning of the 1965/66 season with Local Joe the best pacer he trained. The Joe Reward gelding won nine races including four from five starts between 22 December, 1979 and 16 January, 1980. From 1974 to 1976, the promising Mein Express won five from 15. His potential was never fulfilled when a twisted bowel led to his premature death.
Among the stallions Owen stood were Scottish Command, Dick Adios, Nandina Dancer, Scenic Jerlin, Knowing Bret, Gaines Minbar and Fashion Comet. He was highly regarded in the sphere and his expertise in breeding was legendary.
In 2001, he got the opportunity to fill the role of studmaster at Jaccka Lodge and described it as finally securing his dream job. He spent 10 years there and impressed Jaccka Lodge proprietor Charlie Smaill with his knowledge of families. His heart was in horses and he had a great memory for mares, Charlie said.
When the property changed hands and became known as Macca Lodge, Owen stayed on for another two seasons at the new business before moving back to Invercargill. He continued his association with horses on a limited basis until a stroke in 2014 brought it to an end.
By that time, the trotter he had bred, Mass Invasion, was ready to go to the workouts. His son-in-law Clark Barron went on to prepare the mare for seven wins. One of those wins, in December 2017, was particularly special to Owen because she was driven by grand-daughter Ellie Barron, just the second career win for the junior driver.
He was a great supporter of mine,” said Ellie. “How many owners would have given a first-season junior the opportunities he gave me,” she added. “I learned so much from that horse.”
Owen Crooks was 80 when he died last Monday. He is survived by his second wife, Ann, and children Jackie Barron, Bernie Hewitson, John Crooks and Lynley Williams.