Pathfinder Grant Dickey – still on the right track

By Rob Courtney

From high profile former club administrator to highly successful racehorse owner, Grant Dickey has been involved in harness racing for over seven decades and his ‘back stories’ read like a never ending honours board at Addington Raceway.

On this day, the octogenarian was at the Rangiora trials to see the Dalgety trained Magician (2g Captaintreacherous – Imaginary Bet) and a half to top three-year-old Merlin go around and before the trial (which he duly won), the part owner wasn’t overly confident that the horse was going to live up to his $200k price tag attained at the 2022 yearling sales.

This from a man who could have two runners in this year’s NZ Trotting Cup, but more about that later.

Dickey, born in Christchurch but educated in Mid Canterbury, was introduced to harness racing at a very young age courtesy of his father having horses with New Brighton trainer George Cameron post WW2.

“My Dad had a flooring shop and enjoyed a flutter. On one trip to the Coast, it took him four days to get home and Mum was not impressed.”

But the astute young Dickey had already decided that he wasn’t going to get into horse ownership until he could properly afford it.

Joining Carpet Mill Products as a 20-year-old, Dickey would eventually leave 38 years later as managing director. Today as the Gilt Edge Company, Dickey and his family operate 12 warehouses throughout NZ specialising in flooring accessories from underlay to glue.

Horse ownership and race club administration arrived about the same time for Grant Dickey, in the late 70s.

He became a steward at Canterbury Park, was club president from 1993-96 and is a life member of the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club.

“I fondly remember (along with then New Brighton president Paul Renwick ) appointing a fresh faced kid who had no experience as promotions officer for our clubs - his name . . . . Greg O’Connor."

Along with brother-in-law Barry Cotton (himself a committee man of NZ Met), they raced firstly Proud Miss (by Game Pride) and trained by Robin Butt. She managed a win and a few placings but after 26 starts, horse and owners parted ways. Dickey had already decided not to get involved in the breeding side of the game.

The Robin Butt stable had become ‘famous’ at this time for the noteworthy ‘from last to first’ win of Locarno in the 1980 Miracle Mile coming from the dreaded barrier of six at Harold Park and Dickey remembers getting a very nice return from the tote.

Furthermore, a son of Locarno in Pathfinder gave Dickey his first serious win when he upset in the four-year-old Superstars championship run by the New Brighton Trotting club.

“He won a few then got his chance at stud but like many colonial breds, didn’t attract much interest."

Natural Appeal was another to do a good job winning five for the Dickey/Butt combination.

About this time Butt introduced Dickey to American Ed Wardwell, an ex nuclear submarine commander who just happened to be contracted to the US Navy to paint their fleet of ships.

Wardwell had taken a liking to NZ and had purchased land in West Melton, initially set up for a young Davey Butt but now known as Kentuckiana Lodge, home for Cran Dalgety and his family.

“Ed arrived but didn’t know anybody and I made an impression by attending drinks at his place by being the only kiwi to arrive on time and it went on from there.”

Dickey and Wardwell prospered as a partnership, their horses proudly displaying those distinctive ‘american stars and stripes’ silks which incidentally Dickey still has registered under his name.

Executive Stress won nine, Spiritual King and Gold Prince both won the NHT 2yo race at Auckland when big money was up for offer and both were later sold for good money to America.

Georgetown was a good horse, winning 10 including the big four-year-old races at Auckland and was Dickey’s first starter in a NZ Trotting Cup before getting exported.

All this success came around 2000 when the Dickey horses had gone to the then Mid Canterbury based John Lischner stable and then in turn ‘the king’ Ken Barron, when the former retired from training.

“With Ken, I have had the best of both business and pleasure and for over 20 years we have never had a cross word said - a great mate!”

Ed Wardwell passed away eight years ago and Dickey admits to some of the ‘gloss’ wearing off but with the comraderie of others in the game, the self made businessman is back with shares in six horses from the Dalgety stable.

These days, the winning numbers are closer to 200 than 150!

Despite winning a ‘Jewels’ with A Bettor You back in 2021 and two Derbies with Krug, the race win Dickey treasures the most was Krug’s win in the 2020 Sapling stakes back in his home town of Ashburton.

“As a young fella, I can remember horses like Rupee, Buccaneer and Golden Oriole, on the grass on a heavy winter track and that was the race I always wanted to win as an owner. That was special”

Krug is a potential NZ Cup starter this year and is likely to be joined by another Dickey part-owned pacer in the form of the smart Republican Party which Dickey has a lot of time for.

Grant Dickey doesn’t dwell on not buying big winners Stars And Stripes or Lazarus when he had the opportunity but is looking forward to what lies ahead.

“This all started for me in 1948 and I haven’t gone broke,” he chuckles.


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