R is for Robalan

“Robby the free-legged pacer” sounds like a title of a children’s book.

It is in fact the story of Robalan, a horse who hated hopples and raced best without them.

He competed in five New Zealand Cups, winning at his fourth attempt in 1974.

Early on he was big and powerful and headstrong, prompting one of his early handlers to call him “mad as a snake”.

As a three-year-old he was transferred to Denis Nyhan’s Templeton stable near Christchurch – it was the making of him.

In 1971 he was fifth in his first New Zealand Cup, a year later he was third before claiming the first of three consecutive victories in the Free-For-All.

Robalan could produce a devastating sprint and in 1973 he hinted at what was to come by finishing fourth in the New Zealand Cup and then winning the Free-For-All by five lengths.

The offers were coming in for the free-legged freak but all were rejected.

In 1974 the seven-year-old just kept stringing the wins together, going on to be named Horse of the Year.

In the Cup he was fifth on the home turn before mowing down pace-maker Kotare Legend with apparent ease to win by 2 lengths.

His arch rival and hot favourite Young Quinn could do no better than third, after having eight wins in a row in the lead-up to the big race.

It was Nyhan’s third New Zealand Cup win following Lordship’s two victories in 1962 and 66.

Three days later he won his third Free-For-All, this time in a world record time (2:22.6).

In 1975 he finished third in his fifth New Zealand Cup, at the time making him the greatest-earning standardbred within New Zealand.

Robalan retired with a career record of 40 wins from 123 starts.

In 1996 he was buried at the Nyhan property where he had spent most of his 29 years and in nearby Halswell there is now a street bearing his name - “Robalan Way”.

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