Remarkable feat has equal in harness racing

By Tayler Strong

New Zealand harness racing has a feat to equal that of jockey Aaron Kuru, who regained his seat after a fall at the first fence in a steeplechase and carried on to win the race.

The remarkable horsemanship took place in a maiden steeplechase over 3200m at Awapuni on June 16, 2018 when Kuru (26) rode Des De Jeu. Kuru retained contact with the horse and control of the reins in the fall, regained full use of his irons after the third fence. Des De Jeu won by half a length in the nine-horse field. The feat was lauded throughout the world, boosted by social media.

A similar feat in NZ harness racing took place at a Methven meeting in September, 1955 when top horseman Cecil Devine was dislodged from the sulky at the start, regained his seat and won the race with Thunder.

The race was over 13 furlongs (2600m) and 22 horses started. Thunder, the 1-2 favourite, won by a length from Kelso.

Ron Bisman wrote of the accomplishment in the NZ Trotting Calendar of September 28, 1955:

“Devine was unseated from Thunder’s sulky after appearing to collide with Kelso just after the barrier tapes were released. The Templeton trainer(then aged 40) showed speed to regain his seat but when he got Thunder properly underway, the gelding was conceding the leaders a start of 150yds (137 metres). Passing the stands with five furlongs (1000m) covered and a mile still to travel, Thunder had joined the tail - enders but was still 60yds (55m) from the leader. He was still well back at the half mile but sustained a brilliant run to follow Zagar, Banjo and Kelso into line. He challenged wide out on the track, battling on with remarkable gameness and fairly worried Kelso out of the major honour over the last half furlong (100m). As he passed the post with a length to spare, a large section of the crowd enthusiastically applauded his remarkable performance.”

Thunder was having his third start, He had won the first at Methven five months earlier as a 5yr-old. A gelding by Light Brigade – Busted Flush, Thunder won eight times at six, the last seven in a row from 12 starts.

Thunder carried on to win the 1956 NZ Cup by six lengths, one of six wins in that race for Devine as a trainer and driver. The others were Van Dieman (1952), False Step (1958, 59, 60 (off a 48yd, 44m handicap) and Lord Module (1979). Incidentally False Step won at Methven as a 2yr-old, the day Thunder won his first race and again in September of that year. False Step was then trained by Jack Litten for whom he won 12 races including the NZ Derby. False Step did not win as a 5yr-old and he was transferred to Devine by owner Jim Smyth the following season when he won his first NZ Cup.

Devine took False Step to the United States after his final NZ race as an 8yr-old, the 1961 Interdominion Final at Addington when beaten a nose by Massacre. False Step won the National Championship Pace (mile and a half) at Yonkers Raceway, the third leg of an international series. The Fallacy – Dainty Direct entire was subsequently sold and died of a heart attack in 1962. False Step sired three winners from four foals he left in NZ Among them was Miss Step, who won in 1.59.6 in the US when 2.00 was  the benchmark for a mile.


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