Seventy five years of Trotting FFA
by Peter Craig
The headline grabbers of New Zealand Cup week were Copy That's front-running New Zealand Cup win - and the redemption story that that entailed - and then the New Zealand record-breaking wins of South Coast Arden and Sundees Son on Show Day.
That Team Dunn's multiple Group One winning trotter could run the 3200 metres of the Renwick Farms Dominion in 3:56.6 was phenomenal.
Somewhat lost in all the hype of the week was that the New Zealand Trotting Free For All was celebrating a milestone of its own. Tuesday marked the 75th time the race had been held.
And with the likes of Sundees Son and Muscle Mountain both by-passing it in favour of the Dominion it was Oscar Bonavena who powered past Bolt For Brilliance to win by more than a length, cutting out the 1980m in 2:24.8.
It was an impressive performance, though down on the record set the previous year by Heavyweight Hero (2:23.9).
Times run in the NZ Trotting FFA can be spilt into imperial (1946-72) and metric distances. Moon Boy set a then world record 3:23.8 on 27 August 1960. The slowest time recorded over 1m5furlongs was Aerial Scott’s second victory in 1948 of 3:44.0. In metric races since 1973 the only running over 2600m resulted in Easton Light’s 3:25.0 being the race and NZ record for distance (he recorded 3:22.0 from the mobile when winning again in 1974).
The fastest 2600m was Romper Stomper’s 3:14.2/2:00.1 in 2007 while Best Bet’s 3:26.1 was the slowest mobile (1977). When reduced to 2000m, I Can Doosit’s T2:25.0 in 2012 was the quickest; 1950m record shared by Monbet (2016) and Great Things Happen (2017) at T2:21.7.
Mark Purdon's win with Oscar Bonavena was his third training success, along with I Can Doosit (2012) and Buster Hanover which brother-in-law Tony Herlihy drove in 1998.
Oscar Bonavena's success was also the fifth for foundation mare Pride Of Lincoln.
The inaugural NZ Trotting FFA was in 1946. 4/4 in the betting, it was won by Steel Grey, the grey 11-year-old was in the form of his life during the 1946 NZ Cup carnival winning both the NZ Champion Trotting FFA and Sockburn Hcp.
Steel King was by Wrack from Oriental, by Logan Pointer-Eastern Lady by Prince imperial from a thoroughbred mare by Benzoin. Oriental produced Cheetah, the dam of 1946 NZ Cup winner Integrity (also NZ Pacing Championship FFA) making for superb performances during the 1946 NZ Cup carnival from two members of the one family at differing gaits.
Apart from not being run in 1952, the NZ Trotting FFA has been a feature of Addington’s NZ Cup carnival.
The running of the NZ Trotting FFA at the NZ Cup carnival has taken place across all days the carnival has been held over the past seventy five years.
The stake for the NZ Trotting FFA has increased from an initial £2,000 ($4,000) to today’s $100,000 with several ups and downs over the years.
Mares have a respectable record in the NZ Trotting FFA having led the field home on sixteen occasions of the 75 to date.
Bob Young and Anthony Butt are the "winningest" drivers with six. Young won with Aerial Scott twice, Single Task, Supervise, Mighty Hanover, and Queens Cord while Anthony Butt was successful with Take A Moment twice, Lyell Creek, Vulcan, Peak, and Tough Monarch.
Butt drove three consecutive winners of the Trotting FFA between 2002 – 2004 : Take A Moment, 2002, 2003 and Lyell Creek, 2004
Ricky May has five, with Maurice Holmes with four together with a number of drivers having three wins – Bill Doyle, John Langdon, David Butt and Tony Herlihy MNZM.
In the training ranks Tim Butt has had five successes with Lyell Creek, Take A Moment twice, Vulcan, and Peak.
There have been two three-time winning owners, Bill Doyle with Gold Horizon twice, and When and John Dickie with Thriller Dee, Last Sunset, and Romper Stomper.
The biggest winning margin was Take A Moment in 2003 (five lengths), with Ima Gold Digger by 4½l in 2010 and Recruit by four lengths in 1956.
The narrowest margin of a nose has two record holders, Inferno in 1970 and Best Bet in 1977.
The first of Monbet's two wins in 2015 was the first and only time a four year old has won the Trotting FFA.
There has never been a three time winner of the NZ Trotting FFA but there are a number of dual winners including Aerial Scott, Call Me Now, Easton Light, Gold Horizon, Monbet, Queens Cord, Recruit, Scotch Tar, Sir Castleton and Take A Moment.
In the breeding barn, the leading sire with six NZ Trotting FFA winners is Sundon (Sunny Action, Last Sunset, Allegro Agitato, Jasmyns Gift, Speculate, Ima Gold Digger).The leading broodmare sire of NZ Trotting FFA winners with six is Light Brigade.
With Oscar Bonavena not entered in the Dominion this year the coveted double was never on the cards. But there have been multiple winners of the Dominion and the Trotting FFA in the same year : Tutira, 1969; Scotch Tar, 1978; Stormy Morn, 1981; Simon Katz. 1987; Tobago, 1989; Call Me Now, 1995; Chiola Cola, 1996; Take A Moment, 2002, 2003; Lyell Creek, 2004; Stig, 2008 and Vulcan, 2011.
The event's long shot was “iron horse” Idle Scott’s ninth win in 1988 FFA, paying $61.20 to win
The NZ Trotting FFA has been a major contributor in highlighting the excellence of the trotting breed in NZ over the past three quarters of a century and the NZ Metropolitan TC continues to positively promote this particular Group One opportunity for our leading square-gaiters.
Bring on the next 25 years.