Smith honoured at North Island Awards
By Garrick Knight
An industry involvement spanning over 30 years was recognised at the North Island Awards on Saturday night when West Auckland lawyer Peter Smith took out the night’s most prestigious honour.
Smith was surprised with the Outstanding Contribution to Harness Racing gong, the last of 24 awards handed out at the Alexandra Park function.
He was in attendance as a sponsor of an earlier award so had no indication that he was going to be the star of the show until his body of work was read out.
“The penny dropped when they mentioned that I had mentioned help set up the trust that organises the awards,” Smith told HRNZ.
As a lawyer, Smith has afforded countless hours of time and expertise to the industry, usually pro bono.
As well as that, he spent eight years on the board of Harness Racing New Zealand, just as long at the Auckland Trotting Club and also served his local Kumeu Trotting Club, the Sires Stakes Board, the Judicial Control Authority and the New Zealand Standardbred Breeders Association.
Beyond that, he and life partner Winky Foley are long-time breeders, owners and sponsors.
By Monday morning, as word filtered around that Smith have received the coveted award, he was starting to get bombarded by congratulations.
“I’ve been getting a lot of texts and calls as people have started to find out. It’s been very nice and I’m really quite chuffed.”
Smith first joined the game in the mid-1980s when then part-time trainer Doug Gale walked in to his law office.
“He found out I liked horses and I told him how I was having difficulty getting thoroughbred racing off the ground in Kumeu.
“He said why don’t you get in to harness racing instead?
“So, he invited me down to the Kumeu Trotting Club one Sunday morning and I was gobsmacked to see 130 horses in work there.”
Of course, those days are now well and truly past at Kumeu, but that one visit achieved its goal for Gale and the industry would be a whole lot better for it.
“I was hooked.
“Doug immediately got me to buy a broodmare called Royal Christina that left one horse that won a race on the West Coast.”
Smith and Foley’s breeding operation has come ahead in leaps and bounds thanks in the most part to what he calls their foundation mare, Belle Jane.
She won nine races on the track but it was as a broodmare that she really made her mark, leaving eight winners from 13 foals as well as being the granddam or great granddam of Anthem, Kippenberger, and Risk.
“We’re still breeding from that family today. She really was a marvelous mare for us.”
Smith and Foley have bred in partnership with Canterbury’s Brian West for many years after a chance meeting between Smith and West when the former was doing a week’s ‘work experience’ at Robert Dunn’s then-property in West Melton.
“Brian turned up with Michael House on a truck full of two-year-olds with their gear on, ready to be worked.
“That was the first time I met both Michael and Brian and they’ve been lifelong friends ever since.
“I was at the New Zealand Cup meeting one year and got talking to the late Wayne Francis, who had bought a mare called Resonance off us at the sales.
“He said to me she’s not up to our standard as a racehorse, so I offered to buy her back for $6000 and promised to send her to Falcon Seelster the next two seasons.
“I turned around and asked Brian if he wanted in on the deal. He said yes and that was the start of our breeding partnership.”
In more recent times Smith and Foley have achieved success breeding from the Dream Away mare, Exposay.
They raced her second foal, El Jacko, before selling him for good money to Perth, where he has been Group 1 placed and earned nearly A$350,000.
But it’s in the boardroom where Smith has really made his mark.
He started on the HRNZ Board in 1998 and served for eight years under Jim Wakefield, John Penney and Pat O’Brien.
He was an advocate of the controversial accreditation scheme and had a huge part to play in setting up what now known as ‘The Breeders’ with a Chief Executive and Executive Manager.
“The breeders association voted me on to the board as their rep and the feeling was that a small number of people were working hard and everyone else was benefiting.
“So, we tried to make every breeder pay a registration fee, to try and fund a centralised body with a paid CEO.
“But Kypros Kotzikas, John Mooney and a crew of southern breeders felt it was too socialist and took court action.
“The judge said it wasn’t within the rules of harness racing to do so and we had to abandon it.
“Later, we spoke to the board of HRNZ and organized an annual grant of $100,000 to fund it and now John Mooney is the Chairman.
“I’m very proud of that.”
He served on the Auckland Trotting Club board for nine years and oversaw its transformation to the self-sufficient entity it is now, with multiple permanent outside income streams.
Of course, the back-end of his tenure involved the perennially-delayed Greenlane development. He stands by the fact it was the right move for the club.
“I still think it’s the best thing they ever did.
“Yes, the risk has come home to roost but the increased value of Greenlane Rd because of this development is only going to help the club in the long-term.
“And the ongoing rental from the properties and carparks the club still owns in that development will return millions back to the club.”
He says he is probably finished at board level in the thick of the harness industry, even though he is once again eligible for the ATC board after a year’s stand down.
Rather, he’d like to apply his legal nous to help the JCA, where he sits as an HRNZ representative on that board.
Last year’s Messara Report promoted big changes to the judiciary system in New Zealand racing and Smith is very keen to be a part of that overhaul.
“I’m prepared to put my shoulder to the wheel there and help get those changes through.
“And I’ll still do a wee bit of voluntary work for HRNZ, as well.”
Jeremy Young was one of only two trainers to prepare a horse to beat Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s stable in a pacing Group 1 last season.
And for that effort, with his brilliant filly Best Western, he was presented with the Racing Acheivement Award.
The only other pacer to upset the All Stars’ apple cart was Belle Of Montana, who won three Group 1s for Barry Purdon and, accordingly, she was presented with the three-year-old filly and overall female pacing awards.
Tony Herlihy was the north’s leading trainer with 54 wins last term, and had that memorable day at the Jewels with two wins and a placing. Fittingly, he took out North Island Trainer of the Year.
Other human winners were Bruce Hadley, Cheree Wigg, Chanelle Lawson, Kaleb Bublitz, Benjamin Butcher, Arna Donnelly and Zachary Butcher.
Full Awards list:
AUCKLAND HARNESS TRUST – NORTH ISLAND PREMIER CADET AWARD
MAJESTIC HORSE FLOATS – NORTH ISLAND AMATEUR DRIVER OF THE YEAR
KAHUKURI BLOODSTOCK HOLLIS & ROBERTSON - NORTH ISLAND GROOM OF THE YEAR
MAGNESS VIDEO LTD / VID-COM LTD - NORTH ISLAND LICENCE TO TRAIN / OWNER – TRAINER
OF THE YEAR
AUCKLAND VETERINARY CENTRE - NORTH ISLAND JUNIOR DRIVER OF THE YEAR
PGG WRIGHTSON - NORTH ISLAND 2 YEAR OLD COLT OR GELDING OF THE YEAR
Bad To The Bone
PGG WRIGHTSON - NORTH ISLAND 2 YEAR OLD FILLY OF THE YEAR
Sweet On Me
BRECKON FARMS - NORTH ISLAND 2 YEAR OLD TROTTER OF THE YEAR
Bolt For Brilliance
BRECKON FARMS - NORTH ISLAND 3 YEAR OLD TROTTER OF THE YEAR
Tickle Me Pink
DUNSTAN - NORTH ISLAND 3 YEAR OLD COLT OR GELDING OF THE YEAR
DUNSTAN - NORTH ISLAND 3 YEAR OLD FILLY OF THE YEAR
Belle Of Montana
MERV & MEG BUTTERWORTH - NORTH ISLAND FEMALE RACING ACCOMPLISHMENT AWARD
GARRARDS HORSE AND HOUND - NORTH ISLAND OWNERS OF THE YEAR
CADUCEUS CLUB - NORTH ISLAND FILLY / MARE OF THE YEAR
Belle Of Montana
NORTH ISLAND STANDARDBRED BREEDERS ASSOCIATION INC – NORTH ISLAND BREEDER OF THE YEAR
IRT – NORTH ISLAND DRIVER OF THE YEAR
VETERINARY ASSOCIATES EQUINE AND FARM – NORTH ISLAND TRAINER OF THE YEAR
VETERINARY ASSOCIATES EQUINE AND FARM – NORTH ISLAND BROODMARE OF THE YEAR
H R FISKEN AND SONS – NORTH ISLAND TROTTING STALLION OF THE YEAR
WOODLANDS STUD – NORTH ISLAND PACING STALLION OF THE YEAR
HARNESS RACING NEW ZEALAND – NORTH ISLAND AGED TROTTER OF THE YEAR
AUCKLAND TROTTING CLUB – NORTH ISLAND AGED PACER OF THE YEAR
SIR LINCOLN AT LINCOLN FARMS BLOODSTOCK – NORTH ISLAND RACING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
ALWAYS B MIKI - ALABAR / NEVELE R STUD – NORTH ISLAND AWARD FOR
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO HARNESS RACING