Strappers still hitting their hopples after all this time

By Rob Courtney

When Maren Franco won her seventh race at Ashburton on Sunday for The Strappers Syndicate and trainer Leo O'Reilly, it marked the 34th win for a group of harness enthusiasts that started out in Mid Canterbury in 1980.

Syndicate manager Chris Morrison (of Morrison's Saddlery) reflected "after a group down south, I do believe 'Strappers' is the second longest surviving syndicate ownership group in the sports history." The oldest is the Invercargill-based Setarip who started in 1969.

"A few things have changed in the 40 odd years that we have been racing horses," says Morrison.

"Back then most of us were in our 20s including a young Ricky May and an even younger Laurence Hanrahan. Greg Tate was also in the group and he was the junior driver for the then prominent Dick Prendergast stable.... it all started with Gentian who we acquired as an older horse with Terry May."

"Not only did we race horses together, we loved our sport and played indoor basketball and social footie together with the opposition often coming from other stables in the Canterbury area", Morrison continued.

But time doesnt stand still and now Chris Morrison is the only surviving member of the original 11 strong group.

"When the Fortex freezing works closed its doors, 3 or 4 of our group lost their jobs so racing the horses became too hard. Johnny McDonald was the other surviving member until he left about 4 years ago

"We have won 34 races with 14 different horses".

Morrison needed to count the photos on the shop wall to pass on those numbers.

Before Maren Franco, Jack Hammer (6 wins) and Mimas (5 wins) have been their best performers although Idle Dollar did win a few in Australia and remains the only horse they have raced across the Tasman under the Strappers banner.

The horses were initially trained by Terry and Ricky May (Ricky's wife Judy has a share in the syndicate) but when the group was offered a 'replacement' for a promising Tabitha Franco (now deceased) by Spreydon Lodge, Maren Franco's arrival just happened to coincide with Ricky's near death experience at the Omakau meeting and so maintaining the Mid Canterbury connection, Leo O'Reilly was chosen to take their racing interest over.

Strappers exercised the right of purchase on Maren Franco (5m A Rocknroll Dance - Motu Born To Sparkle) this time last year and she now has won $54k from 44 starts in three seasons of racing.

"We've had offers to sell but at this stage we are likely to keep racing her. We are all 60+ and while she would make a handy broodmare (2nd dam This Time Franco), time is against us when waiting for any progeny to make it to the races".

While the stipes questioned the improved performance from the mare, her 1.56.7MR over 1700m on a very cold day hinted that the Strappers might not need to wait too long for win number 35.


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