The 3000 club heading to Methven this Sunday
by Don Rae
On Sunday the Methven Trotting Club is proud to welcome the three most successful reinsmen in New Zealand trotting history. They have been fixtures at the top of or near the top of every national drivers' premiership table since the late 1970s and have won every significant race on the racing calendar one or more times.
They are indeed the Three Wise Men of New Zealand harness racing - and Tony Herlihy M.N.Z.M., Maurice McKendry M.N.Z.M. and Ricky May will compete for honours over a 6 race series. They are the only drivers to have recorded 3000 wins in this country.
Tony Herlihy M.N.Z.M. is by any measure the most successful driver in New Zealand trotting history. As at 10 April 2023, he has driven 3,641 wins in total, with an outstanding UDR of .2791. He has been the country's leading reinsman no less than eight times.
He started his driving career in the 1977/78 season working for his uncle, Arnie Gadsby, and notched up two wins from a handful of drives. His first win came at the reins of Len Bayer's 10-1 shot Gymea Gold at Cambridge on 6 January 1978 when in a mobile 3200m C4/C5 race he defeated the Les Purdon-driven favourite Ellamon by a nose. Gymea Gold went on to win a creditable nine races little knowing that her reinsman would go on to win more races than any other driver in New Zealand.
Known as "The Ice Man" because of his cool nerve and patience under pressure, the statistics simply act as punctuation points to his greatness. He has won 72 Group 1 races in New Zealand alone and includes World Driving and Australasian Driving Championships among his many credits. He has driven the winner of the Inter-Dominion Trotting Championship four times, a record he shares with Mark Purdon.
Among New Zealand's top races he has driven the winner of the New Zealand Trotting Cup three times, the Auckland Cup eight times (another record), the New Zealand Derby twice, the Great Northern Derby five times, the New Zealand Oaks once and the Northern Oaks twice. Always a dab hand with a trotter he counts the Rowe Cup (six times) and the Dominion Handicap (once) among his multitude of wins.
Tony is also a very successful trainer. He trained his first winner, Mary Be Good, to win a maiden race at Alexandra Park on 30 August 1984 and since then has now tallied 1,074 victories from 5,931 starts at the exceptional UDR of .3070. Among his many stars have been Bolt For Brilliance, Irish Whisper, Ohoka Punter and One Over Kenny.
Methven-raised Maurice McKendry M.N.Z.M. ranks second on the all-time drivers list having racked up 3,379 wins. With UDR of .2421, his drives have earned $30,802,337 in stakes and he has won the national drivers premiership on ten occasions. He competed in the World Driving Championship four times winning once and coming second in another.
Maurice "The Magic Man" McKendry began driving in 1975 under the guidance of the vastly experienced Irvin Behrns of The Kauwhata. His first win came behind Behrns' Pleasant Command in a mobile three-year old race at Cambridge Trotting Club on 26 August 1975 paying better than $10. Pleasant Command would go on to reach open class, however driver McKendry would become world-class and became the first Kiwi driver to reach 2000 wins and second to reach 3000.
Maurice has driven 38 Group One winners, the most recent of these being behind the highly talented Copy That in April 2021 when he captured the Taylor Mile and New Zealand Messenger double. Among his most favoured Group One races he can count multiple wins in the Rowe Cup (4), N J Taylor Mile (4), Great Northern Oaks (3) and New Zealand Derby (3) with his top winners including Copy That, Dillon Dean, Placid Victor, Sir Lincoln, The Orange Agent and David Moss, just to name a few.
Like Tony Herlihy, Maurice took up training relatively early in his career; he first trained in partnership with Eddie Town at Mangere in 1980 and together they racked up 44 wins. Their best performer was Country News who won six races and placed third in the Group 2 Cambridge Classic for four year olds.
He began training on his own account early in the 1982/83 season when he trained the winners of fifteen races. His first training win came in October 1982 when Pro Patria won a maiden race at the Northland Trotting Club paying the very healthy dividends of $33.25 and $8.65.
His best horses have been Percy The Punter and Shandale. Percy The Punter won ten times including the Listed ATC Winter Cup while Shandale won eight races and secured Group placings running third in the 2016 Group One New Zealand Derby and second in the Group Two Alabar Classic, both behind the incomparable Lazarus. Never training any more than a few horses at any one time, he has trained the winners of 140 races for over $1.2 million in stakes.
Methven's own Richard Terence (Ricky) May sits third on the all-time winning list with 3,053 wins overall and stakes winnings of $33,658,861 and a UDR of .2206.
Ricky won just the one drivers premiership in 2004 but he has been a regular fixture in the top ten drivers list since he first began driving in 1976. His first win came on the grass at Geraldine on 27 November 1976 when he drove Ruling River, trained by his father Terry May, to pay $11.20 and $3.65.
Ricky is of course most famous for winning the New Zealand Trotting Cup a record seven times. Any driver would swap a drivers premiership for a win in the New Zealand Cup and Ricky's seven wins from 1989 to 2013, with an especially dominant period during 2005-13 when he secured five Cup wins, will remain a difficult target for anyone to match in the years ahead. His Cup wins were: Inky Lord (1989), Iraklis (1997), Mainland Banner (2005), Monkey King (2009 and 2010), Terror To Love (2012 and 2013) forming Ricky's pantheon of Cup glory.
Ricky is also famed for his brush with death incident at Omakau in January 2020. His heart stopped while driving A G’s White Socks and he had to be revived on the track by another driver (Ellie Barron) before being helicoptered to safety at Dunedin Hospital. Six months later he made an emotional return to driving and his famous gold cap remains a familiar sight on racetracks New Zealand wide.
He rates Terror To Love and Monkey King as the best he has driven but he can count many other top performers among his winning drives such as open class types Christian Cullen,
Vita Man, Happy Sunrise and Bailey's Dream, top mares Mythical, Frangelico, top trotters Cedar Fella, Highwood, Basil Dean, and Monbet and leading age group horses (2yo/3yo/4yo) like Idle Pride, New Age Man and Field Commander.
Ricky won his first Group race behind the speedy Vita Man in the Group 2 1982 Ashburton Flying Stakes but had to wait until April 1989 to secure his first Group One; Inky Lord provided him with that honour when he won the Great Northern Derby by three quarters of a length. His first trotting Group One also came in 1989 when he guided Idle Pride to win the New Zealand Trotting Stakes for three year-olds.
Together, the Three Wise men have won over 12,000 races and made an indelible contribution to New Zealand harness racing. The crowd at Methven will certainly be in receipt of the rarest of treats and leave the Mt Harding track surely the richer for the experience.