The story of When, a world record and a clock

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk

A world record-breaking run more than 60 years ago will soon be commemorated at Rangiora.

On March 16, 1963 seven-year-old trotter When and trainer-driver Bill Doyle set a new mark of 2 minutes six seconds for a mile (standing start) on the grass at Rangiora.

Doyle had approached the then Rangiora Trotting Club with the idea of attempting a new world record just before his brilliant mare was about to leave New Zealand to compete in an International Trot Series at Yonkers, in New York.

A pacemaker Colours Flying, driven by Maurice Holmes, was enlisted to help out on the day. When duly lowered the world record and the Club presented Doyle with a chiming clock to mark the occasion. It's believed the clock took pride of place in the Doyle household for many years!

Now the club has decided to celebrate that feat, 61 years ago, by having a $12,000 one mile standing start for the lower grade trotters at its grass track meeting on Saturday, February 17. It will be called the When Commemoration Trot.

And it will have a start point usually reserved for the gallopers.

"A mile stand on the grass is a bit unusual and we will be starting from the chute to give the field the best chance of getting away safely," says Rangiora Harness Racing Club Past President Robin Wilson.

"We believe we will not have a problem getting a good field and it will be limited to 12 starters because of constriction of the track at the start."

One trainer very keen to get involved was Bill Doyle's grand-daughter Margo Nyhan.

"I absolutely love the idea of this race and the fact that When's record is being recognised," says Nyhan.

But the R35-39 band does present some problems.

"I asked the Rangiora committee what type of handicap range they were looking at and was super keen to have a horse or two in but we have nothing eligible."

In the event there are fewer than 10 acceptors for this race, the club reserves the right to include the lower rated 4YO & Older horses from another race on the card. 

With 20 wins (19 in New Zealand, and one in the USA) When (Light Brigade - Passive) is acknowledged as one of the great trotting mares to ever race in this part of the world. She was royally bred and rated as the best of Passive's progeny.

Bill Doyle was once quoted as saying : "She was a lovely mare and had tremendous speed."

She was the New Zealand record holder for many years and among her marquee wins was a record-breaking victory in the New Zealand Free For All at Addington on January 2, 1963. Her time, a New Zealand and Australian record, was 2:02.8, eclipsing the old mark set by Dianthus Girl.

Having won won 18 of 43, she was invited to New York. Doyle was accompanied by son-in-law Denis Nyhan and daughter Denise.

She made her American debut at Yonkers on April 18, 1963, running second to Italian trotter Fitestar.

After Doyle returned home When stayed in North America, winning once for local trainer Sacher Werner.

Some months later, after a lengthy spell in quarantine, When arrived back in this country and remarkably won first up for Doyle in the Banks Peninsula Cup at Motukarara in October, 1965. The 10-year-old came off 30 yards to set a track record of 3:15.6 for the mile and a half.

As an 11-year-old she was retired in 1966 with a NZ record of 19 wins from 56 starts, and the one win in North America.

As a broodmare she was also successful. Her first two foals were Now Charles (six wins) and Now (eight wins) while Live Twice won six and was a New Zealand record-holder.

Bill Doyle died in 1988, aged 82. He trained more than 230 winners in a forty year career, starting in 1947. His daughters Denise Nyhan, Helen Pope and Lyn Smith have also had tremendous success over the years.

"Grandad was a great stockman and knew his stuff with all animals but was quite a tough person as were all those of that era," says Margo Nyhan.

And just in case you were wondering, there will be a nod to that day in 1963 with the winner of the When Commemoration Trot at Rangiora getting a winner's cheque and a trophy that just happens to be a small (and appropriately engraved) wooden clock.

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