Vale Tony Dickinson

Tony Dickinson, the key figure behind the "Alta" racehorses, is being remembered as a man who "loved breeding and had invaluable knowledge".

Originally from Wainuiomata, Dickinson began breeding horses after he and wife Val moved to a lifestyle block at Waiau Pa, south of Auckland, in the 1970s. They set up Alta Dream Lodge. Dickinson had earlier been involved in an aluminum joinery business.

Harness Racing New Zealand records indicate he bred 89 horses, 61 of which were winners. Among his most successful were Alta Serena who had 18 wins in New Zealand (and 21 overall) as well as Charlemagne (16), Alta Orlando (11) and Alta Wiseguy (10).

He chose the prefix "Alta" because it symbolised what he was trying to achieve. Meaning "high or elevated" in Latin, Alta was also part of the motto of the school he attended.

As an owner, Dickinson was gifted a share in Facta Non Verba who in 2002 looked to have the New Zealand Cup won only to be pipped by stablemate Gracious Knight. Both were trained by Mike Berger and Warren Rich. Facta Non Verba ended up winning 27 races and over half a million dollars.

But it was Alta Serena (Fake Left - Heard A Whisper) who changed everything.

In one interview he explained how : “She was one of the very first we sold at the sales, fetching the ‘princely’ sum of $3500. She went on to win $600,000 for her new owners, which really put us on the map.”

Another top lot was Alta Christiano (13 wins from 18 starts).

“We sold him for $50,000, but he was such a superb racehorse that he was on sold for half a million."

Routinely he would sell up to five yearlings annually at the sales, and then race others with trainers, including Adrienne Matthews.

"He was an absolute gentleman," says Matthews, "he loved breeding and had invaluable knowledge."

After initially experimenting with his pedigrees Dickinson ended up a big believer of "success begets success".

"He said you get a nice mare and a nice stallion and even though it's a lottery you give yourself every chance," says Matthews.

"One of sad things is that he had brought mares out from America and when he got sick he had the best band of broodmares he'd ever had."

Alta Camilla was his foundation mare, producing, among others, Alta Maestro (9 wins) and Alta Jerome (6 wins). Other mares of note were Alchemist, who won 16 races and $351,805. Her progeny include Lester, who's won three from six, and Alta Meteor (4 from 13). Samantha Q was another good producer, with the likes of Alta Intrigue (4 wins), Alta Valencia (3 wins), and Jack Ryan (5 wins).

In recent years Dickinson's health started deteriorating. He then sold up his interests and moved from Waiau Pa. He died earlier this week. 

As an administrator Dickinson spent 20 years on the executive of the North Island Standardbred Breeders Association , including a stint as president, and was recognised for his "outstanding contribution to harness racing."

Dickinson was 76.


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