Vale - Tony Stevens
By Bruce Stewart
Harness racing trainer and driver Tony Stevens of Winton passed away at home on Friday. He was in his seventy fifth year.
“He just loved his horses,” son Richard said.
Tony drove twenty six winners, his first was Night Chief (Newport Chief at the Invercargill meeting in January 1972 beating Veltic (Young Charles) driven by Hunter McHugh and Bonny Adios (Dick Adios) driven by Russell Kerr. Night Chief was trained by Tony’s father Roy.
(Tony Stevens, pictured above at the head of Dipendra)
“Tony started at Nightcaps when he was at High School with Dad and he was the hands on junior driver for the stable,” Tony’s brother Ken said.
His last winner as a driver was Three Gees (Johnny Gee) at the Wairio meeting in December 1985.
Tony also trained for over fifty years for thirty two wins.
He started his working life in the butcher shop at Nightcaps and later worked at the freezing works and as a butcher at New World which enabled him to work his horse.
His first training success was with Night Chief (formally trained by his father) in January 1973 at Ascot Park while his last winner was Carrera Dance (A Rocknroll Dance) at the Wairio Meeting in March 2022.
The family says his best winner was Dipendra (Monarchy) which won six.
“I used to drive him (Dipendra) up in Canterbury for Kevin Townley. He was never going to make a three year old and needed a bit of time. I said to Kevin one day casually can I lease the horse? He asked me who for and I told him that it was for my brother. He said for you I will,” Ken said.
Dipendra is out of Becalm Lobell, the dam of Sheezadossie (Chiola Hanover), which won seven races and is the dam of I Can Doosit (36 wins) and Sno’s Big Boy (15 wins).
Tony’s daughter Bridget bought a Father Patrick colt out of Big OE (Dream Vacation) a daughter of Becalm Lobell at 2021 NZB Standardbred Yearling Sales in Christchurch and Tony and his wife Rita share in the ownership of the two year old whose called Father Ned.
Sailor Beware (Scrappy Wave) was another good trotting winner for Tony winning five and provided the family with a memorable day at Addington on Easter Saturday in April 1980.
“It was Tony’s first venture to Addington. He led all the way over two miles and bolted in. He caught all the Cantabrian’s off guard (laughter). Tony and his brother in law Brendon Fahy took the horse up, did the job and picked up a Persian cat on the way home as the reward,” Ken said.
The winning margin was three and a half lengths with Sailor Beware paying $17.90 and $4.30.
One of the horses wins was a dead heat with Regal Flyer (Lordship) at Forbury Park in January 1980.
“He’s always had a knack with trotters," said Richard.
"He liked to shoe them himself and get the weight right. He had a good trotter called Tonty’s Pride (Canova) when we were growing up at Nightcaps and that could have influenced him,” added Ken.
Tonty’s Pride won three races for Tony’s father and another two for Alex Purdon.
On the pacing front Beaudiene Fella (Smooth Fella) and Wintonian (Tempest Hanover) were both good pacers for Tony, both winning four races.
Beaudiene Fella, after five starts which included four placings, recorded his breakthrough win at Forbury Park in January 1985 winning by six and a half lengths. It was the start of a three race winning sequence with his other wins coming at Forbury a week later then at Gore.
Beaudiene Fella’s last win before he was sold to America, was at Wyndham in March 1985 where, in a field of sixteen, he beat handy types Kayoss (Lordship) and Bamborough’s Pride (Watbro).
Richard also got into the harness industry and was a junior driver for six years working for Hamish Hunter. He also held an open driver’s license for a year before he took a break from the sport. He came back in 2005 primarily to drive Dipendra.
“Dad was responsible for getting me back in the game. With the kids all grown up there was a gap to have another go,” he said.
Richard drove Dipendra in three of her six wins.
Tony’s friendly face, depth of knowledge and love of the horses will be sadly missed by both the Winton harness racing and thoroughbred racing community.
He was a true gentleman.
Our thoughts are with Tony’s wife Rita and their children Mark, Richard, Bridget, Julie and Rebecca and the wider Stevens' family.
Go Father Ned!!