Anticipation of a pending season highlight was expressed by journalists within Christchurch Star’s racing department, when previewing Banks Peninsula’s 1966 Trotting Cup. Principal recipient of the inaugural spoils Bill Doyle remained true, donating a £50 trophy to this year’s winning connections. All race conditions remained unchanged from what was a spectacular inclusion to last season’s light harness calendar.
Even though the race remained very much in a formative condition, its status can be readily measured by an observation of relativity. Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup stake of £1000 compares very favourably with the Dominion Handicap £2,500, or even an iconic New Zealand Cup valued at £7,500. It is hardly surprising therefore that Banks Peninsula’s marquee event was prominent in early season planning by connections of our more tightly assessed trotters.
Selecting Motukarara’s roomy grass track to open their season’s respective campaigns were the principals of last year’s spectacular finish, evergreen 11yo When and Mighty Chief. Bill Doyle’s wonderful mare handicapped on 36 yards, while Mighty Chief would be joined by Asia Minor, Harbour Light and Queen’s Cord on the 30 yard mark. Having drawn outside of the other three was likely to assist Mighty Chief, who wasn’t always quickest into stride.
Break Through considered one of the speediest trotters in commission and Uteena, well seasoned with three Addington starts under her belt, were to start 12 yards behind. Break Through had been freshened a touch after his impressive front running victory for A.L. (Arthur) Pratt at the National Meeting in August. Circumstances here however would provide a more searching examination of both horse and driver. Also handicapped on 12 yards were Tinwald trained gelding Castletons Gift, together with Forward March now with R.L. (Leicester) Tatterson.
Lone starter on 18 yards was 1964 Dominion Handicap winner Flaming Way, a 9yo gelding by Stormyway. He was bred then raced by his Mid Canterbury trainer Jim Wilson, a horseman no stranger to preparing trotters of the highest calibre, including Acclamation and Dictation. Although off the winners list for nearly two years, Flaming Way had already recorded twelve race victories and was well capable of surprising.
Christchurch’s daily morning news publication “The Press” considered that of five limit markers, Towser and Tronso were most likely to figure prominently. Hal Tryax gelding Towser had completed a winning double in September, at Addington and then Alexandra Park respectively. 8yo Tronso now prepared by C.R. (Colin) Colin Berkett, had been previously successful on seven occasions when produced from Cyril White’s Ashburton barn. Free Globe had exhibited real ability, although barrier two may well prove detrimental to her prospects of getting underway on terms. A 7yo Johnny Globe mare, Free Globe was having her first start since the Canterbury Park Meeting in May and would be driven by trainer Bob Young.
Flaming Way despite R.M.A. (Ron) Donald’s experienced hands, together with usually reliable gelding Break Through both galloped away, joining J.J. (Jack) Grant and Derek Jones trained stablemates Ardleigh, the drive of D.C. (Doug) Watts alongside Morven Lad as early mistake makers. After initially stepping safely, Free Globe was another to go into a break within the first furlong.
Beginning swiftly from 12 yards, Astralight driven by trainer J.W. (Jack) Smolenski, assumed an early pace making role before handing up to Mighty Chief seven furlongs from home. Forward March, Castleton’s Gift, Towser and Tronso all stayed in touch as they negotiated the testing run down Motukarara’s back straight. Mighty Chief maintained control coming off the back prior to swinging for home. After straightening up and then passing the two furlong mark, Forward March who had been sitting without cover was first to issue a challenge. Several outcomes remained possible at the furlong, where any one of half a dozen runners still entertained winning prospects.
After fighting off Forward March and appearing set for well deserved victory, Mighty Chief was unable to withstand a compelling late effort by another Light Brigade mare. This time it was Tronso raced by Colin Berkett, who after recently renewing his trainer’s license, presented her in grand order from an establishment just south of Christchurch. He was operating from the property that his late father L.F. (Leo) Berkett had produced so many top horses, including immortal dual New Zealand Cup winner Highland Fling, who Colin partnered to victory in 1947. Magnificently handled by J.A. (Jack) Carmichael, Tronso nailed a once again unlucky Mighty Chief late in the piece. After being predominately positioned alongside Castleton’s Gift, an experienced, patient and calculating Carmichael timed his run to perfection, waiting until well inside the final furlong before staking a winning claim.
Shortly after stepping away safely from his 30 metre handicap, Mighty Chief had been hampered by breaking runners and forced over extra ground. Then after subsequently leading up, he was called upon to display real courage and tenacity in the concluding stages. With any sort of luck he could so easily have completed victory in both editions of the race; connections could only contemplate what might have been.
Handily positioned throughout by Graham Holmes and looking likely turning in, outsider Forward March battled on strongly, claiming third stake money for high profile owner Mr C.L. (Clarrie) Rhodes. An 8yo mare by Light Brigade, Forward March was heavily bandaged for much of her career and certainly appeared to appreciate the grass surface. Formerly trained by J.S. (Jack) Hunter at Trentham, she returned a place dividend in excess of twelve pounds, with only Astralight being less fancied by totalisator patrons when the market closed.
When, who was having her first start since April, finished resolutely from the rear receiving fourth money for Bill Doyle. She was less than two lengths from Tronso and would derive a great deal of improvement from the outing. Her run was much more encouraging than that of stablemate, joint favourite and younger brother Asia Minor. He finished midfield for driver D.D. (Denis) Nyhan after trotting roughly early, then only passing a few beaten runners near the finish. A polished reinsman, Nyhan experienced better fortune that evening at Forbury Park, when partnering champion pacer Lordship to victory in the G.J. Barton Memorial Handicap. Uteena, in the hands of her trainer O.M. (Owen) Quinlan finished next a short length behind When. Towser who appeared to have every chance after receiving a good run near the fence, was sixth home for R.P. (Bobby) Nyhan. Astralight after leading early and then trailing Mighty Chief, battled on to finish next in front of Ripcord mare Queen’s Cord, who was handled by Templeton Horseman W.R. (Wes) Butt.
Australian bred mare Verity, the matriarch of Tronso’s family was a multiple feature race winning trotter between 1904 and 1907 in this country. With many wonderful performers in both gaits being attributed to her bloodline, pedigree analysts would quite rightly acknowledge Verity’s impact on New Zealand Harness Racing. Clearly Tronso extends value to this impressive lineage. Just a month after her Motukarara triumph, Tronso endorsed her status amongst New Zealand’s elite squaregaiters by securing victory in our premier trotting event the Dominion Handicap, when accompanied by F.E. (Felix) Newfield.
Today’s other trotting events were taken out by Sidi Barani, accounting for 3yo Markalan in race one together with Washdyke visitor False Queen, who completed victory in the Halswell Handicap, for 2.19 class and faster. Like the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup these two events encompassed a distance of one mile and a half.