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The birth of saddle trot racing in NZ?

By Duane Ranger

Saddle trotting events have proved so popular at the annual Pirongia Boxing Day races in recent years they are now part of the Auckland Trotting Club’s Workouts at Pukekohe.

And the winning trainers of both Workouts staged so far want saddle trotting races to one day become a TAB event.

Waiuku conditioners Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett won the first Monte Saddle Trot at Franklin Raceway on April 29 with their seven-win Sundon gelding, Makarewa Jake.

Pukekohe stablehand Riina Maattanen rode the 7-year-old to a two-and-a-quarter length victory. They trotted the R40 and faster 2050m stand (left-handed) in 2:58 (mile rate 2:19.7) and home in 63.8 and 28.7.

Then last Saturday (May 13) on the same track the Wallis and Hackett trained three-win Majestic Son mare, Majestic Ali won over the same distance in in 2:47 even (mile rate 2:11), but right-handed this time.

The jockey was Wallis and Hackett’s 15-year-old daughter, and stablehand, Tyla. They trotted their last 800m and 400m in 59.4 and 29 even.

“We had four starters in the first race and then five in the next. There has been a bit of growing support for them. At the moment we are trying to develop saddle trotting in New Zealand and then hopefully have them at the races one day.

“The popular Pirongia races is where the idea originated from. Trainers like Jay (Abernethy) and Tim (Vince) have also been very pro it. We just want to get the word out there. I’ve seen them race in Australia and I know it’s very popular in Europe. I hope it catches on,” Wallis said.

The Waiuku horsewomen said the Harness Racing New Zealand Conditions catered for saddle events to be staged in this country.

“They are a great spectacle and hope people support our exhibition race at Alexandra Park on May 26. In our stable for example we have six horses who could race in saddle events,” Wallis said.

“If we take small steps at a time hopefully then it will catch on,” she added.

Wallis said Majestic Ali was probably their best saddle trotter at the moment, but insisted riding them in work was the norm.

“We like to mix it up for them and some of them really like it. Tyla rides them a lot. A couple of sponsors have expressed their interest in supporting us and I know one owner who would buy a horse for saddle racing,” Wallis said.

Clubs in the South Island have conducted saddle trot events in the past, and the Kumeu District Trotting Club ran saddle trots at its Trophy Day, but April 29 was New Zealand’s first official workout.

Abernethy loves saddle trots.

“We always ride quite a few of our horses. In fact all my trotters over four have been ridden. It’s a good change for them. I’ve had a horse race in nearly every saddle event in the North Island.

“My partner from Sweden, Lisa (Olsson), rides most of mine and if I have two in a race Riina rides the other one. Lisa said they had a lot of saddle trots in Sweden and it was very popular in Scandinavia,” Abernethy said.

Abernethy has had success with Silver Stream and The Last Gamble at Pirongia and has also had trotters entered in the New Plymouth ‘Extreme Race Day’ event last year. I took four horses down for that, so yes I’m a keen supporter of saddle trots,” said Abernethy.





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