Day At The Track

King's in the swing Napier owners' Cup week

03:14 PM 13 Nov 2017 NZDT
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Rod Fleming with the trophy won by pacer King of Swing in Australia in August.
Rod Fleming with the trophy won by pacer King of Swing in Australia in August.
Duncan Brown Photo

Harness racing, or trotting and pacing as it is also known, has all but disappeared off the map in Hawke's Bay.

But there's a glimmer of hope in the local ownership links with rising 3-year-old pacing star King of Swing, which has had nine starts for six wins, three second placings and stakes of $206,000 in just six months of racing, including the rich Australian Breeders Crown final ending the King's 2-year-old season at Melton in Victoria.

Owned by Property Brokers Napier real estate agents Rod and Sue Fleming in partnership with breeders Lincoln Farms Bloodstock, run by longtime friends John and Lynne Street, and fourth shareholder Neville McAllister, of Wellington, and trained by Ray Green at Pukekohe, King of Swing is now one of the favourites for the Gr 1 $170,000 NZ Sires Stakes final on New Zealand Cup Day in its first South Island start at Addington, Christchurch, on Tuesday.

"We've never been to cup week," said Mr Fleming. "It's one of those things that's always been on the bucket list."

On the reins will be David Butcher, driver in seven of the starts and five of the wins, and King of Swing has the ace draw for the 1950 metres race, with all six wins having come from draws of 1-4 on the front line behind the mobile.

Rod Fleming, a New Zealand indoor bowls representative, says he and his wife can barely believe their good fortune in getting a successful horse they saw at the races for the first time at start No 7 when it won the Australian Breeders Crown final on August 27, claiming stakes of $A142,500.

"We've known John and Lynne (Street) for many years, and we were at the races one day and he said let's go into a couple of partnerships," he said.

One was King of Swing, named not after any cricketer or jazzman but after Mick Jagger, and the other Vasari, which won eight races as a 2- and 3-year-old in New Zealand before being sent to Australia.

"I wanted a racing 2-year-old and John suggested this bloody good horse," said Mr Fleming. "He said it's one of the best in the barn, and he's got a fair number."

More pertinently was that the trainer reckoned it would make a good late 2-year-old and ultimately with the formline substantiating the promise the choice was made to capitalise on the extra month of 2-year-old racing in Australia, where it qualified for the Breeders Crown final by winning a heat at Bendigo.

After winning the final over 2240m, it returned to New Zealand and where many might have decided on a spell, the King's connections went straight back into eyes on a Breeders Crown-Sires Stakes transtasman double rarely otherwise contemplated.

King of Swing won a heat at Cambridge on October 5 and was just beaten in the Northern Sires Stakes final on October 27 at Alexandra Park, scene of its first four starts from which it emerged with two wins and then two second placings.

"This is going to take us a lot of places," he said.

Mr Fleming would love to see harness racing revived in Hawke's Bay, although he said that living in the Bay and having the horse trained 380km away and racing at a distance makes the trips away for the action a big event, as they intend it will be on Tuesday for their first trip to Addington and the racing-dominated show week in Christchurch.

Harness racing in Hawke's Bay has had an off-and-on history, but dates back to what is recorded as the first trotting "on the east coast" in a paddock at Stortford Lodge in 1891.

The Hawke's Bay Trotting Club had its own course in Hastings up to 1899, there were also trotting meetings at Waipukurau in 1908-09, and meetings at the Hastings Racecourse in 1920-21 included the first Hawke's Bay Trotting Cup.

The most recent era started with equalisator betting races at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds in 1978, graduating to on-course-only totalisator betting at the club's annual two-day meeting from 1980 to 1988, leading to a move to Hastings Racecourse, full totalisator betting and the club's merger with galloping clubs to create Hawke's Bay Racing Inc.

The last of the annual trots meetings in Hawke's Bay was in 1997, and the last time trots were seen "on the east coast" was when four races were incorporated with gallops at Hastings in October 1998.

Lone fulltime Hawke's Bay trainer Wyn Nation has long since ceased his operation just south of Waipukurau, the now-late Colin Briskie eased out of training in Dannevirke.

Lone remaining trainer, former Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby representative Ricky Allen, who had mixed training horses on the beach at Waimarama with managing the Taradale RSA, and who had major success with trotters Rua Kenana and Levrik in 1988-89, moved to the South Island where he continues training at Katiki Beach, near the Moeraki Boulders on the North Otago coast.

His most successful recent season was 2014-2015, with seven wins - four to Starlight Starbright and three to Zachary Smith.

His one win as a trainer to date this season was with trotter Dusky Eyre at Addington in August.

He's also been deputising for Sir Richard Tayler as president of the Waikouaiti Trotting Club since Sir Richard took ill earlier this year.

By: Doug Laing

Reprinted with permission of Hawkes Bay Today

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