Family central to Rich Hill Mile celebrations

By Dennis Ryan

5 Jan 2022

Family central to Rich Hill Mile celebrationsSam Weatherley and his sister Briar with Rich Hill Mile winner Mali Ston

“The whole thing – winning this race, having success with the Weatherleys, but most of all that Mum and Dad could be there – is great.”
Family meant everything when rapidly-emerging four-year-old Mali Ston came out on top in a nail-biting Rich Hill Mile at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.
On the owners’ side of the equation was the Matijasevich family, whose red, white and blue colours replicating the national flag of Croatia have become such a familiar raceday sight. The preparation and ultimate delivery in the Group Two feature belonged to the father-and-son trainer/jockey combination of Darryn and Sam Weatherley.
For both groups this was a lifetime highlight. Octogenarian family patriarch Victor Matijasevich, who followed his Croatian-born father Frank and mother Anne into racing, won his first race way back in 1953. Victor and Maria Matijasevich’s sons Andrew, Frank and Milan have continued that tradition and together the family has enjoyed a flood of recent success through the likes of home-breds Mali Ston, Nasha Riva and Gospodin.
Victor’s many winners over the years include Waltermitty, who won the Gr. 2 New Zealand Cup in 2004 for a syndicate put together by Taranaki trainer John Wheeler. The most recent, however, went to another level for a number of reasons.
When Victor arrived with his family entourage at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, it was the first race meeting he had attended in eight years. Major health issues during that period had confined him to his home near Te Aroha, but his decision to re-engage could not have been more timely.
The Rich Hill Mile wasn’t an easy watch for anyone – particularly in respect to the tragic demise of the favourite Gold Watch and serious injury to his rider Danielle Johnson – and even in victory it was an anxious experience for the connections of Mali Ston.
He and Mai Tai crossed the line locked together and the photo-finish camera was needed to confirm Mali Ston as the winner by a nose. Then followed a half-hour wait after Mai Tai’s connections lodged an objection over possible interference in the final stages. The second round of celebrations when the protest was dismissed was something to behold as the combined forces of the Matijasevich and Weatherley families came together.
A third family, the Thompsons of race sponsor Rich Hill, were also bona fide members of the cheer squad, as stud principal John Thompson explained during the trophy presentations.
“Victor’s parents, who we referred to as Uncle Frank and Aunty Annie, were great friends of my parents Colin and Irene,” he recalled. “I remember as a kid, every Christmas Eve we would go to the Matijasevich homestead for dinner. They had this cuckoo clock on the dining room wall that had me spellbound; on the hour the whole time through dinner I would be waiting for the cuckoo to pop out.
“We’ve remained close in all the years since and it’s great for them to win this race as well as having other decent horses that they’ve bred by Rich Hill stallions.”
While Mali Ston is by Westbury Stud stallion El Roca, his six-win sibling Nasha Riva is by Rich Hill resident Shocking, and another with Tauranga trainer Jim Pender, Gospodin, who won six on the trot last winter and spring, is by associate sire Proisir.
Mali Ston and Nasha Riva are out of the Black Minnaloushe mare Loviste, who the Matijasevich family bought for $22,000 at the 2008 Karaka Festival Sale. She won four times before going to stud.
As well as sporting the national colours, Matijasevich horses carry familiar names, Loviste and Mali Ston for instance being named after Dalmatian villages on the Peljasic Peninsula that are still home to family members. Andrew and Frank Matijasevich were good rugby players in their day, which in the late 1990s led them to returning to the old country and representing the Croatian national team in World Cup qualifiers as well as two Hong Kong Sevens tournaments.
“It was through some of my Marist Ruby Club mates in Hamilton that we bred Mali Ston,” Andrew explained. “They were part of the group that raced El Roca and I bought the service nomination that they put up at the annual fundraiser for St John’s College.
“The whole thing – winning this race, having success with the Weatherleys, but most of all that Mum and Dad could be there – is great. You plan everything but so often it doesn’t come together.”
Victor Matijasevich, one of the original drivers more than 30 years ago of the still popular annual Dally Day race meeting at Te Aroha, isn’t planning another eight-year hiatus. “You never forget the pleasure of going to the races,” he said, “but it’s just wonderful for this to happen on my first day back.”
New Year’s Day was also a red letter occasion for the Weatherleys, 22-year-old Sam completing a Group Two double on Mali Ston to go with his Auckland Guineas on Dark Destroyer, while it marked his father’s first stakes race success.
“We don’t have a big operation and this was just my second starter in a black-type race,” said Darryn, “so to win it with Sam and the rest of my family, and do it for the Matijasevich family, it really doesn’t get any better.”