Veteran racing men share the thrill of the chase

By Dennis Ryan

21 Sep 2022

Veteran racing men share the thrill of the chaseAbu Dhabi (Hamish McNeill) clears the last fence in the Great Northern Hurdle.

A quartet of octogenarians, already mates with plenty in common, now have a special bond that was completed when Abu Dhabi scored an upset win in the Peter Kelly – Bayleys Great Northern Hurdle at Te Rapa last Saturday.
In one of racing’s most remarkable segues, a trio of horses have enabled Hawke’s Bay identities John Frizzell and Peter Grieve, South Cantabrian Ron Williamson and Northlander Kim Clotworthy to share the thrill of owning the winners of New Zealand’s most iconic jumps races.
Frizzell and Grieve are part-owners of the outstanding hurdler The Cossack, Williamson is the principal owner of last month’s Grand National Steeplechase winner West Coast and now Clotworthy can stand in the same hallowed company as the co-owner-breeder of the Great Northern Hurdle winner.
“The whole lot of us have been the best of mates for years,” Clotworthy told RaceForm as he reflected on one of the highlights of a lifetime in racing that also includes part-ownership of champion late 1970s colt Uncle Remus.
“The last year or so has been bloody marvellous, first with The Cossack racking up all those wins, then West Coast winning the Grand National and now my bloke winning a Great Northern. Mates being mates, you’re always happy for the other bloke when it happens and now it’s my turn – couldn’t be better!
“I’ve been getting all the phone calls, as you do, and we’ve already decided we’re going to get together over a bottle of whisky at the New Zealand Cup carnival.”
Mates are one thing and family is another, which in Clotworthy’s case means the added pleasure of Abu Dhabi being trained by his son Shaun and daughter-in-law Emma at Byerley Park, the South Auckland training facility that all three were involved in establishing with developers Elias and Daniel Nakhle.
“I’m just the boy around the place now,” added Clotworthy, who divides his time between homes in South Auckland and Baylys Beach near Dargaville.
“Shaun and Emma and the rest of the team do all the work. They and Hamish (McNeill, jockey) put their faith in the horse and reckoned he could win, and as we all know, it’s great when you make a plan and it comes off.
“In this game that hardly ever happens, but when it does it’s such a special feeling.”
This story has even more layers to it, coinciding with the death of Queen Elizabeth and generating a flood of memories for Clotworthy, who enjoyed a unique link to the Royal family. That came about through one of the great promoters of the New Zealand jumper, Pat Samuel, who recommended Clotworthy as a likely scout for Kiwi horses on behalf of the Queen Mother.
It had long been a tradition for Queen Elizabeth to pass on members of her flat racing team that had reached their mark to her mother, whose penchant was National Hunt racing. The Northern Hemisphere success during the 1970s of NZ-bred jumpers such as the Samuel-owned Grand Canyon attracted the Queen Mother’s attention, which led to the reference from Samuel.
“My contact was Sir Michael Oswald, the keeper of the Queen’s Royal Stud at Sandringham in Norfolk and also racing manager for the Queen Mother,” Clotworthy recalls. “The first horse I arranged was actually one of my own, a good sort of War Hawk gelding by the name of Sindebele. We agreed on a price and I accompanied the horse on the flight to England.
“Unfortunately Sindebele broke a shoulder at Cheltenham, but he was still the start of a fantastic relationship with the Queen and her mother. When I was a guest at the Royal Stud I probably ended up spending more time talking to the Queen than to her mother.
“She would ride over to where we were, wearing just a scarf around her head and she would say ‘I see you’ve brought another lovely horse over for Mother’. I had some great times during my trips up there, riding out for the Queen Mother’s trainer Fulke Walwyn, going racing and taking it all in.
“I got on really well with them both as well as other members of the family and their wider group. It didn’t take long for me to realise how much they appreciated normal stuff, just down-to-earth talking horses.”
Clotworthy sent five horses to the Queen Mother during the 1980s, three of which won a total of 25 races headed by The Argonaut, a great grandson through Captain Jason and his sire Hermes of the Queen’s 1954 Coronation Cup winner Aureole. The Argonaut won 15 races in the Queen Mother’s colours, including steeplechases at Cheltenham and Sandown and runner-up in another to the legendary Desert Orchid.
“I went racing often with the Queen Mother and from what I observed she loved nothing more than a day at the races,” Clotworthy said. “No matter what the weather – driving rain, freezing cold – she would be there meeting the jockey and trainer in the mounting yard and even when the horse was an also-ran, still heading down to get the lowdown on how it went.”
One of Clotworthy’s enduring memories was the trip he took to the Cheltenham Festival with John Frizzell and Ron Williamson. “We were given the right royal treatment, guests each day in the Royal box, made to feel at home at Sandringham, just one of the best racing experiences you could share with your mates.”
Memories of an old friendship have also been to the fore in the wake of Kiddo’s win in the second leg of Te Rapa’s big Sunday double, the Ben Foote Racing Great Northern Steeplechase.
The Kevin Myers-trained gelding is named after former Thames pharmacist Warren Kidd, whose day-job was complemented by an enthusiasm for racing that few could match.
He and long-time friend Colin Barlow bred Kiddo, who was foaled on December 27 2011, by Istidaad from their O’Reilly mare Kitty O’Reilly and they planned to race him, only for Kidd to be hit by cancer and pass away in late September 2013.
“One of the last times I sat down with Warren I promised him I would name the last horse we bred together after him and I’d race him,” Barlow told RaceForm earlier this week. “It’s been a long haul with lots of twists and turns, but now to win a Great Northern with him, it’s quite incredible, the realisation of a dream.”
Barlow and Kidd were partners in a number of minor winners, but Barlow left the betting side of things to his mate.
“Warren just loved the punt, something he had in common with my father Cliff. He won at least two, maybe three, Punter of the Year competitions at Hastings, but he was also very generous. One year he passed on the trip for two to the Melbourne Cup that was part of the prize to a couple of mates.”
As Barlow suggests, the road to the Great Northern has been the ultimate in patience. Kiddo began his career with then Cambridge trainer Ann Herbert, finishing third over 1200m on debut but after a handful more starts the decision was reached to give him time to mature.
Peter O’Connor, whose father Kevin owned and trained 2001 Great Northern Steeplechase dead-heater Sir Avion, took a share in Kiddo with his partner Karen Parker, and the horse was handed to Myers to hopefully turn into a jumper.
Beforehand he won three middle-distance flat races and then showed real aptitude when turned to hurdling. He was still a maiden jumper when he finished fourth in the 2017 Grand National Hurdle, but it took him more than a year to finally break his duck over brush.
Major soundness issues sidelined him soon after for what must have seemed an eternity, but he finally made it back to racing nearly three years later, in June 2021. His form inspired thoughts of targeting the Great Northern Hurdle, however soundness issues rose again and the decision was made for stem cell therapy.
Through it all Barlow retained his faith in Kiddo and the 11-year-old rewarded all involved on Sunday when Myers claimed his third Great Northern Steeplechase and jockey Shaun Fannin his fourth.