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History Repeats?

NZ Harness Trainers & Drivers Assn
Published by Pete Cook in News · 27 February 2020

If, five years ago, I had written here that, in the not too distant future, a New Zealand horse would be voted Horse of the Year and, in the same year, a Kiwi reinsman would be voted Driver of the Year, in America, there would have been men in white coats at the front door, and I would have spent many happy hours in a room with mattresses on the walls. And, to be honest, I would probably have agreed that was where I deserved to be.
Hopefully by now I’d have been judged to have returned to some form of sanity but, if I was still languishing in such an establishment, my immediate release would now be guaranteed, thanks to Shartin and Dexter Dunn. It’s really difficult to come up with superlatives that fit these two achievements, particularly given their common source, ‘lil ol’ Canterbury in ‘Nooo Zealand’.
If ever there was an example of that old saying that you never know where the next champion will come from, it has to be Shartin, bred by an enthusiastic hobby breeder, and by a sire that hasn’t exactly set the World on fire, although to be fair, didn’t have too many opportunities to do so.
And young Dexter, well we’ve all know for the last decade that he was something extraordinary, I still recall Kirstin Barclay delightfully describing him as a ‘freak’ on Trackside one night. That’s all very well, but to be voted Driver of the Year in the US after being there for just over one season, that’s just out of this World, literally!
So, this is all very new for the New Zealand harness game….or is it? Are we forgetting that 56 years ago, an eight year old horse called Cardigan Bay was in the United States beating horses with household names like Overtrick, Bret Hanover and Meadow Skipper, not to mention being the first equine to win $1 million? Ironically, one of the races he contested against those giants, was the Dan Patch Memorial, the same name given to the award that Dexter was presented with.
There is a difference however. While ‘Cardy’ was invited onto the Ed Sullivan Show (for those of tender years, that was the biggest TV show in America in its’ time, hosted by a rather strange looking character, but the launching pad of careers such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys), the first non-human to be accorded that honour. Not only that, but NZ Post issued a postage stamp with him on it! (I still have the first day cover for those who remember such things), and for good measure Ron Bisman wrote a book about him.
I believe Shartin got a mention on mainstream TV the other night, but other than that, the recognition of the two amazing feats has been underwhelming to say the least.
What’s the difference between a film director receiving an Oscar and Dexter’s accolade? Or can you imagine the blaze of publicity if a Kiwi thoroughbred was awarded Horse of the Year in America?
Pete Cook

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