Dannevirke: Galloping into hall of fame

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Takapau-bred Moifaa has been inducted into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.
Takapau-bred Moifaa has been inducted into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.

A jockey and a horse with Hawke's Bay origins were among the nine inductees into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame this year, announced at a special dinner in Hamilton recently.

Jim Cassidy was the jockey, nominated by top New Zealand trainer Graeme Rogerson and prominent Australian thoroughbred owner Max Whitby, while Moifaa was the horse and was nominated by the Waipukurau Jockey Club.

Out of all the New Zealand thoroughbred jumpers from 1900-1909, Takapau-born Moifaa was the most memorable.

He was the first New Zealand-bred to win the English Grand National at Aintree.

Bred by blacksmith William Ellingham in Takapau, in Central Hawke's Bay, he was sold as a gangly three-year-old for 50 quid to his jockey brother, Alfred, the best hurdle and steeplechase jockey in New Zealand in his day and the only owner/trainer/rider to win the NZ Grand National, Wellington, Hawke's Bay, Wanganui and Great Northern Steeplechases.

Moifaa had an "Annus Mirabilis" in 1901 with 11 wins out of 16 races, including the "Great Northern" at Ellerslie, but went "doggy" and ran out over the big New Zealand Grand National course at Riccarton.

The Ellinghams sold him for 500 quid to Spencer Gollan's estate manager at nearby Mangaratata.

Moifaa injured himself when refusing at Riccarton and returned in lame disgrace to the Gollan sheep station where one of the shepherds hacked him to soundness and when, in 1903, a bunch of Gollan horses was put on the ship Marere to England, Moifaa was one of those aboard.

In the 1904 Grand National, on a course where the fences had been stiffened from the previous year, Moifaa was already in front when the King's horse Ambush downed royal hopes by capsizing at the third.

Moifaa led over the water and was never threatened, coming home eight lengths clear.

The next year Gollan sold Moifaa to the King for 2000 guineas after Ambush dropped dead after a gallop on the Curragh.

Royalist punters made Moifaa favourite for the 1905 but the horse never won another race after the 1904 National. In 1906 he was given to General Brocklehurst who used him as a hack and rode him at Edward VII's funeral in 1910 - somehow spawning the subsequent myth of the horse being "Edward's favourite charger". Brocklehurst wrote that Moifaa "was as kind a ride as you could ever wish.

"He loves parades and soldiers".

Early critics loved to ridicule Moifaa's appearance - "the head and shoulders of a camel" and "lacking something in the bread basket" were some of the kinder comments.

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