Design: Straight from the horse's mouth (+gallery)

Ben Crawford meets one of his childhood heroes.

Legendary racehorse Bonecrusher in his paddock in Takanini. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Legendary racehorse Bonecrusher in his paddock in Takanini. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Growing up, I had three idols - John Kirwan, The Ultimate Warrior and Bonecrusher.

Looking back, an All Black, a professional wrestler and a racehorse formed a pretty weird mix of heroes, but they were all champions in my primary-school eyes.

I'd been emulating JK's step around the front lawn well before his length-of-the-field try against Italy in the 1987 Rugby World Cup. It obviously paid dividends as I racked up 34 tries that season and took great delight in sending Kirwan a letter to tell him about my scoring feats. His reply, which still hangs on my wall, suggested he should come down to Southland so I could give him a few pointers. What a legend.

If you weren't watching the All Blacks as a kid in the 80s, you were enthralled by the theatrics of the WWF. I was in awe of The Ultimate Warrior as he took on the likes of Hulk Hogan, The Big Boss Man and Andre The Giant. My friends and I would spend hours trying to replicate the Warrior's distinctive face paint and mimic his trademark moves.

I wrote to him as well, but he never wrote back. Perhaps it was because the address I used was Ultimate Warrior, Wrestler, America.

Then there was Bonecrusher. The big chestnut gelding won my heart, and the entire country's, as he won race after race to become New Zealand's first horse to earn more than $1 million in prize money.

I can vividly remember Dad and me watching him race most Saturdays on TV. As predictable as a Mellow Yellow in my hand, a Speights in Dad's, Bonecrusher would come storming down the home straight, the famous cream and brown silks billowing in the wind, and past the post for victory.

I hadn't seen those racing silks for years until last month when I spotted them once again at Ellerslie.

It got me thinking about the origins of the colours used in horse racing. They seem to come in all manner of combinations, often in a mix-and-match palette you'd never attempt anywhere else, however they always kind of work.

But who designs those combinations, from classic to chaotic? Who owns them? And in Bonecrusher's case, when is another horse deemed to be worthy enough to wear that iconic mix of cream and brown?

So I went straight to the horse's mouth to find out, well Bonecrusher's inner circle anyway, owner Peter Mitchell and his former teenage strapper, Shaune Ritchie.

Firstly, I was stoked to discover that Bonecrusher, at 31 years old, is still alive and well, living out his days in horsey paradise.

Secondly, I learned that despite what many "fillies" throughout the country might think, racing colours weren't created as a means of selecting a horse to bet on. They were introduced so the commentators could distinguish horses on the track.

Around half of all owners create their own colours and a bit like a website address, they need to be registered so there are no duplicates. If the owner doesn't have their own colours, a horse can run under stable ones.

The design itself comes down to personal preference. The options and combinations are limited only by your imagination.

Chevrons can be mixed with checks and stripes. Pink with brown, fluoro green with amber blue. For a bit of fun, try your hand at designing your own on the easy-to-use application on the NZ Racing Wear website - nzracingwear.co.nz.

Some owners create their colours based on a family history, of which certain combinations are well protected.

For example, even if Phar Lap's colours became available, no one outside the immediate family could register them. And similarly, Bonecrusher's cream and brown ensemble.

As owner Peter Mitchell told me, there was no real meaning to the cream and brown he chose for Bonecrusher. He just liked the combination.

Naturally he's protective of his now famous design, given the success and popularity Bonecrusher gave it. Only if a young horse shows enough potential in the early stages of their career will Peter allow them to wear the legendary silks. To date, there has only been a handful.

So if you're planning on heading to Auckland Cup Week next month at Ellerslie, take a better look at the jockey's clothing while you're there.

They might help with your race-day punts but open your mind. You might just discover some unlikely colour combinations and inspiration for your home-decorating projects.

- Herald on Sunday

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