John Butcher, the patriarch of one of New Zealand racing's most successful families, has died.

The Cambridge horseman passed away, aged 80, on Tuesday night after battling illness.
Butcher was a hugely accomplished horseman during a 60-year training career in harness racing which started after he was told he would be too heavy to be a jockey at the age of 16.

He sought work in a harness racing stable and just four years after first touching a racehorse he was competing at the Inter Dominions.

Butcher was quickly a regular winner at the then grass Alexandra Park track, one of his favourite memories training a trifecta there in which he drove one horse and Roy Purdon and Noel Taylor drove the other two stable runners.


John was rarely without a good horse but listed Tobias, Abdias and Samarias as his best three, with Tobias good enough to start favourite in a New Zealand Cup.

He and wife Colleen were honoured for their contribution to harness racing at the North Island awards in Auckland on Saturday night.

Because of his illness John couldn't attend but in a video interview paid tribute to how much help he had received from Colleen and also spoke of hard work being the cornerstone for anybody in horse racing.

While he was a talented horseman in his own right, Butcher is also known as the father of leading drivers David and Phil, while four of his grandsons, Zac, Ben, Stephen and Shane, has tasted success as reinsman. Zac is one also now one of the country's premier drivers.

John and David trained in partnership for much of the last two decades and the stable strung together several Alexandra Park wins with trotter Sunset Peak over the winter.
Butcher's funeral will be delayed until September 24 to allow family members to return from overseas.

He is survived by Colleen, four children, 15 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.