Taradale racehorse owner Ken Robson is starting to finally reap rewards after nearly 40 years of racing horses with Secret Squirrel providing the 73-year-old with some exciting times of late.
Robson has a 50 per cent share in the Showcasing 5-year-old, who took his record to two wins, seven seconds and a third from 14 starts when scoring a decisive 1-1/4 length win in a $22,500 Rating 65 race over 1200m at New Plymouth last Saturday and looks destined for bigger things in the future.
Secret Squirrel, who is also part-owned by his New Plymouth trainer Bryce Revell, credited Robson with his first success as an owner when he took out a 1350m maiden race at Whanganui in September last year and the horse has now only once failed to return a stakemoney cheque.
"It's pretty exciting," a delighted Robson said this week.
"I've been in this game a long time and he's the best horse I've had."
Robson said the first horse he raced was Ipi Tombi, who was trained at Hastings by Marlene Todd back in 1980 and was unplaced in three starts.
"I've been involved in close on 20 other horses since then but most of them have been no good.
"My father Reg was a keen racehorse owner and when he died in 2004 I was left two fillies by Handsome Ransom.
"I decided to send them over the Bryce Revell but he quickly told me not to waste my time with them. He said he had bought a yearling from the South Island that I could take a half-share in and that is Secret Squirrel."
Revell had paid $8500 at a Christchurch sale for the son of Showcasing out of an unraced Commands mare and the gelding has now won more than $42,000 in prizemoney.
"Bryce named him Secret Squirrel because, as a young horse, he was always into everything," Robson recalled.
Secret Squirrel showed immediate promise on the racetrack, finishing second on debut behind Dark Princess in a 1200m maiden at Hastings in July 2017. He then recorded another three seconds, a third and two fourths from his next seven starts before developing joint issues in his knees.
He was off the scene for seven months, resuming at the start of this season with a second and a fourth before his Whanganui win.
"Bryce rang me not long after that win and said the horse was again suffering from joint problems and might be gone in the knees," Robson said.
"He had another six months off and has now had three starts back for two seconds and last Saturday's win."
Revell said Secret Squirrel was "full of tricks" as a young horse and took a long time to break in.
"But he's now grown into a pretty good horse," he added.
Revell said Secret Squirrel has come through last Saturday's win in such good order that he now intends backing the horse up in a $25,000 Rating 72 race over 1400m at Te Rapa tomorrow.
Robson now has a share in two other horses trained by Revell and he and the trainer purchased a weanling filly by Per Incanto for $700 on Monday of this week off the thoroughbred auction site Gavelhouse.
Australian success for HB couple
Hawke's Bay thoroughbred breeder Richard Wood and his wife Liz celebrated a win in Australia last week but he is one of a growing number of New Zealand racehorse owners disillusioned by the current state of the New Zealand racing and breeding industry.
The Woods are part-owners in Chouxting The Mob, who took out a A$50,000 Rating 70 race over 2400m at Sandown on Wednesday of last week.
It was the horse's fourth win from 15 starts and he has also recorded three seconds and two thirds for stake earnings of A$94,615.
The Woods bred Chouxting The Mob but decided to sell him as a weanling at the 2014 Karaka mixed bloodstock sale.
"We sold him for $60,000 but retained a 10 per cent ownership in him," Wood recalled this week.
The horse went to Australia to be trained by Simon Morrish at Ballarat and he arranged a large syndicate to take up the other 90 per cent ownership in the horse.
Chouxting The Mob showed good early potential with a win, a second, a third and a fourth from his first six starts. However he was then found to have a bone fracture in one of his legs which necessitated in him being sidelined for more than 12 months.
The 5-year-old resumed with a fifth over 1500m at Geelong in January this year and has since had another eight starts for three wins, two seconds and a third.
"He is a pretty good horse and he stays very well," Wood said.
"He's the sort of horse that you need to starting moving on at the 1000m peg in a race. He can't sprint at the finish but he never stops."
The Woods bred Chouxting The Mob out of the Reset mare Bidthemobgooday, who they bought from Australia when in-foal to Duporth.
They sold the resultant foal who is now called Duplicity and has won five races and finished second in last year's New Zealand Cup (3200m).
Chouxting The Mob is likely to have his next start in a A$50,000 race over 2500m at Cranbourne on May 24. He is the second foal the Woods bred out of Bidthemobgooday and they then sold the mare in foal to Jimmy Choux.
The Woods are best known as the breeders and owners of former champion galloper Jimmy Choux, who was a five-time Group 1 winner and finished second in the 2011 Cox Plate.
Jimmy Choux has been standing at Rich Hill Stud, in the Waikato, since 2012 with the Woods retaining a 35 per cent ownership in the horse. However he has recently been sold outright to prominent West Australian owner-breeder Alan MacAlister and will stand next season at Wayne and Tracy Rodwell's Rosalee Park Stud in Serpentine, WA.
Jimmy Choux was New Zealand's leading first season sire in 2015-16 and has been a consistent producer of winners in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
He was represented with his first Group 1 winner when The Bostonian took out last Saturday's A$800,000 Doomben 10,000 (1200m) in Queensland and Wood believes the stallion will be much better patronised in Australia.
"You make some bad decisions in life and bringing him [Jimmy Choux] back to stand at stud in New Zealand was the worst decision I've made in 45 years," Wood said.
"He has not been well patronised at stud here and I don't know why," Wood said.
"We sold the highest-priced yearling by him for $210,000 at the 2016 Karaka sales and that horse went to Japan. He has been named Cosmo Periot over there and has had two wins and six seconds in Tokyo."
Jimmy Choux covered 75 mares in the 2014 breeding season but his popularity with breeders has waned ever since.
Wood says the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry in New Zealand is in very bad shape which is why he is now concentrating more on Australia.
"Most of our mares are moving to Australia. It is a waste of time breeding and racing horses here with the poor stakemoney that is on offer."
Miss Wilson to be sold at auction
The Group 1 winning racemare Miss Wilson is to be offered for sale at the Magic Millions mixed bloodstock sale in Queensland at the end of this month.
The Stratum 6-year-old, bred and owned by Hawke's Bay couple Richard and Liz Wood, is a half-sister to the five-time Group 1 winner Jimmy Choux.
She will be offered as part of the draft from Lime Country Thoroughbreds and is in foal to boom Australian sire Zoustar.
Miss Wilson had 25 starts from the Hastings stable of John Bary for seven wins, four seconds and three thirds. She took out last year's Group 1 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes (1600m) at Te Aroha and was also twice successful at Group 3 level, in the Cuddle Stakes (1600m) at Trentham and Red Badge Spring Sprint (1400m) at Hastings.
By-monthly award winners
The mother and daughter combination of Diana Clough and Sarah Gregory-Hunt are the recipients of the Hawke's Bay Racehorse Owners Association's Kevin Wood Memorial by-monthly award for the months of March and April.
Clough and Gregory-Hunt are the breeders and owners of Rekohu Diva, a 5-year-old mare by Playmaker who is trained on the Hastings track by Sue Thompson and Mick Brown and scored a game maiden win over 1200m at Otaki on April 10.
HB races next Wednesday
Jumping action will return to the Hastings track next Wednesday when Hawke's Bay Racing stages its annual Fruitfed Supplies raceday.
At this stage an eight-race programme is scheduled, including an open hurdle race which may be split into two races, depending on the number of entries.
The first race is timed for 12.01pm and there is free admission for patrons as well as free entry to the Members Stand.