In writing this article I thought it would be interesting to look at the four-year-old mares who lined up in the first race ever run at the 2007 Harness Jewels in Ashburton, and what had transpired since.
10 years is one eighth of the average life expectancy in New Zealand, and should have been time enough for some of these mares to leave their hoof print on our breeding and racing industry.
It was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest with none really leaving what you would call a star.
I caught up with Ross Pettitt of Dunedin who along with his wife Averill, was the breeder and owner of the first ever winner of a ‘Jewel’ to find out how it all began and how he has got on since with breeding from the Diamond winner.
“We bought GTH Aveross’ dam All Star Anna (1995 m Soky's Atom - Victoria Star)
at the sales on the recommendation of the vet. She had a club foot which didn’t help much but may have helped us with her sales price.”
What she lacked as a racehorse she made up for on the pedigree page being by Soky’s Atom and out of a mare called Victoria Star (1983 Br m Lordship - Vicki Star).
“She was a half-sister to Yulestar which was the saving grace of the exercise and her dam Victoria Star was very good too which is why we bought her”, said Pettitt.
The Yulestar part of the equation was good fortune more than anything, something you need more often than you get in the breeding game.
Yulestar was only a year older than All Star Anna so his precocious ability, New Zealand Cup, NZ FFA, Interdominion Final (amongst other group successes) and Horse of the Year titles were a long way away.
Victoria Star had a Ladyship Stakes, Great Northern Oaks and 1987 three-year-old filly pacer of the year to her resume.
Her first two foals had shown promise and Yulestar was out their awaiting greatness, and with the fall of the hammer had secured All Star Anna.
“She was a bit of skittery mare who raced ok, but fell over a tad in some races we felt she should have won and a couple of others she could have won so we retired her.”
She finished with 24 starts for two seconds and two thirds before being retired to stud.
She missed twice in her first season at stud but was safely in foal to Badlands Hanover in 2002. Nothing stood out to Pettitt about the resulting foal but he remembers the canny traits of the mare that was to provide him with his greatest thrill in racing.
“GTH Aveross was a very tough mare and she wasn’t fast enough to get to the front but she was always running on at the end of her races. She had so many second, thirds and fourths to some very good horses. I think she had been racing on some straights down south that were a lot shorter than Ashburton and that was probably the trick in the end.”
GTH Aveross was to have 28 starts as a four-year-old before taking her place as the 12th qualifier of 12 horses in the inaugural running of the Harness Jewels.
“Do I remember much about 10 years ago? It was a very good day from memory”, joked Pettitt in what would be the understatement of the last decade.
Pettitt’s mare and pilot Blair Orange worked herself into a 3-wide train down the back straight before popping out to grind down the leader and raging favourite Bachelorette to get the Jewels off to a rocking start in 1:54.0.
“I had the whole family there and got a bit back from her but the mistake I made was not backing her with the bookies, who had her at $50 more than the tote did.”
“She was the equal fastest time for the day and while today they obviously go a lot faster, 10 years ago they didn’t go a lot faster than that!”
“She finished third in the Southern Belle (2008) but unfortunately the race wasn’t run to suit and while she could sprint it was hard to make up eight to ten lengths in those sorts of races. She tried hard and had nothing left to prove so we decided to try her as a broodmare.”
The Jewels wasn’t a Group 1 back then but the 1:54.0 mile rate was the third fastest recorded by a race winning mare when Pettitt took a colt by Bettor’s Delight along to the sales out of his now black type broodmare.
Aveross Mac would fetch $25,000 before qualifying and doing his racing in Australia where he picked up 15 wins and $100,000+ largely racing around the Globe Derby circuit in Tasmania.
“He never won anything big but he probably would have been more suited to racing here. Was very much like his mum in that he was tough and could stay, but the short straights and tracks weren’t his go.”
Pettitt took the next foal out of the mare to the sales, this time by Lis Mara and he would sell for $35,000. Aveross Brachole is still racing as of today but hasn’t trouble the scorers box as much as he has the starts column.
“He showed a lot of promise but only won the two races thus far from 90 odd starts. He has had a string of placings (19) but like a lot of the breed, they don’t come on until they were four or onwards.”
The third and fourth foals weren’t much chop or fast enough to make the grade as Pettitt was to find out for himself.
The fifth foal by Mach Three was the foal they thought would have gone on with it but for whatever reason has failed to live up to the promise.
Aveross Ferrari, “sort of has the ability but hasn’t out it together unfortunately but hasn’t quite put it together and has been quite a disappointment compared to what we thought he might be.”
“Majorette Aveross - she injured herself and is just being looked after, she was going very well and we were set to qualify her and she became sore in her leg. It looked like it was a bone chip and had an op but she had to stand through it all so she is still really recovering from that. She might well have been good but it will be quite a while before we see anything of her.”
“It’s quite a shame as they’ve all done a bit of that. But the foals really haven’t come on and done it we thought they would have done. She’s back in foal to A Rocknroll Dance this season so we cross our fingers and live in hope, but she hasn’t really come on much like the rest of the family through the All Star line,” said Pettitt.
Aside from a smattering of winners and of course Yulestar, the family branches of Victoria Star haven’t amounted to much.
This hasn’t stopped Pettitt from persisting with the breeding game he loves and aside from GTH Aveross and a couple of her daughters, he breeds from the ‘Corumba line’ in daughters of Lochaime (1980 Br Lordship - Witchlight). Witchlight (1967 B Local Light - Witcha) wasn’t much chop as a racehorse but the tail lines of her daughters have gone on to produce the likes of Bella Chip who left Winter Rose who in turn left recent NZ Cup Winner Arden Rooney. Awesome Ambro, Flying Sands and Lento also stem from this maternal line.
The first foal the couple bred from Lochaime (6th foal) in 1992 gave the retired accountant and his wife their first group success as breeder/owners winning the Welcome & Kindergarten Stakes at Two and the Southern Supremacy at Three. His name was Corumba and if not for an injury at three we may have seen more of the son of OK Bye. He finished his career winning six races and $97,927 in stakes.
The next foal from Lochaime was Warloch (1993 Holmes Hanover) and he showed a bit of ability also winning a Geraldine and Roxburgh Cup.
A wee bit like GTH Aveross, the daughters of Lochaime haven’t really produced how Pettitt and his wife would have hoped.
Falcon Aveross (1997 Falcon Seelster) has left 8 foals of racing age with two saluting the judge as winners. Raven Aveross (2004 f Christian Cullen) being the best of them with 2 wins and several placings and she now finds herself in the broodmare barn.
That’s not to say other daughters from the Lochaime breed haven’t kicked on.
“On an on day Warloch would get to the front and nothing would get past him and he would fight like a bloody dog. But on the off day he would see a horse get past him and pack it in and run 50 length last and say there’s another day coming. He was a bugger, he held grudges with other horses and other drivers. He had everything. He won the lead up to the NZ Messenger but galloped in the big race when other horses got around him.
“He was a really good horse on his day and that’s why it doesn’t surprise me that Venus Serena and Rona Lorraine have come through the Lochaime line. Because they are out of a family that has got some real talent in it.
Lochaime’s second foal Awesome Dream (Soky’s Atom) left a Falcon Seelster mare called Inspiring Dash (& Gail Devers) who proved to be a broodmare gem for the Sanford’s leaving the two Group 1 fillies previously mentioned.
“Unfortunately, the daughters we have bred from haven’t showed the talent and haven’t left the foals we thought she might but as I keep being told, eventually they’ll leave a good one. They have too, the family lines are just too good.”
A line Pettitt and his wife had shared recent success with is a pacer who decided she wanted to trot.
OK Aveross (1998 OK Bye - Smart Franco) won once as a pacer before picking up six as a squaregaiter. Her daughter Early Aveross (2007 Earl - OK Aveross) has left the Dunedin couple “four nice foals” and one in called Aveross Don who looks to have a wee bit of ability.
“I retired when I was 48 and am now 69 but have only properly retired this year having finally got rid of the last of my clients. I’m now living off my wits as they say and ready to travel should the next good one come along.”
Here’s hoping for Averill and Ross the next one isn’t too far away!