The little tipple that saw Merv send Steam Punk north to Lincoln Farms
When Lincoln Farms’ boss John Street invited leading Melbourne owner Merv Butterworth in for a drink at Alexandra Park one night he made a light-hearted challenge which he probably thought would never be taken up.
But last Friday night, when Steam Punk led all the way to score an easy win at Auckland headquarters, it marked what could be just the start of a successful partnership.
For Steam Punk is the direct result of that hospitality earlier in the year.
As Butterworth tells it, Street had had a couple of sav blancs and given him a couple of whiskies when he asked when he was going to send them a horse to train.
“You better give me another whiskey and I’ll think about it,’’ Butterworth replied.
It probably came as somewhat of a shock when a few months later Butterworth rose to the challenge, buying an unraced McArdle three-year-old in Southland and sending him north to Ray Green at Lincoln Farms in Pukekohe.
Steam Punk arrived on the same truck as returning southern campaigner Northview Hustler and it didn’t take long for Green to take a liking to him.
So much so that when the horse debuted at Auckland on November 30, there was some confidence in the camp and Butterworth was there to see his new recruit.
Sadly, the occasion was a little too much for the nervy Steam Punk who was really gassed out of the gate by driver Zachary Butcher and, when trapped three wide on the first bend, totally lost the plot and galloped.
A week later, with his hopples let out, Steam Punk pounced on a much easier lead and, with Butcher holding him together, strolled round the track to record a decisive win.
Butterworth was not there this time, frustrated at having to listen to the race on Radio Trackside after Sky Channel in Melbourne failed to televise the race.
“They show races for dogs and cats and caterpillars over here, and even showed some races from Forbury Park, but they gave Auckland the flick.’’
Butterworth was on the phone to Green within minutes, however, as he shared the winners’ circle with a bevy of Island beauties, representing sponsors the Pacific Nations Academy.
“What a relief, he’s won well,’’ Green reported, content that Butterworth’s belief in his ability had been franked.
For while Street’s dare was the catalyst for Butterworth sending the horse north, the Australian owner says he’s had his eye on Green’s good record for some months. And, of course, the recent success of Rupert Of Lincoln since he bought the horse from Lincoln Farms has helped.
Butterworth, who has since sent a second horse to Green, Zealand Star, is a real student of form, making a study of trainers’ records and drivers’ tactics, all information he feeds into his mental computer before deciding where his horses will be trained.
Butterworth, who runs a successful “automotive electronics business”, is cagey about just how many horses he owns but has them spread all round New Zealand and Australia, with key trainers in every state, a prime factor in avoiding “getting into deep water’’.
Just how much it’s costing him he says he finds out at the end of each month when he counts up the winners - which average about three to five a week.
And of course he has spies everywhere recommending horses to him, like Steam Punk.
Butterworth fancies he’s more a student of “potential’’, rather than “form’’, with a nose for spotting improvers.
“I watch all the trials and workouts and study all the results.’’
Butterworth, who worked in stables as a youngster, says he and his wife Meg have had a lot of fun racing horses for the last 17 years, citing Arden Rooney’s New Zealand Trotting Cup and Hunter Cup wins as highlights.
“But it’s fun winning races anywhere - we’ve won a Kalgoorlie Cup (in Western Australia) - and we’ve been to dozens of tracks all over Australasia.’’
Winton, Gore, Invercargill, Wyndham, Kaikoura you name it, he’s been there, an itinerary that once saw his air points hit two million - and discover he could cash some of them in for whiskey!
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Saturday night at Albion Park
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Friday night at Auckland
Race 2: Frisco Bay
“He obviously needed the run last week. He pulled his way round the field and sat outside the leader but he couldn’t cop a run like that first-up and got tired. The ability is there, whether he’s fit enough or not we’ll find out. But I expect him to go well, the three draw is much better than last week.”
Race 2: Lenny Lincoln
“He’ll probably need a race but he’s capable of running a slot. He’s unlucky not to have won a race, all three of his seconds were good. He’s got a bit better with each of his trials this time in and he got home well last Saturday, after coming widest on the turn.”
Race 3: Obadiah Dragon
“The way the race was run at Cambridge last week, his effort wasn’t bad at all. Moni (Monika Ranger) said he felt strong and, if he’d been a few slots closer, he would have been right in it. He’ll be improved for the run.”
Race 3: Leo Lincoln
“He’s very consistent - he’s only missed a couple of cheques. But he’s another just coming back and should improve with the run.”