Vale Charlie Roberts, 96, a hard worker who leaves a terrific legacy of success
Renowned veterinarian, breeder, studmaster and owner Charlie Roberts died today at the age of 96.
A driving force particularly in New Zealand harness racing for more than 60 years, Roberts died peacefully at the South Auckland nursing home where he had been in dementia care for the last three years.
Son-in-law Paul Kenny said Roberts had been doing well since the COVID-19 lockdown but staff had trouble rousing him this morning and he went downhill quite quickly.
“He’d done that a few times in the last few years but he’d managed to pull out of it each time.
“And that’s what he was like all his life, he was a very determined man, determined to keep doing what he wanted even when it sometimes wasn’t in his best interests.”
Roberts once discharged himself from hospital to see Adore Me contest the Auckland Cup, steadfastly manoeuvring himself around Alexandra Park with his walker and his long time helper Jack Moore.
Kenny said Roberts had a very single-minded approach to everything he tackled, whether it was farming, his veterinary practice or breeding, both standardbreds and thoroughbreds.
“It was black and white for him, with not much in between, and so many people who make a success of things in life are like that.
“He was very successful at any type of farming but was a great advocate of dairy farming for production and at one stage had the highest producing cow in the country.
“Being a vet was his biggest love in life but he also took enormous pleasure out of his stallions.”
With fellow vet Andrew Grierson, who joined Roberts’ Takanini practice in 1978, he established Woodlands Stud and in the last 27 years developed it into the premier stud in the country, standing champion sires like In The Pocket and latterly Bettor’s Delight.
Grierson recalled tonight how Roberts’ work ethic rubbed off quickly on him.
“He believed there was never an easy way to make money expect for working hard.
“His family owned part of Pakuranga and he worked that hard as a farmer he turned a small fortune into a huge fortune.
“When we set up Woodlands he provided the financial backing and he backed me on a lot of my decisions. Without Charlie, Woodlands would never have happened.
“I know he’d be so pleased with the legacy he’s left as he loved to succeed. That was his driving force all his life.
“He could be very generous but also prickly at times. He blamed that on being a red-head when he was younger.”
Roberts’ first involvement in horses was in harness racing and soon after he married June he went to the United States to work for the legendary Delvin Miller at the Meadowlands, at the time when he had the great pacer Adios.
Kenny said it was only later that Roberts moved into breeding thoroughbreds and incredibly he remains the only person to be named Breeder of the Year in both the standardbred and thoroughbred codes.
He bred 1967 Auckland Cup winner Royal Sheen and later 1980s Group I winners, Fothers and Australian winner Penny Edition. He was a life member of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and served on its council for many years.
He became an expert on the reproductive aspect of breeding and nearly seven decades ago he helped set up the original swabbing procedures in racing.
Roberts, who was inducted into the Hall Of Fame, was a regular winner at the annual Harness Racing Awards and in 2013 won five trophies including Owner and Breeder of the Year, as well as awards for his champion stallion Bettor’s Delight and broodmare Scuse Me and top filly Adore Me.
He raced top liners like Miracle Mile winner Christen Me, Adore Me, Dream About Me and Sweet On Me, sharing in the success in latter years with Kenny and Roberts’ daughter Mary.
“Charlie was very fond of his trophies and after he brought home Adore Me’s New Zealand Cup he didn’t let it out of sight for 12 months.
“She was one of his favourites, an amazing horse who had an injury-curtailed career.”
But it was the memorable Auckland Cup clash between Christen Me and Adore Me in March, 2015, that Roberts described as his proudest moment as an owner.
The pair locked horns down the home straight at Alexandra Park, just a nose separating them at the finish with Christen Me obliterating the New Zealand record for a mobile 2700 metres by two seconds.
Roberts, then 91, said after watching races all his life he rarely got too excited.
“But I did let out a bit of a yell tonight,” he said.
And later, in the victory circle, he told the crowd: “If you think I’m done, I’m not.
“I’ll be back with more horses until I die and then my family will carry them on and New Zealand will have the benefit.”
Kenny says for all his success, he’ll remember Roberts for being a terribly hard working man.
“He worked long days for a long time.
“He’ll leave a big gap.”
Roberts’ wife June died in 2016. He is survived by his daughter Mary, husband Paul Kenny, son Mark, seven grandchildren and three great-grand children.
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Wednesday night at Auckland
Race 1: Apieceoflou
“He’s really only in the field to get experience. He’s not up to the other two at this stage. He’s a big, slow maturing horse. He keeps improving without being spectacular but he’s a real trier.”
Race 1: Captain Nemo
“He’s been going well at the workouts without winning. He and Franco Nandor are both nice colts and I expect them to develop into tidy three-year-olds.”
Race 1: Franco Nandor
“He’s won his last two workouts but has a tricky draw and there are a couple of others in the race who go well. He’ll definitely improve with the outing.”
Race 4: American Dealer
“I like him as a horse and he’s likely to take the most improvement out of his latest trial because of his temperament. He’s a laid back individual and looks the best of our lot.”
Race 4: Larry Lincoln
“Larry’s very fast and he’s as forward as the other fella but I don’t know how tough he is yet. The draw’s a bit tricky.”
Race 4: Man Of Action
“He trialled super last Friday and never goes a bad race. We chucked him in the deep end with the bear cats in his last few runs and I think he’ll go well in this field. He’s on the up and is a much stronger horse now.”
Race 7: Copy That
“He’s the class horse of the field but he won’t be on top of his game yet. I’ll be instructing Maurice not to send him on a mission, especially as it’s over 2700 metres. He’ll still go well but I’m not expecting him to just line up and win. I couldn’t label him first-up.”