80 years breeding from the family – and still winning 

By Duane Ranger 

Westport horseman, Bob Higgins’, latest Blenheim winner is a direct descendent from his family’s 1943 Jack Potts mare, Red Queen. 

Five-year-old  Rock N Roll Heaven mare, Songbird,  won the sixth race at the Marlborough Harness Racing Club’s meeting at Waterlea Raceway on Sunday (January 22) – the Pak n Save R37-40 Pace. 

Songbird winning with Samantha Ottley at Methven Racecourse, October ’22

Songbird, who is trained by Mark Jones, and was driven by Samantha Ottley, was bred and is co-owned by Higgins. She is a seventh-generation daughter of Red Queen. 

Higgins said the family line had been established through his grandfather, Frank (senior), his father (Frank) and his Uncles Jim and Syd.  

“I had a break from the sport for 30 years from 1987-2017 and my cousin John and Trevor Craddock did a wonderful job while I did dairy farming. 

 “Then I sold the farm and got back into harness racing. I’m glad I did because, even though we have yet to produce any Group One champions, I am proud of the family line which now dates back 80 years,” Higgins said.  

He then explained the eight generations working from his latest winner back: 

Songbird (2017 Rock N Roll Heaven 4-win mare); Mary Niven (2008 Courage Under Fire un-raced mare); Lyse Doucet (2000 Holmes Hanover placed mare); Patsy McCreedy (1987 Bo Scots Blue Chip 3-win mare); Patsy Marie (1977 Schell Hanover 3-win mare); Coolit (1965 (Honest Charles 1-win mare); Pitterpat (1952 Kingcobra 2-win mare); Red Queen (1943 Jack Potts – Dolly Audubon (1930) –  Great Audubon mare).  

“That was Songbird’s fourth win now (13 placings) and she went past $50,000 in doing so, Mark and Sam have done a great job with her. She’s a lovely mare, who would win more races, and she should also make a lovely broodmare one day – and carry the family line on with her older sister, Rocknroll Nevin (2013 Rock N Roll Heaven – Mary Niven – Courage Under Fire) mare. 

“We all love her over here on the Coast. I train over here as well and have done so for years, but I think Songbird’s 2-year-old filly sister named Francent could be the best horse the family has bred,” Higgins said. 

“It’s probably too early to tell, but on type and strength aone, this filly is one out of the box. There’s just something that gravitates you towards her. And she’s working very well, which is very encouraging,” he added. 

He said the foal before Songbird – Queenofdance (2015 A Rocknroll Dance mare) is the best so far out of the Mary Niven.  

“She won seven races here and then ended her career winning more than $100,000 ($106,456) in Australia. She also went 1:54.1 over there,” Higgins said. 

“Overall though I’d say the best was Patsy Marie.  She was a longtime New Zealand record holder,” he added. 

 Higgins said Mary Niven had left six foals since 2013. 

“She’s also got a Downbytheseaside filly foal at foot. I like to breed every two years from my mares. I like to give them time to be a Mum and time to recover,” the Patterson Park horseman said.  

Higgins said his relationship with trainer, Jones, was established at the 2013 Yearling Sale in Christchurch.    

“That’s when I bought a share in Pomme Roy (Christian Cullen – T K Swift – Holmes Hanover) at the Yearling Sales. Mark Jones trained him, and he won five races for us. 

“I’ve stuck with him since. He’s a great trainer from a great family. Mark breaks them in and gets them going along, and I usually jog them up for up from over here. He’s a wonderful horseman, just like his father and grandfather before him,” Higgins said.  

So good that Higgins told Jones to ‘pull the plug’ on Songbird earlier in her career because she was devoid of form and not going at all well.  

“He said ‘no’ he’d hold on to her to be a galloping pace-maker at least. He then worked the ‘Jones magic’,” Higgins said.  

“She also ran second on the first day at Blenheim and ran third at Reefton on the first day before winning on the same track on December 30,” he added. 

A life-time West Coaster, Higgins was educated at Buller High School, He said he was also breeding from Mary Nevin’s first foal, the 2013 Rock N Roll Heaven brown three-win mare, Rocknroll Nevin. 

“She has left just one foal so far and that is an Always Be Miki yearling filly foal named Amanpour.”