Lissa Vermeulen, Major Happy, and Hilarious Guest… 

By Duane Ranger 


The Canterbury-based Vermeulen family made national headlines in the 1980s when their brilliant 1978 Hilarious Way mare, Hilarious Guest, was winning everything.

Hilarious Guest


Fast forward 45 years, and Hilarious Guest’s great-great grand-daughter, Major Happy, has notched up her second win in 18 starts in race four at Addington Raceway last Sunday (July 2).  


The Art Major – Shrieks Of Delight (Bettor’s Delight) filly won the Kickup R35-R43 Pace by a head, as the loose $3.70 favourite. The 3-year-old is trained by Philip Vermeulen at Woodend Beach, and was driven by Korbyn Newman. 


Major Happy was bred and is owned by Lissa Vermeulen her brother Phil and his partner Nic Stevens, and their children, Alex and Rachael. 


Vermeulen (Lissa), who is semi-retired, on her Fernside lifestyle block, said she was on-course to watch both of Major Happy’s  wins. 


“She’s a nice staying filly. Philip is doing a good job with her, and Korbyn drove her very well again. He also drove her in her other win at Rangiora in November,” Vermeulen said. 


She said Major Happy was the first of two foals out of Shrieks Of Delight  – a 12 Br m Bettor’s Delight – Shrieks Of Laughter – In The Pocket mare, who won four races for the Vermeulen family. 


The other is Captain Shorty – a black Captain Crunch weanling who was born on November 14. 


“We did put her to Art Major this breeding season, but she didn’t get in foal. She is a shy breeder. She will return to Art Major this year. If we get a foal by a nice stallion, we are sure to get a nice type,’ Vermeulen said. 


Lisa Vermeulen

Vermeulen, who has been breeding for just over three decades, said she preferred to breed from her  father, Morris’s (Marinus) breed. 


“Racing will always be in my blood, and I prefer to race the Dad’s breed. You can’t beat that feeling of winning a race no matter the stake.  


“It was a great honour to have Major Happy compete in the 2-Year-Old Diamond final late last year. She didn’t place but that didn’t matter to us, because we were just excited and proud to have her in the race.  


“She placed in her very first start in the Group 3 Leonard Memorial, and that was pretty special tool. I would love to win a group race with a family-bred horse. 


“And the icing on the cake would be for it to be trained by my brother Phil,” she said. 


Vermeulen explained the Hilarious Guest link to Major Happy. 


She said Hilarious Guest left 14 foals between 1985 and 2000 – the second of them being the 1986 one-win Smooth Fella mare, Smooth Laughter, who was the dam of the 2002  In The Pocket maiden mare, Shrieks Of Laughter. 


In turn Shrieks Of Laughter is the dam of the four-win 2010 Bettor’s Delight mare, Shrieks Of Delight – Major Happy’s Mum. 


Hilarious Guest (1:57.3), who raced between 1980 and 1985 won 21 races ($283,230) including the 1981 Sapling Stakes, the 1981 NZ 2yo Championship, the 1982 NZ Derby, the 1982 NZ Oaks, the 1982 Ladyship Stakes, the 1982 Northen Oaks, the 1982 NZ Messenger; and the 1985 NZ Standardbred Breeders Stakes. She also ran  second in two the 1983 and 1985 Auckland Cups. 


“Dad and Mum (Margaret) got into racing when I was around five years old. I wasn’t as hands on with the horses as much as my brother Phil or my sister Karina, but still always helped with feeding up once I got home from school. I attended many race-meetings as a child,” Rangiora-born Vermeulen said. 


“Dad initially started racing horses  with the great Jack Smolenski, and in the 1970’s New Guest was purchased by Dad and John Osborne.” 


She said New Guest (1970 Garrison Hanover – True Guest – Light Brigade one-win mare) was dispatched to a stud in Victoria and then served by Hilarious Way.  


“After New Guests two foals were sold, New Guest returned to New Zealand with a yearling filly by Kentucky and a filly at foot by Hilarious Way.  


“On a toss of a coin, John took the Kentucky filly and Dad got Hilarious Guest. Dad has had huge success with many horses, including Timely Robin, Speedy Cheval, Royal Decision, Willem Vink, the list goes on and on.  


“As children we were given a share in a horse each. Phil had Timely Robin, my sister Hilarious Guest and I had Royal Decision. We were pretty lucky, as each one turned out to be a great racehorse.  


“Further down the track I started breeding some of their progeny like Purple Reign, True Laughter, Kelly’s Decision, Most Happy Guest, and Royal Chanel,” Vermeulen said. 


“Life and Soul, Royal Chanel, and Hilarious Life would be the best horses I have bred,” she added. 


On leaving Rangiora High School, Vermeulen completed a Business and Secretarial course at Christchurch Polytechnic, which led to various office jobs working in frontline Reception/Customer Service/Sales.  


“I once worked for Geoff Bradbury, who was an accountant and a racing secretary. My position there also extended to Stipendiary Stewards typist. It was interesting when Dad was called into the stipes room. His language was never the best. I think he swore too many times, and I’m not sure if it helped his case.”  


Vermeulen said she was still enjoying the harness racing ride.

Lisa with family



“I will always follow my family horses, win or lose you have to take it in your stride. I do tend to get very nervous when my horses race, even after all these years.  


“The family laughs at me closing my eyes at the start of every race. I would like to get my two daughters Corrie and Lara involved in one of Shrieks of Delights foals if the opportunity arises.,” Vermeulen said.