Eric Butler’s breed still winning thanks to daughter, Judy 

By Duane Ranger 


Southland breeder, Judy Dillon’s big-day-out at Winton Saturday 13th May was a tribute to her late father, Eric Butler. 

The Balfour mother of three, and grandmum of seven, inherited her late dad’s equine family more than 20 years ago, and after Saturday’s performance the breed is stronger than ever.

Judy Dillon with husband Richard at the 2018 Racing Awards

Dillon bred and owned Sherwood Maggie to win race five – the MM Brands R35-37 Pace by half a neck. Brian Norman trains the 7-year-old Live Or Die – brown mare at Gore. Brent Barclay did the driving. 

Then one race later, Sherwood Maggie’s cousin, Judaque ran third in The Plumbing World Maiden. Junior driver, Max Hill, was in the sulky for Gore trainer, Shane Matheson. 

Dillon explained that Sherwood Maggie (a 7-year-old Live Or Die – Mary Margaret – Red River Hanover mare); and Judaque (a 4-year-old Always B Miki – Sonia Ellen – P-Forty-Seven mare) shared the same grandmother. 

And Dillion said that grand-dam, the 1996 unraced Camtastic – Laurel Bank (Majestic Chance) mare, Daisy Butler, was the horse that introduced her to breeding. 

“I remember Dad bought Grange Lady, the grand-dam of Laurel Bank, as a broodmare when she finished racing. I was still at school at the time. That’s going back a few years now because Grange Lady was a 1944 Dillon Hall mare. 

“That’s how far back I remember horses. Probably earlier actually. I was bred into it. Dad later was the first President of the Northern Southland Trotting Club from 1959-1961, and then assistant starter to Alan James.  

“So, you can see I have been going to the races for a very long time. It was bred into me. I remember the first mobile start race being on our racetrack,” Balfour-based Dillon said. 

“Alan Jones and Eric Butler had the first mobile in Southland. The mobile was mounted on a Prince Gloria which Vic Angow of Dunedin supplied. 

Dillon said she never really intended on venturing into breeding standardbreds to the extent she had. 

“Dad bred the first two foals out of Laurel Bank and then when he passed away his partner, Ross Wilson, who had half shares in the mare, took over the breeding. 

“He bred the next five foals out of Laurel Bank, and I didn’t realise it, but later found out I inherited a half-share and then in 1998, I bred Hey Judi (1998 Son Of Afella mare) out of her. That was the first horse I bred in my own name. She was also the last foal out of Laurel Bank. 

“But I also inherited Laurel Bank’s second last foal  – – Daisy Butler. She never raced because sadly she went through a fence not long after she was weaned and injured her leg. That’s when I decided to carry on Dad’s legacy and keep breeding from his family,” Dillon said. 

“The mothers of the Winton winner, Mary Margaret and place-getter, Sonia Ellen, were the fourth and fifth foals (of eight) out of Daisy Butler,” she added. 

Daisy Butler’s oldest son, the 2002 Live Or Die gelding, Jimbob Jac, is the best horse Dillon has bred. 

“He won nine races and almost $90,000 and would so far be the pick of the family so far. ‘Daisy’s’ last foal, Archman (2014 Somebeachsomewhere gelding) won seven races (1:55.9 and $59,531),” said Dillon. 

As to Winton winner Sherwood Maggie’s immediate family, Dillon replied: 

“She’s the only of the three that I bred from Mary Margaret that was any good. Sadly, Mary Margaret never raced because she split a pastern. 

“Sherwood Ashlyn (2013 Live Or Die mare) raced seven times for no placings and Rylan Charlie (2017 Changeover gelding) only raced once because he didn’t want to be racehorse. 

“I’m not breeding from Mary Margaret anymore, but intend breeding from Sherwood Maggie when she finishes racing. She’s no star but she’s won three races now and placed 17 times ($38,560). She’s eight now and I think she will make a lovely broodmare when she tells her trainer that she’s had enough of racing,” Dillon said. 

Dillon then paid tribute to that trainer, Norman. 

“All three of her wins have been with Brian. She just didn’t want to race for Craig Ferguson, who trained her before that. He’s a good trainer, but Brian has got the best out of her.  

“He just rang me out of the blue one day to see if he could help, and sure enough he did. The horse is a real credit to his horsemanship,” Dillon said. 

She said she had many people to thank in the industry over the years like Alan Jones and his son Ross who were the stud masters at Kina Craig Stud more than 20 years ago. 

“I was thrown into breeding in the deep end and really had no idea what I was doing until Alan and Ross helped me out. They were a real help with ‘Daisy’,” Riversdale-born Dillon said. 

“I’d also like to thank Ross Wilson, who has been a long-time friend and mentor. Whenever I needed to give a horse fast-work I’d go down to the track and have a run with his team first thing in the morning, before he went to work,” she added, 

Dillon was educated at Gore High School and went on to become a nurse. She is married to Richard. She was at Central Southland Raceway on Saturday to watch her two pacers run. 

“I never miss the races. It’s in my blood. It’s something I’ve always done, and will always do. I love it!” said Dillon who trained four winners (88 starters -12 placings) from 2009 to 2018. 

Asked what her breeding highlights were, Dillon said:

Judy with Archman

“Archman won a race on Cup Day at Addington in 2021. That was a highlight and so surreal, as we had covid restrictions in place. 

“I’d say there were only 20 people in the area above the stables. Either you had to nominate between a stable pass or be seated at tables in the main stand and ‘Never The Twain’ should meet. I, of course chose the stables, so I could go and see my horse.”