Jeff Wheeler’s six generations started with Avon Side backwards
By Duane Ranger
Leeston breeder, Jeff Wheeler, remembers his father, Les, telling him how he used to farm and milk cows on the banks of the River Avon in Burwood, Christchurch in 1952.
Jeff and Tracey Wheeler, winners are grinners!
Little did Les know back then that his family of standardbreds – all indirectly named after the Avon River, would go onto win hundreds of races spanning six generations.
The latest ‘Avon’ winner came via the Wheeler bred, owned, and trained Lovey Dovey Nova in race two at Addington Raceway on May 19.
It was the 4-year-old Love You – Tui Nova (Monarchy) mare’s first win in eight starts. She was driven by Terry Chmiel.
Wheeler explained that ‘Nova’ was ‘Avon’ spelt backwards, and the first standardbred that his father bred in 1969 was the Tuft – Wavering Downs (Meadow Chief) mare, Edis Nova, which is ‘Avon Side’ spelt backwards.
She won 12 races including the 1973 New Zealand Trotting Derby and placed in the 1974 Dominion Handicap.
“Dad bought Edis Nova’s dam, the 1962 Meadow Chief mare, Wavering Downs in 1967 with an old dairy farming mate of his, Lester Moore.
“She never raced. They got her off the Edge family after she had already left an unraced Bachelor Hanover mare (Dizzy Limit) in 1966 for them,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said his father and Moore bred alternate foals from Wavering Downs with the 1968 Password gelding Arthur’s Pass, the first one bred by Moore – followed by Wheeler, who put the mare to Tuft, and in 1969 Edis Nova was born.
Wheeler said Edis Nova was the third and most successful of the 12 foals left by Wavering Downs between 1966 and 1978.
“Edis Nova was the first horse that Dad bred, and she was the best of her 11 siblings, followed by foal eight – the 1974 black Game Pride gelding named The Power Game. He won five (of his 42) races and was also bred Lester Moore,” Wheeler said.
“He was a Game Pride pacer, so that was unique in itself,” he added.
LOVEY DOVEY NOVA trotting to victory at Addington
Lovey Dovey Nova’s maternal line dates back six generations to the Wheeler family’s1969 foundation mare, Edis Nova. It reads:
Lovey Dovey Nova (4yo Love You); Tui Nova (2010 Monarchy one-win); Kayla Nova (1997 Sundon five wins); Kayla Novander (1991 Gee Whiz II); Novander (1977 Great Evander six wins) and Edis Nova (1969 Tuft 12 wins).
Wheeler said the first standardbred he bred with his father was Edis Nova’s fourth foal (of 10) – the 1982 Scottish Hanover black gelding, MacNova, who never raced.
Wheeler Junior’s first breeding winner with ‘Dad’ came via foal eight, another Game Pride cross, this time in 1987 brown gelding, Dark Game.
He won four races providing Wheeler Junior with his first breeding success at Forbury Park on October 16, 1993.
Foal two, the 1977 Great Evander mare, Novander, produced Novander Whiz – one of the best trotters the Wheelers have bred.
“Novander Whiz was 3-Year-Old Trotter-of-the-Year. She won 11 races ($92,211) for the late Derek Jones (MNZM) and before him, Tim Butt, including the 1996 Northern Trotting Derby, and second in the 1996 New Zealand Trotting Derby,” Wheeler said.
And speaking of the late Jones, Wheeler said the 1999 Sundon – Kayla Novander (Gee Whizz II) mare, Cracker Nova was another nice horse he and his father bred.
“Derek actually leased her and he and then Peter (Jones) won nine races with her and just under $100,000. I got one more win out of her before we bred from her,” Wheeler said.
But internationally perhaps the best ‘Nova’ of them all was Overanova, later named Our Overanova in Queensland. He went on to be one of the greatest trotters to have ever raced in that State.
The13-year-old Monarchy – Kayla Nova (Gee Whiz II) gelding, who won one of his eight starts in New Zealand went on to win more than $500,000 in Australia, including 63 more wins and 66 placings from 203 starts.
Wheeler said Our Overanova became an “eftpos machine”, winning and placing week after week for trainer Grant Dixon.
In fact, Queensland commentator, Chris Barsby, termed Our Overanova “an absolute icon of Queensland trotting”.
“He won features here in his home State and features in NSW and Victoria. The multiple winner of the Queensland Trotter of the Year’ will go down as one of our all-time greats,” Barsby said.
“It would be remiss of me not to mention Yankee Nova. He was right up there potentially with the best we have bred.
“Yankee Nova (2004 Muscles Yankee – Kayla Nova mare) only won four races and then ran fourth in the Jewels Final, but I thought she could have been anything had she not got laminitis.”
The first horse Wheeler bred on his own was the 2000 Chiola Hanover maiden mare, Tracy Nova, followed by the 2001 Sundon four-win gelding Ollie Nova, who gave Wheeler his first solo breeding and training victory at Addington Raceway in July 2006.
As to Wheeler’s latest winner, Lovey Dovey Nova.
“I like her a lot, but she still has a lot to learn and is still quite lazy. Speaking of which Tracy and I are off to Fiji tomorrow (Sunday) so the mare will have a week off like us.
“She races her best races at Addington. Friday’s 2,000m distance wasn’t her favourite. She’s more of a stayer than a sprinter. In fact, all my horses are more the sit parked over 3,200m-type-horses. They can stay but they are not generally known as sprinters,” Wheeler said.
Lovey Dovey Nova is the first of two foals out of Tui Nova. The other is a Muscle Mass yearling colt.
“He’s a nice wee foal, who has just been broken in. I think the Muscle Mass’s are doing a better than average job. They seem to produce horses who win four to six wins consistently. Time will tell with this little fella but what I’ve seen so far I like.”
Wheeler said he opted not to put the mare in foal last season, but would contemplate a sire between now and Spring.
The Canterbury horseman is currently breeding from two mares – the nine-year-old Pegasus Spur – Cracker Nova (Sundon) two-win mare, Peggy Nova, who has left a What The Hill weanling filly and a 2-year-old Father Patrick filly.
He’s also breeding from the 13-year-old Diedre Don – Tracy Nova (Chiola Hanover) eight-win mare, Oh Nova.
Wheeler said Oh Nova had left three foals and is in foal to Royal Aspirations. Her second foal, the 4-year-old Love You gelding, Oh Nova Love is currently racing in New South Wales.
Wheeler grew up in Springston and attended Lincoln High School. He is married to Tracy, and they have three adult children – Kimberley, Kayla, and Ollie.
Wheeler has trained 36 winners and 52 place-getters ($260,950) since 1984 and has saluted the judge 22 times and placed on 28 occasions ($148,435) since 1987.