Rest Assured, Caldow Overwhelmed by Cup Win

20 November 2020

Self Assured draws clear to win the 2020 IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup

By Brad Reid

The New Zealand Cup has a place reserved in history for the greats of our sport.

The staying qualities needed to win a New Zealand Cup have undone many of our greats and exposed even the slightest of chinks in the armour.

Think Holmes D G, Master Musician & Elsu.

Few if any of our equine athletes have won our biggest race by chance, even if a couple of them snuck under the guard of punters in recent times.

Bee Bee Cee beat home Master Musician in 1994 at a quote of $14.85.

Gracious Knight led home the biggest cup trifecta of the last 40 years when winning in 2002 ($10,000) with Facta Non Verba & Shorty’s Girl.

Flashing Red’s second cup in 2007 had to be seen to be believed, so too his tote divvy given he was the defending champ, $23.40 thank you very much. Given his lead up form you could have argued that was unders, also.

The only thing more perplexing you could argue was the pedigree of the son of Echelon out of a Courvoisier mare. This makes Flashing Red one of the rare exemptions of New Zealand Cup winners.

Pedigree is an underlying constant in the overwhelming majority of crowned champions.

Il Vicolo and Arden Rooney traced back to the revered Black Watch family.

Iraklis and Monkey King hailed from the highly storied Sakuntala branch of the Cummings’ family breed.

Changeover was from the same family as the 1993 champion, Chokin.

2018 Cup winner The Fixer has the 1949 New Zealand Cup winner in Loyal Nurse in his pedigree as the 7thdam.

When looking at the engine room of the 2020 winner of the New Zealand Cup, it should come as no surprise that the horse bred by Wellington breeder Reg Caldow would salute.

“When breeding horses it is imperative you start with good maternal families,” said Caldow.

“It costs the same to feed all of them no matter what their pedigree is,” he reiterated.

The Tabella Beth line that Self Assured descends from is much storied and requires little introduction.

Tabella Beth appears in the pedigree of 27 six figure earners in our sport including the greatest pacer since Christian Cullen in Lazarus.

“Back in 2000 I was looking for a racehorse to be fair, and Peter Ryder fronted me one morning on the phone and said I haven’t got a racehorse for you, but I think I might have the best broodmare available in New Zealand.

“He said she was a four year old that hasn’t come up in training due to an injury and while she was a Tuapeka Knight mare, she was a half-sister to Stars and Stripes who looked like he was going to make a nice horse.

“Of course this was before Stars and Stripes had won all his derbies in Australia and Light and Sound was merely a foal. I knew a lot about the breed and she certainly had the right credentials” said Caldow.

Both Stars and Stripes and Light and Sound went on to dizzy heights winning age group Horse of the Year crowns and several group and feature races between them.

“We paid $20,000 for her which was a lot of money for an unraced mare in those days,” he said.

The stars had aligned for Reg and his wife Barb who couldn’t wait to get breeding from their new addition in Starlitnight.

The only problem was, Starlitnight wasn’t showing the same urgency when it came to producing a foal!

This isn’t the first tale of perseverance in breeding and it certainly won’t be the last. It doesn’t make the story of breeding Self Assured any less remarkable however.

Starlitnight failed to get in foal or was met with bad luck in eleven of her 19 seasons at stud.

It took the Tuapeka Knight mare five years and being served with seven different stallions before she would produce a healthy foal.

I loathe the cliché that ‘good things take time’, but this has never rung more true than when looking at the breeding career of this mare.

“We can’t really put the finger on it, other than to simply say she was just a shy breeder. She had to have everything going for her.

“She did have a nice Christian Cullen colt after about three years but he had a deformity and died. The drugs were simply not strong enough to take care of the issues he had with his gut and we sadly had to put him down,” said Caldow.

In her fifth season at stud, Starlitnight produced a filly by Christian Cullen called Star of Venus, the subsequent dam of Self Assured.

“She was very speedy and won her first race on the grass at Westport on Boxing Day while still technically a two-year-old being a February foal.

“Her race record does not reflect how good she was. She had a number of issues including holding her breath during a race and that would see her stop when it looked like she was full of running.

“We retired her to go to stud and we got Jimmy (Curtin) to time trial her at Ashburton for us for one last hurrah.

“We got off a plane to Jimmy ringing me saying you wouldn’t believe this but she’s just run 1:53 which was faster than Scuse Me’s record time and only slightly outside the new record which had been set a year earlier by Kiwi Ingenuity.

“The scary thing was Ricky May who drove the GP told us one night that he thought she could have gone faster! They just held her together and she absolutely cruised it,” said Caldow.

At stud Star of Venus has followed in the hoofprints of her mother by being a problem breeder, but not through any real fault of her own.

As much as the first foal was responsible for a foaling injury that almost saw his mother die, he is undoubtedly the reason Star of Venus is here today and able to produce a cup winner several years later.

“Star of Dionysis was the first foal and she nearly died having him.

“He kicked her on the way out and destroyed part of her intestine. The following day Canterbury Equine did a massive operation through the night in an effort to save her.

“They cut about 7 feet of bowel out her and the following day she looked like she was going to be alright but she succumbed again. They rang me to say she was very lucky to survive the first operation but had very little hope of her surviving a second.

“They did the second operation and it was only another six inches they had to cut out.

“I flew in the following morning and when I saw her she had her head down as low as the ground and just looked like she didn’t want to live. The foal was being kept at the stud and one of the young vets suggested the idea of floating in the foal to see if that would do anything for her.

“The foal turned up and was unloaded from the float and as he walked round the corner he let out a little bit of a noise and as soon as she heard him her head lifted up. He ran over to her and over the next ten minutes, she just about got her head up to full height.

“There was about eight of us there and I can promise you there wasn’t a dry eye in sight. It was unbelievable to see and it was as if she suddenly had something to live for, it was incredible,” said Caldow.

Star of Dionysis’ name carries with a lot of meaning with Dionysis in Greek mythology having saved his mother from the Underworld, after his father Zeus showed her his true nature as storm god and consumed her in lightning.

Put it down to one of nature’s miracles, and since then Star of Venus has fashioned a record as one of New Zealand’s finest producing mares of the last decade.

Of her six foals of racing age, five of them are race winners and six figure earners, four are Group Race winners (two at Group One) and have amassed 76 wins between them for $1.5 million in stakes and climbing.

All but her first foal have been bred by embryo transfer.

First foal Star of Dionysis won a couple of country cups before heading to Australia where he has since been retired with 12 wins and 20 placings including a Group Three victory.

The second foal was another colt, this time by Real Desire and he went by the name of Vega Star.

“Steven Reid had him and we thought he would be alright but he needed longer to mature than we gave him. In the end we sold him to Australia where they put him in a paddock for 6 months and he repaid them by winning 21 races before going to America,” said Caldow.

The third foal was a colt by Rock N Roll Heaven and he too showed plenty of the family ability and like his older brothers, it wasn’t long before he was on a plane and headed to Australia also.

“Star of Memphis won his first race at Oamaru on a Sunday and went a hell of a time. Between the race finishing and going to bed I couldn’t shake the agents and ended up selling him about 11pm the same Sunday,” said Caldow.

Star of Memphis is still in work with the Gath’s in Victoria and he was last season the winner of a Group Three at Melton. His career record stands at 15 wins and $139,000 in stakes.

Fourth foal Caviar Star was a colt by Betterthancheddar.

“We sold him after he won at Blenheim to the Halls in Perth and has never stopped performing over there. He won the Group One Freemantle Cup last season. He has just come back in to work recently and has won himself 14 races and over $350,000 in prize money,” said Caldow.

The fifth foal was the mares first date with the champion sire Bettor’s Delight.

While it would seem a date with destiny given the outcome, it would have happened sooner had a man familiar with the breed had his way.

“Dave Phillips who bred Tabella Beth and was responsible for returning her home from the States to become a broodmare has played a big role in my breeding career. He is quite a genius as far as his breeding thoughts go and his memory of the various stallions and mares in the stud book.

“A lot of my breeding decisions have been made in conjunction with him and in hindsight I should have gone to Bettor’s Delight as he suggested years ago, but I just felt he was too expensive. The price was going up but it came a time when I just had to go there given how well he was crossing with Cullen mares and in particular those from the Tabella Beth line,” said Caldow.

The resulting colt was entered in the Yearling Sales at a time that Caldow was looking to downsize his operation that at one time had swelled to over 15 broodmares.

“He was always a very nice colt. I wanted to keep him but at that stage I had too many horses and needed to downsize and we put him in the sale. Aimee Edmonds did him very well,” he said.

Very well indeed with Jean Feiss going to $110,000 to secure him.

Self-Assured was by all accounts a very boisterous colt who would constantly put himself in the wars by being simply too full of himself.

It was the constant niggles that saw the now gelded son of Bettor’s Delight as a late bloomer to the track, not starting until very late in his three-year-old season.

After winning his first two runs in New Zealand, Self Assured and his trainers set about making up for lost time by campaigning the horse in Australia through the winter.

He won the South East (G3) and Queensland (G1) Derbies before returning home and being set for the Auckland Cup which he subsequently won and cemented himself as a budding superstar of our code.

“It was very special when he won the Auckland Cup having him and Star Galleria in it. I didn’t know what horse to look at,” said Caldow,

It wasn’t all smooths sailing heading into this season with much of the discussion leading up to the New Zealand Cup centring around whether this enigmatic talent would step away when it mattered most. Although he picked up the Canterbury Classic and the Maurice Holmes vase enroute, several bobbles from the tapes had even his master trainer pulling what little hair he had left out as the Cup drew closer.

Despite the shambolic nature of the start and the impact on runners drawn the inside, few could argue the best horse in the race was the rightful winner on the day.

“The emotions were pretty special. You dream about those things. You’re up against the rest of New Zealand involved in the sport and like any sport when you’re trying for the best and it actually happens, it’s just incredible to think you’ve actually done it.

“There were definitely some tears. It was a big day. I’ve had a pretty rotten run this year with my health at one stage not looking like I would leave the hospital I was in. I was in pretty deep trouble at one stage – I’m still recovering from that but it’s been a dreadful year.

“There is a lot of pride in knowing it’s not a one-off or fluke so to speak. The family has done it on several fronts over a long period of time and the New Zealand Cup is the crowning glory that ties it all together,” he said.

Caldow has another interesting anecdote to add to his breeding CV having bred the first horse born by embryo transfer to win the Cup.

Of the last three foals from Star of Venus, there are three full brothers and sisters in blood to the New Zealand Cup champ all being by Bettor’s Delight.

Stars N Bars is a four-year-old who was purchased by clients of Tank Ellis in the Sloan’s who paid $50,000 for the colt. He has two placings from his five race day starts.

The next foal is a three-year-old filly which has been retained by Caldow as his sole broodmare left in his ownership.

“The Morning Star is in work at the moment with Jimmy and she will be at the races after Christmas. She is a lovely filly and a nice type. I’ve had all sorts of interest in her from people looking to buy her but she’s not for sale. She’s the only mare we have left now that Venus has died,” he said.

The last foal from Star of Venus is a colt who was sold to Russel Nieper, a leading owner in Jimmy Curtin’s barn and the reports on him are good also.

Given the wretched luck with Starlitnight and what could have been a disaster with Star of Venus early in her broodmare career, you would have to say all is well that ends well.

Starlitnight did more than simply produce the dam of Self Assured having left Caldow with four other winners including the open class pacer, Star Galleria.

“Star Galleria would have been right up there as well but he kicked out one night as a late two year old. He got his foot over the top of his gate and ripped a huge gash just above his hock. It was eight inches long and five inches wide and was an unbelievable mess. He’s been a super performer but that leg had natural damage that you can never fix. He could have been incredible and he’s had an incredible career all the same,” said Caldow.

Starlitnight produced a full sister to Star Galleria with her final foal in 2019 when bred by Alabar to Art Major. She was purchased by Breckon Farms at this year’s Mixed Stock sale run by NZB Standardbred and will make an awesome edition to their broodmare band given the limited number of daughters produced from this line in two decades of breeding endeavours.

For everything Caldow has achieved over a lifetime involvement. His perseverance and passion are even more remarkable when you factor in that he has achieved all of his success from his base from Lower Hutt which was robbed of its harness roots nearly two decades ago.

“It’s in our blood. My wife Barb loves it just as much as I do. We were administering harness racing in the 80’s and 90’s at Hutt Park and our daughter Sandi was the secretary of the Owners Trainers and Breeders Association up here before Jimmy (Curtin) poached her off us,” laughed Caldow.

“It’s been very difficult to maintain the passion and there are people out there making decisions who don’t seem to grasp that when you kill off and close harness racing in the rural communities, the interest dies and generations are lost to other pursuits,” he said.

With the likes of Gary Allen, Ivan McNicholl and Keith Gibson all hailing from the Wellington region and being the last remaining links to standardbred breeding, it goes to show what an impact Hutt Park had on its community through a golden era of racing.

On the second Tuesday in November in the Year 2020, Reg Caldow and his family were able to toast to a crowning achievement after a near lifetime interest in our sport.

We salute you.