Reg Caldow with NZMTC Chairman John Hartnell after receiving the miniature NZ Cup for breeding Self Assured

Reg Caldow will get the chance to take a deep breath and compose himself before Self Assured lines up to defend his New Zealand Cup title on Tuesday.

The Wellington breeder looks a big chance of joining an elite group to have produced multiple winners of New Zealand’s greatest race given the nearly perfect preparation Self Assured has enjoyed.

Just like his star horse, the breeder has also enjoyed a faultless preparation for this year’s New Zealand Cup, particularly when compared to last year. Caldow battled health issues ahead of last year’s race, which put being at Addington to enjoy the event in jeopardy. Caldow admitted that once he made it there to see Self Assured’s victory it was hard to hold back the emotions from joining harness racing history combined while overcoming his health battles.

“I had a few health problems and I didn’t know if I would get to the race. It was all a bit of a rush to get there, but it was incredible to be in the stand and watch him win. With everything that had gone on with my health, it was very emotional.”

Caldow’s term as the breeder of the reigning New Zealand Cup champion came to a close on Monday night at a function held by the New Zealand Standardbred Breeders’ Association.

He was presented with a New Zealand Cup breeders’ trophy, that while it was a direct result of his breeding of Self Assured, it also represents recognition for a four-decade-long contribution to the harness racing industry that stretches back to the 1980s.

It is also recognition that easily could not have come considering Self Assured’s dam, Star Of Venus was left with her life hanging in the balance after producing her first foal by American Ideal in 2011.

“The foal kicked her on the way out and did a bit of damage to her bowel,” Caldow said. “They had to operate on her and she had eight feet of bowel cut out. After the operation, she wasn’t doing very well and the vets said they weren’t sure she would make it. One of the vets said she should be doing much better and there wasn’t something quite right. So they operated on her again and they found six inches of bowel that they had missed.”

“I flew down that night to be there in the morning and when I got there she wasn’t doing well, her head was down on the ground. It was a lot for her to go through, two operations and a birth in that short time. But she came through it.”

The ordeal was enough to end Star Of Venus’ days of having foals. But it certainly didn’t stop her from leaving winners. Instead, the Christian Cullen mare has gone on to become one of the greatest embryo transfer producers New Zealand has ever seen.

“I don’t think there has been too many better, she’s had five foals that have earned more than $130,000 and I don’t think too many have done that.”

Caldow sent Star Of Venus north following her incident in the hope the northern climate would help her chances of producing a viable embryo. Alabar Farm and Equibreed NZ then combined to produce a run of seven-straight embryo transfer foals.

“Wayne McNamara and Nigel Fahy at Alabar did a great job with her, every year she would go down to Lee Morris and she would produce an embryo for another mare to carry. It was quite remarkable, really. And all she had to worry about was eating grass.”

Before Self Assured came along, Star Of Venus’ first foal Star Of Dionysis (American Ideal) won five in New Zealand before winning seven more in Australia where he took a mark of 1.53.6. The mare’s first ET foal was Vega Star (Real Desire) who won one in New Zealand before winning 17 more, including a 1.51.1 victory in Australia before going on to North America.

Next came Star Of Memphis (Rock N Roll Heaven), who won his only start in New Zealand before winning 14 more in Australia and taking a 1.52.9 lifetime mark. Caviar Star (Betterthancheddar) then won four here before racking up ten more in Australia.

That meant Star Of Venus had produced 58 Australian wins among her first four foals without even counting foal number five in Self Assured. As he had done many times before, Bettor’s Delight took a mare with an excellent record to another level following his mating with Star Of Venus in 2014. Caldow sold the colt at the National Yearling Sales to Jean Feiss before Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen shaped him into a superstar.

The only hiccup along the way came through a trackwork injury that led the pacer’s debut being delayed until he was a late three-year-old by which time the New Zealand Derby season was over.

Star Of Venus has left three full siblings to Self Assured since he was born. Stars N Bars has won once in Australia, while Star Casino is yet to win, but he’s trialled well and has shown ability. Born between them is The Morning Star, the only filly from Star Of Venus, who Caldow has retained. The three-year-old has won two of eight for the breeder-owner’s son in law Jimmy Curtin and is on the comeback after going for a spell in July.

Caldow hoped the mare could have returned during Cup Week but she won’t quite be ready to race.

With his involvement in breeding a little quieter these days, it is likely the mare will be the last mare Caldow sends to stud.

“I considered sending her to stud this season but the way she has come up it looks like there is a bit more racing in her yet. I was looking at Always B Miki and Downbytheseaside. Being the only filly from Star Of Venus, she is the future.”

Two-year-old Star Casino is the last foal from Star Of Venus who died after being struck down by an infection.

With Self Assured effectively just in the beginning of his open class career, being just a five-year-old, the mare’s legacy will continue for years yet.

After being honoured by the New Zealand Standardbred Breeders Association on Monday night Caldow will be able to watch the New Zealand Cup from Addington on Tuesday. With his health in a better place this year and having been crowned a champion New Zealand Cup breeder 12 months ago, it’s likely to be a different experience this year. And Caldow is looking forward to it.

“I am coming down to the Breeders’ function so I will be able to go to the Cup. I will be in the stands and I am looking forward to it.”

by Jonny Turner

WATCH: Reg accept the award at the annual Dunstan Horsefeeds Breeders Cup Eve Function