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Hawke's Bay Racing Column
John Jenkins recalls tales of prominent HB racing identity Don Gordon
John Jenkins | December 11, 2020

Prominent HB racing identity Don Gordon has died

Don Gordon, one of Hawke’s Bay’s most successful thoroughbred owner-breeders, died last week aged 87.

Gordon bred and raced horses for nearly 60 years and owned some of the best to come out of the Hawke’s Bay racing centre.

His two passions were racing and rugby and he succeeded in both, reaching national representative level at rugby and playing a major role in the Hawke’s Bay thoroughbred racing and breeding scene.

He started racing horses in his 20s but it was not until later in life that he really started to make his mark. One of the first big winners that he bred and raced was Mun Lee, who was by Great Wall out of the Pharamond mare Phareno.

Trained on the Hastings track by Don Sellwood, Mun Lee was the winner of 14 races including the Group 1 Waikato Draught Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa.

She was crowned three-year-old filly of the year for the 1977-78 season when her wins included the Great Northern Oaks at Ellerslie and Manawatu Breeders Stakes at Awapuni and she was also runner-up in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks at Trentham, Group 2 Royal Stakes at Ellerslie and Group 3 Desert Gold Stakes at Trentham. She also included the Awapuni Gold Cup among her victories.

Secrecy, a half-sister to Mun Lee by Diplomatic Agent, was another good winner in Gordon’s distinctive grey and black colours. Although she never won a stakes race, she chalked up seven wins, three seconds and two thirds from only 22 starts and was later to become a successful broodmare.

She was the dam of Political, who recorded four wins and eight seconds from 27 starts, while another of her progeny was Security who went on to be the dam of Wait A Sec, winner of the Group 1 2017 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings.

Back in the late 1970s Gordon also raced a horse called Dornoch from the Hastings stable of Don Sellwood and he included the 1977 Waipukurau Cup among his wins.

In more recent years Gordon’s name was to the fore again through the deeds of the class performer Survived.

The son of Zed credited his owner-breeder with his biggest moment in racing when he took out the 2013 running of the Group 1 Makfi Challenge Stakes (1400m) on the first day of that year’s Hawke’s Bay spring carnival.

“I have raced a lot of good horses over the years but I think this one (Survived) could be the best,” Gordon said at the time.

He added that Survived was well named because he was so weak as a foal that he nearly didn’t survive.

The John Bary-trained gelding went on to record seven wins, with his other notable victories coming in the Group 3 Hawke’s Bay Cup (2200m), Group 3 Tauranga Stakes (1600m) and Group 3 Manawatu Classic (2000m). He also finished second in the Group 3 Rough Habit Plate (2100m) at Eagle Farm in Brisbane.

Full Noise was another good horse Gordon raced, with the Kaapstad mare’s seven wins including the Listed Stayers Cup (2400m) at Rosehill in Sydney.

He bred the mare in partnership with Jeannette Broome and they developed a successful association, also breeding Clay Shot who won six races in Australia and Master Blaster (two wins), who was out of Full Noise.

Dancing Daze was another good mare bred and raced by Gordon with her six wins including the Listed Levin Stakes (1400m) at Otaki. She went on to produce All Roads, a horse Gordon kept a racing share in and who also won six races including the Group 2 Japan/NZ Trophy Race (1600m) at Tauranga.

Don Gordon was a past president and committeeman of the Hawke’s Bay Thoroughbred Breeders Association and a long serving committee member of both the former Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club and Hawke’s Bay Racing Incorporated.

He was named Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay Owner of the Year for the 2012-13 racing season and was also presented with the Horlicks Salver that year in recognition for his many years of service as a racing and thoroughbred breeding administrator.


Hercock re-joins the riding ranks

Hawke’s Bay-based Kate Hercock is a welcome addition to the senior jockey ranks in the Central Districts.

The 41-year-old, who has been training thoroughbreds in recent years, had her first race-ride back after an eight year break at Wednesday’s Hawke’s Bay meeting and, although unplaced, she showed she still has what it takes by kicking home three winners at the following morning’s Hastings jumpouts.

Hastings-born Hercock was based in the Waikato for most of her initial riding career, amassing 237 New Zealand wins in the eight years between 2002 and 2010. She then had a two year stint in Macau where she racked up a further 20 wins.

She has four black type victories to her credit, the biggest being the 2009 Listed $100,000 Opunake at New Plymouth aboard Pindy. She also won three Listed sprint races on Richard Beymer.

“They were two of my favourites but my favourite horse of all was All’s Well,” she said. “I rode him in eight of his 11 wins.”

Hercock, who owns a property in Otane, said she made the decision to take out her jockey licence again because there appears to be a shortage of senior riders in the CD area.

“A lot of owners don’t want to put an apprentice on their horse so I decided to lose some weight and give it a go again, she added.

“I’ve come down from 60 kilograms to 53.5 and I’ll be able to ride at 52 if need be.”


Callsign Mav ready to race again   

Hastings-trained Group 1 winner Callsign Mav is on target for a return to the racetrack at Awapuni next Saturday.

The John Bay-trained four-year-old will be entered for the Group 2 $100,000 Manawatu Challenge Stakes, a weight-for-age event over 1400m.

The son of Atlante underwent an exhibition gallop between races at Wednesday’s Hawke’s Bay twilight meeting, working strongly over 1200m with regular rider Jonathan Riddell aboard.

The horse was timed to run home the last 1000m in 60.6s and final 600 in 35.1.

“It was a very good gallop on his own and Jonathan said he had a lot left at the finish,” Bary said.

Callsign Mav has not raced since finishing third in the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) at Hastings on October 3 and that followed his Group 1 victory in the $200,000 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) on the first day of the Bostock New Zealand Hawke’s Bay spring carnival in the mid-September.


Grieve by-monthly award winner

Peter Grieve has been awarded the by-monthly Kevin Wood Memorial Trophy for the months of September and October and was presented with his trophy at Wednesday’s Hawke’s Bay meeting.

Grieve is a part-owner of The Cossack, who capped off a great winter over jumps by taking out the $125,000 Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) at Ellerslie on October 17. He also has a share in Toscanini, who was successful in a $A38,000 maiden race over 1250m at Newcastle in Australia on October 31.


Talented apprentice back on track

A dose of the real world and some time to clear his mind has proved the catalyst for talented apprentice jockey Wiremu Pinn to make his way back to racing, and the 22-year-old is keen to grasp the opportunity with both hands.

A once troubled South Auckland teen, Pinn’s first exposure to horses came via equine therapy as part of a process to deal with the death of a close friend.

On the recommendation of a guidance councillor, the then 15-year-old with a feather-weight frame was put in touch with Te Akau Racing with a view to becoming an apprentice jockey.

Under the guidance of Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards, he proved to be a natural in the saddle, but behavioural issues intervened.

With the support of National Riding Mentor, former champion jockey Noel Harris, he was given a second chance when sent to New Plymouth trainer Allan Sharrock, noted for harnessing the talents of some of New Zealand’s best riders, including former wild child Michael Walker.

The gifted youngster would ride 32 winners under Sharrock’s watch but dramatically quit the sport in February 2019 and looked like yet another wasted talent whose potential would go unfulfilled.

But the kid from the wrong side of the tracks is back and he is keen to make amends, recognising that third chances don’t come around very often.

Pinn is now back kicking home winners and, more importantly, the three-kilogram claimer has lost none of his poise in the saddle.

A young father, Pinn is apprenticed to good friend Daniel Miller in Matamata, and has plenty of reasons to make the opportunity count.

“I had to get my head in the right space to come back and make a living for my family,” Pinn said. “I have a three-year-old son who turns four in April.

“I always wanted to do it. I just wasn’t in the right head space at the time. Now that I have had that time off it has done me good.

“It one hundred percent made me appreciate the racing industry.”

Pinn is doing things differently this time around and has surrounded himself with a good support network, which includes manager Mason Stevens, while he is also calling upon external help.

One of the many helping to sharpen the skills of the gifted rider both on and off the track is Noel Harris and Pinn said he regularly calls upon his expertise.

“Noel is a good guy. He teaches me a lot and is someone that has always been there for me. It is good to have his support with all the experience he has under his belt. Any advice from him is good,” Pinn said.

“I’m also getting professional help. I see a lady called Dianna Young once every couple of weeks. She is a counsellor for New Zealand Racing.

“I go see a sports psychologist once a month too. I am getting a lot of professional help and surrounding myself with good crowds to keep me on the right path and not go off the rails like last time.

A natural lightweight, Pinn weighs just 50kgs.