New Zealand’s Lup­tons are race-in­dus­try leg­ends

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

The Chan­nel Seven cam­eras were there, flash­ing in the dark, cap­tur­ing what they thought was a leg prob­lem.”

- LEON LUPTON

LEON Lupton is the kind of man you want around the camp­fire.

He has more sto­ries than he has time to tell – tales of horses, of un­der­dogs, of fam­ily con­nec­tions and of days gone by.

Now based on a sheep farm out of Mans­field, the Lup­tons are still leg­endary in the New Zealand rac­ing in­dus­try – salt of the earth farm­ers that hap­pen to know a thing or two about blood­lines, and how to make a horse run.

Last month was the 156th run­ning of the Mel­bourne Cup.

In 1983, Ewen “Snowy” Lupton shipped his geld­ing, Kiwi, across the Tas­man in time to take out the race that stops a na­tion.

Snowy, Leon’s uncle, was just one of many Lup­tons cheer­ing the chest­nut on as he rounded the home stretch al­most 40 me­tres be­hind the leader – with 150 me­tres to go, he charged from 10th po­si­tion and took home the cup with a length to spare.

“That was a big week­end,” Leon re­called.

“It was the first own­er­trained New Zealand horse to win the cup – I think he might still hold that record.”

In 1984, Kiwi re­turned to con­test his ti­tle – but was forced to scratch just days lead­ing up to the race.

“I tell you what, that’s a bloody story,” Leon said.

“Snowy only had Kiwi over a few weeks be­fore the race, and he kept him boxed at night.

“One night, he knocked his leg – took off a bit of hair, so Snowy rubbed a bit of Vase­line on it to keep the skin soft.”

In a move that would ul­ti­mately seal Kiwi’s fate, the horse’s leg was wrapped in a red crepe ban­dage and then taken out for a public work­ing at the Waverly track.

“Ev­ery­body wanted to see him, wanted to know what kind of form he was in,” Leon said.

“But when Snowy pulled off the ban­dage, the dye had soaked into the Vase­line – it looked hor­ri­ble, like there was blood ev­ery­where.

Within hours, the rac­ing world was on-fire with news of Kiwi’s in­jury.

Just days be­fore the cup, vets as­sessed the horse and deemed him un­fit to race.

“It was a joke – the vet was there tap­ping on his hoof for 15 min­utes, and won­dered why the horse was get­ting cranky.”

To this day, the Lup­tons think their horse was robbed of vic­tory.

So, too, does jockey Jim Cas­sidy, who was in­ter­viewed years later, say­ing “he would’ve p…ed in - he would’ve won by fur­ther that year”.

But Snowy Lupton had no sour grapes – the farm­ers from New Zealand are not the kind to get caught up in rac­ing jeal­ousies.

“He paid $1000 for that horse – one Mel­bourne Cup was bet­ter than none,” Leon said.

Kiwi was not the only suc­cess­ful Lupton horse.

“All my fam­ily were horse­men,” Leon said.

“Dad was the best of them, though – there was noth­ing he couldn’t ride.

“He be­lieved in mak­ing a horse earn its keep – they had to work on the farm as well as on the track.

“And we had to be back, ready to work by 8am on the farm – three horses was one too many, he al­ways said; two you can use, three is a waste – you can’t work three horses by 8am.”

Leon him­self was a renowned steeple­chase trainer – his horses, Re­gion and Con­tract, both win­ning nu­mer­ous ti­tles.

“Con­tract still holds the track record for jumps at Flem­ing­ton – he won by 13 lengths in the Glamis Steeple­chase,” he said.

Mov­ing to Aus­tralia per­ma­nently in the late 1980s, Leon took a job train­ing for Mitre 10 founder, Tom Dana­her.

“I won 35 races for him in two years,” Leon said.

Even­tu­ally, Leon man­aged a farm at Cold­stream with an off-branch at Swan­pool – but never com­pletely gave away his love of horses.

He re­calls a horse that he had trained, but that couldn’t run.

“He fin­ished 100 yards be­hind the sec­ond last horse at the bloody Mer­ton Pic­nic races – so I thought, that’s it, he’s out,” Leon said.

“A woman from Mans­field asked to take him on trial – two years later he was in At­lanta, jump­ing for the Australian Olympic team.”

Now set­tled with his part­ner, Roseanna, on a farm out of Bon­nie Doon, Leon should be think­ing about re­tire­ment.

In­stead, he is build­ing shear­ing sheds, breed­ing sheep, fin­ish­ing his home, and – he hopes in the not too dis­tant fu­ture – putting in a track for race horses.

“Of course I’ll get an­other horse, but I want to have ev­ery­thing right first,” he said.

To the shock of lo­cals, Leon named his prop­erty Isis Ford.

“Peo­ple have the wrong im­pres­sion – Isis Ford was the best horse my father ever owned,” he said.

A home-grown cham­pion, the geld­ing won just about ev­ery race in New Zealand – some of them many times over.

“He loved that horse, he loved all of them – and that’s some­thing he taught all of us right from the be­gin­ning.

“No mat­ter what, the an­i­mals come first.”

PHOTO: Chris Miller

LEG­ENDS GONE BY: Last month, the race that stopped a na­tion played out in Mel­bourne. In 1983, a lit­tle known horse from New Zealand, Kiwi, stunned Aus­tralia when he came from tenth place to take home the cup. Kiwi was trained by the Lupton fam­ily, some...

STORY-TELLER: Leon Lupton has more sto­ries than most after a long and colour­ful his­tory in the rac­ing in­dus­try.

PHOTO: teara.govt.nz

FARM HELP: The Lup­tons were farm­ers be­fore they were train­ers, and ev­ery horse had to earn its keep. Pic­tured is Snowy Lupton riding the 1983 Mel­bourne Cup win­ner, Kiwi.

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