Jim Gibbs, recognised for decades as one of New Zealand’s very best thoroughbred trainers, has been granted the racing industry’s greatest accolade by being inducted into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.
At a black-tie function at Ellerslie last Friday evening, Jim joined retired Matamata trainer Dave O’sullivan and his jockey son Lance as a Hall of Fame member.
Dave and Lance were inducted at the inaugural Hall of Fame function in 2006 and since then alternative to riding, which meant taking up training. I bought my original property – nine acres in Banks Road with a three-bedroom house – for £6500.’’
From those small beginnings the name Gibbs gradually began to stamp its presence in training ranks, capped by a halcyon decade in the 1980s. Jim became the first trainer to prepare the winners of $1 million in stakes in a single season, 1986 to 87, and two years later took that to another level with $2 million in earnings.
His string of open company gallopers including Maurine, Mickey’s Town, Regal City, Spyglass and Sounds Like Fun delivered wins in the Auckland, Avondale, Waikato and Counties Cups but the real standout of this period was a filly by the name of Tidal Light.
Her three-year-old form, headed by wins in the New Zealand Derby, Air New Zealand Stakes and Canterbury Guineas, earned champion three- year- old and ultimately Horse of the Year honours. A more personal accolade for Jim at the same time was the prestigious Racing Personality of the Year award.
‘‘I was lucky for many reasons, what with the quality of the horses I had in my care and the people around me,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re only as good as the horses in your stable and your staff working with them – I don’t care what anyone says otherwise, that’s a fact.’’
People have indeed been a big part of the Gibbs success story, especially in his mentoring of something like 35 apprentice jockeys, budding trainers and countless stable grooms.
Roger James, who was his junior training partner back in the Tidal Light days, and who just last Saturday put his name in the New Zealand Derby record book for the fifth time, is his most successful trainer graduate, while others are the worthy Matamata duo of Lance Noble and Graham Richardson. Michael Coleman set the standard amongst jockey graduates.
The one person who Jim singles out as the most influential in his life and in the day-to-day operations both during his training career and since is his wife Ann.
‘‘The biggest thank you must go to Ann,’’ he said.
‘‘I wouldn’t have had the success without her there making her contribution with the accounts, owners, staff, everything that goes into making it work.’’
One of Jim and Ann’s most treasured experiences was as part-owners of the Melbourne and Caulfield Cup winner Doriemus, a horse that, like Tidal Light, Jim had bought in the auction ring for less than $5000. When the late maturing chestnut had shown early form, a majority share was sold to clients of the Victorian trainer Lee Freedman, who developed him into the best stayer of his era.
As he looks back on his time in racing, you get the impression that Jim wouldn’t have swapped it for anything.
That was also evident when some 80 family, friends and supporters joined him at the Hall of Fame function and at the Ellerslie races the following day. The weekend bonus was the win in the $100,000 Darley Plate by Durham Town, who is part-owned by Jim and Ann.
‘‘Yes, it was a weekend to remember. The Hall of Fame induction is probably the highest honour of any,’’ said the man who also received a New Zealand Order of Merit award in the Queen’s Honours list several years ago.
‘‘Hall of Fame membership alongside so many great people and horses is something that is there forever.’’
While having to concede to the Roger James- trained O’reilly filly Silent Achiever in the New Zealand Derby, the Jason Bridgman-trained local Rock ’n’ Pop performed with great credit in the country’s premier classic.
His dogged second on a track that was softer than he prefers may well have set him up for a Sydney autumn campaign.
Graham Richardson continued his wonderful season when he opened and closed Saturday’s Ellerslie programme with wins by El Volante and Allanah. El Volante had let the side down when well beaten at his previous start, but a change in tactics by Michael Coleman produced an easy all-the-way win.
The three- year- old son of Fast ’ N’ Famous is raced by his breeders Philip and Catherine Brown of Ancroft Stud, in partnership with Philip’s cousin Frank Hilliar. Philip and Frank get as much as they can out of their racehorse interests, an essential ingredient of which is regular attendance at the training track any or every morning of the week.
The same goes for Tim Rogers, a member of the partnership that races final race winner Allanah, who is shaping up as a more than handy customer with three wins from five starts. Tim’s weekend also included a birthday celebration with his mates, who include fellow owners, Elders Livestock agent and Matamata Racing Club committeeman Danny O’leary, and your friendly timber and hardware man Terry James.
Once again it was Michael Coleman taking it to the opposition as he sent Allanah straight to the front and never looked like being headed. The grey mare shares a common family colour with her well performed half-brother Don Domingo, the pair having been bred by local identity Barbara Perry, who also has a racing share.
By the time you read this page, Graham Richardson will be close to – or may even be already – realising his fortunes in the Stella Artois Auckland Cup. Second favourite Single Minded, whose wins this season includes the Avondale Cup, and lightweight Top Spot were set to carry their trainer’s hopes into Wednesday’s 3200-metre race.
Induction: Hall of Famer Jim Gibbs, accompanied by his wife Ann, is interviewed by MC Steve Davis at Friday night’s function.