Peter Pan of rac­ing still fly­ing

Matamata Chronicle - - Welcome To Matamata - DEN­NIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

Ac­tions, as the say­ing goes, speak louder than words, no more so than at Tau­ranga on Satur­day when Noel Har­ris came up with one of his trade­mark wins on Marea Alta in the Ki­wifruit Cup.

Rid­ing win­ners has been part and par­cel of Noel’s time in the sad­dle for an in­cred­i­ble four decades.

More than 2000 wins in New Zealand plus nu­mer­ous oth­ers in Aus­tralia and Asia are tes­ta­ment to the ca­reer of an age­less crafts­man with ev­ery right to be la­belled the Peter Pan of rac­ing.

That amaz­ing ca­reer has now been doc­u­mented in a book en­ti­tled Harry – The Ride of My Life, due to be of­fi­cially launched at a func­tion at Mata­mata race­course on Au­gust 16.

Writ­ten by lo­cal rac­ing jour­nal­ist Wally O’Hearn, the book will en­cap­su­late a ca­reer that be­gan as long ago as 1970 in Woodville as a mem­ber of one of New Zealand’s truly no­table jockey fam­i­lies.

Those early ap­pren­tice days were marked by na­tional jockey and ap­pren­tice ti­tles and a photofin­ish sec­ond in the Mel­bourne Cup when rid­ing his fa­ther Jock’s horse Glen­gowan.

Fur­ther plac­ings fol­lowed in the great race, in­clud­ing third on the great stayer Castle­town, the same horse that Noel rode to no less than three Welling­ton Cup vic­to­ries.

A com­bi­na­tion of fi­nite bal­ance and stir­rup leathers shorter than any oth­ers in the jock­eys’ room made the Noel Har­ris style unique in this part of the world. Nor did it al­ways meet with of­fi­cial ap­proval but it has stood the test of time.

Wally O’Hearn, who has been a close friend of Noel from the early days, said that the idea of putting his jockey mate’s ca­reer on record has been dis­cussed at var­i­ous times over the years and there’s tremen­dous sat­is­fac­tion now that it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

Noel’s move to Mata­mata a decade ago was a fur­ther cat­a­lyst and over the past year the pair have seen prob­a­bly more than enough of each other as they’ve pored over the years and put it all on record.

‘‘I’ve been a friend of the whole Har­ris fam­ily for a long time and Harry and I have al­ways got on well,’’ said the au­thor.

‘‘Back in his days in Palmer­ston North I would help ar­range rides for him when­ever he was com­ing north.

‘‘ One that I re­mem­ber es­pe­cially was Hor­licks back in the late 1980s when Lance (O’Sul­li­van) was in­jured and Noel rode her to win the TVNZ Stakes at Eller­slie.

‘‘When we fi­nally got round to sit­ting down to put it all to­gether it made it that much eas­ier that we’ve had such a long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship.

‘‘We’re both very happy with the fi­nal re­sult and while I might be bi­ased, I’m sure that peo­ple will en­joy read­ing what I think is a re­mark­able story about one of our great jock­eys.’’

Part of that cat­a­logue course Noel’s longevity.

Even when he made the move north to Mata­mata he was in his mid- 40s, an age at which the ma­jor­ity of his col­leagues are well past their use-by date.

A re­minder of a jockey’s ca­reerspan is the most suc­cess­ful New Zealand has ever seen, Lance O’Sul­li­van.

Af­ter 25 years in the sad­dle when he won 2479 win­ners in New Zealand and abroad, Lance an­nounced his re­tire­ment weeks be­fore his for­ti­eth birthday.

While one ma­jor in­jury and var­i­ous oth­ers of less sig­nif­i­cance had punc­tu­ated his ca­reer, Lance’s re­tire­ment came while he was at the peak of his pow­ers, hav­ing just notched a record twelfth premier­ship ti­tle and with wins in what would be his fi­nal three race-day rides.

Lance’s mantra in mak­ing that sur­prise de­ci­sion has al­ways been that he did not want to be one of those jock­eys who rode on de­spite be­ing well past his prime, leav­ing peo­ple with mem­o­ries of what should oth­er­wise have been an out­stand­ing ca­reer.

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Ap­ply­ing that phi­los­o­phy to Noel Har­ris is a moot point when he’s still able to pro­duce win­ning rides such as Marea Alta in Satur­day’s Tau­ranga fea­ture.

While he doesn’t ride as of­ten and as broadly as in the past, Noel still has it in him to come up with a pearler, as he did when bring­ing the Wan­ganui mare home first.

Half­way through the 2100-me­tre Ki­wifruit Cup Marea Alta looked a for­lorn chance, dip­ping and div­ing in the ground with just one runner be­hind her.

Her rider wasn’t about to lie down though and af­ter an­gling her out into bet­ter ground and giv­ing her one or two re­minders, she found the where­withal to surge for­ward and col­lar the top­weight Indika­tor with a prodi­gious fin­ish­ing burst.

‘‘Harry might be 57 years young but he’s still the man,’’ com­mented one of his great­est ad­mir­ers, Marea Alta’s Wan­ganui trainer Alexan­der Fieldes.

‘‘He’s still the best in my book and I wouldn’t want any­one else on top when the money’s up.’’

Noel and his wife Kylie went home on Satur­day night to fin­ish pack­ing their bags for a hol­i­day in Raro­tonga.

But they will be back in time for Noel to take the mount again when Marea Alta tries for back-to­back wins in the Tau­marunui Cup at Te Rapa on the fi­nal day of the sea­son.

While he’s been asked the ques­tion many times, re­tire­ment is still nowhere near the top of Noel’s pri­or­ity list.

His take on that sub­ject is that while he’s en­joy­ing what he’s do­ing noth­ing will change but when the day does ar­rive that he thinks oth­er­wise, it will be an easy de­ci­sion to make.

While Noel is re­lax­ing in the Raro­tonga sun, the se­ri­ous busi­ness of de­cid­ing the jock­eys’ premier­ship will be on-go­ing in the fi­nal weeks of the sea­son.

The stand­ings at the start of the week had Matt Cameron, sta­ble rider for Te Akau Rac­ing, on top with 141 win­ners and former Mata­mata jockey Lisa All­press breath­ing down his neck on 136.

Though she and her hus­band Karl now live in the Wan­ganui dis­trict, Lisa has main­tained a close link to the John Sar­gent sta­ble and in fact rode Ten Belles in a Tau­ranga week­end vic­tory that took John’s sea­son tally to 99.

That’s a ca­reer best for the mas­ter of Lad­brook Sta­bles and a con­tin­u­a­tion of his dom­i­nance of the train­ers’ premier­ship which has him more than 20 wins clear of his near­est ri­val and as­sured of a first New Zealand ti­tle.

Peter Pan of rac­ing: Noel Har­ris – 57 years young and all – lands an­other big win on Marea Alta in the Ki­wifruit Cup at Tau­ranga on Satur­day.

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