Peter Pan of racing still flying
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.
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.