O’Sullivans lose guiding light and matriarch
Dave O’Sullivan and his equally successful sons, Paul and Lance, have for years been the public face of one of New Zealand racing’s most famous families.
The past week has been a reminder of the influence of family matriarch Marie O’Sullivan, who lost a long battle with cancer.
Her death came just nine months after that in similar circumstances of the youngest of her five children, Lisa Chittick.
Dave O’Sullivan is the first – and the best qualified – to admit that the huge success of the past 40 years was as much down to his wife as to him.
‘‘If it wasn’t for Marie, I could have been nobody. She was a remarkable woman you know,’’ he says.
By sheer hard work and a gradual realisation that the master of Wexford Stables had what it took to make it in horse training, the winners started to flow and the O’Sullivan name became respected and even feared throughout New Zealand, Australia and beyond.
‘‘ They were hard times and nothing came easily but between the two of us, with me working around the clock and Marie looking after the kids, the staff, all the office stuff, we somehow got there,’’ Dave recalls.
Family and business were allimportant during those early years but in time Marie allowed herself an indulgence. Prominent in that were two pursuits, racehorse ownership and gardening.
Snap, a pint-sized but sturdy filly she raced in partnership with close friend Robin, the Duke of Bedford, was one of the best in the early 1990s with wins in the Gr. 1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes, New Zealand 1000 Guineas and New Zealand Oaks and Waikato Sprint; later that decade Zola was a Gr. 1 winner.
Just last September Pure Champion, trained by son Lance and Andrew Scott and raced in partnership with Dave, Lance and the latter’s wife Bridgette, was a more than timely winner of the Gr. 1 Windsor Park Plate.
Marie proved a dab hand in the garden, with a special penchant for roses.
‘‘She just loved getting out in the garden, to begin with when we lived at the stable homestead and then after I retired and we moved into our new home,’’ said Dave.
‘‘Roses were her favourite and last year was the first time in years she didn’t have an entry in the local Rose Society competition. I doubt if there’s a trophy that doesn’t have her name on it,’’ he added with pride.
Most of all, though, Marie O’Sullivan will be remembered for her devotion to her family.
‘‘Mum was the driving force, she steered the ship and she was the one we all knew to go to for advice,’’ Lance recalls.
‘‘ She was a very intelligent woman but most of all she was a great mother and a wonderful grandmother. We were all blessed to have her.’’
HUGE LOSS: Marie O’Sullivan with husband Dave.