THE SPECIAL DAYS
CHAMPION SMOLDA RETIRED AFTER WINNING OVER $2.55M
32 WINS-FIRST OR SECOND IN 48 OF 68 STARTS
THE MOST UNDERRATED NEW ZEALAND -BASED CHAMPION OF MODERN TIMES AGGRAVATES AN OLD LEG INJURY TO THE POINT WHERE HE COULD BECOME LAME
2ND RICHEST NZ PACER OF ALL TIME
"HE'D DONE A HUGE JOB AND WHEN THE EXPERTS RECOMMENDED RETIREMENT I KNEW IT WAS THE RIGHT THING. IN FACT I HAD BEEN EXPECTING IT. BUT HE HASN'T TAKEN A LAME STEP AND WE WANT TO KEEP IT THAT WAY" -MARK
"HARNESS JEWELS WIN WAS PROBABLY MY BIGGEST THRILL"- CO-OWNER NEIL PILCHER
Even though he knew what the news was likely to be it was with a heavy heart Mark made the decision to retire probably the most underrated champion he has ever trained after SMOLDA had a leg scan on Saturday. E mails to Phil and Glenys Kennard who are overseas on holidays and a call to Australian Marcus Kirkwood the man who bought into the "yearling nobody wanted" and which changed his life confirmed that the amazing ride was over and "Smo" had run his last race.
"I haven't been that happy with him for some time" Mark said.
"I have been checking the leg most days and I felt something wasn't right this time. He wasn't lame but I wanted to prevent anything like that. We had a scan taken and the recommendation was that retirement was the best option. It's just wear and tear basically "
Mark has had a lot of stars in his time and can be expected to roll with the punches they can bring but Smolda in his own way was something very special.
"He is like red wine this horse" Mark said after his outstanding Inter Dominion win in Perth last year. "He just seems to be getting better with age"
Too true. Even as an eight year old when most stars are out on green grass Smolda was still either whipping the best in Australasia or going very close to doing so.
Yet his beginnings were rather unremarkable and for some reason he "flew under the radar" for most of his career. That is considering what he has done.
(Smolda and friends on and off the track from cuddling up to his great mate and biggest fan Shaun after winning the Methven Cup to doing what he did best-going fast)
Some of his highlights
*Smolda had one of the best strike rates of any recent stars. In his last two years of racing he lined up 23 times for 10 wins and eight second placings all in Group races many Group Ones.. He had 68 starts from three to eight but only had seven starts as a four year old (four wins) when fetlock issues first appeared and the stable opted for a lengthy spell. It worked. The only Kiwi pacer to win more money than Smolda, Monkey King, had close to 100 starts.
*Unraced at two Smolda set a new all-aged track record winning the NSW Derby at three a mile rate of 1.56.3 over 2400m. His second in the New Zealand Derby, beaten a neck by stablemate Fly Like an Eagle is considered by Mark one of his greatest runs. "He had a tough draw and had to do a lot of work and the other horse had a softer run and got the last go. It was a terrific performance"
At the Harness Jewels that season he put up one of the greatest of all Jewels runs burying his opposition at Cambridge in 1.52.1 then an outright national record for all ages. It has been equalled but yet to be beaten on the Cambridge track five years later. This may still rate with Mark and the owners as Smolda's greatest raceday effort
*Smolda specialised in setting new records wherever he went. In the South Australian Cup this year he broke the track record of 1.56.8 mr for 2645m held for 16 years by his sire Courage Under Fire. In the 2016 Hunter Cup he posted a mile rate of 1.57.3 over the 3280m trip breaking the previous record by more than a full second ! In the Inter Dominion Final of this season he posted a mile rate of 1.55.8 for 2936m which was nearly two seconds under the previous record. In the Ballarat Cup this year, another Group One event, he ran a track record mile rate of 1.54.8. In the first mile (driven by Anthony Butt) he posted three 400m sectionals in faster than 28 seconds. Australian scribe Michael Howard described the run as "jaw dropping". He was the first horse to win back to back Ballarat Cups having beaten Lennytheshark in 2016
In the Len Smith Mile in 2016, driven by Natalie, he lowered the colours of the $1,20 favourite and the "King of Menangle" Beautide in his fastest winning time over a mile of 1.50.6. He broke 1.50 when narrowly beaten in the Miracle Mile in 2017 in 1.49.2 beaten a short half head by Lennytheshark the opening 400m n 24.8!
*Smolda was the Grand Circuit Champion of 2016 (tied with Lennytheshark) and 2nd to Lazarus in 2017
*Smolda is the richest graduate of all the APG sales series in history surpassing the previous star Shakamaker in the past 12 months.
What Mark Says about Smolda
"His secret was his high cruising speed. He wasn't an explosive sprinting sort of horse but once he got up to speed he could hold that longer than most horses I have ever driven. It is a rare attribute . I think the Inter Dominion Final and the Jewels run were the two top performances for me though his New Zealand Derby run was mighty too. In those races he had to be up to speed the whole way and he could do it, take the hard stuff. He was probably best suited in races where the pace was on all the way because he could hold that speed better than they could> He has been a terrific for horse for us and the owners and we will miss him around the place"
Like some great stars of the past Smolda was appreciated over time rather than exploding on the racing scene. And it was only by a fluke that he ended up at All Stars.
"That was our first year at the Australian sales " Mark recalls " and we didn't really know what to expect in the way of prices. We were buying them then to syndicate to all of our owners and others and the budget was quite tight. I had set my sights on Fly Like An Eagle which I expected to have to pay over $50,000 for but we got him for $35,000 which left us with a bit more ammunition.
Smolda had quite impressed me in the ring. He came in earlier than Fly Like an Eagle so I had to hold my fire. not knowing what I might need to spend there, Smolda went out of the ring for I think $50,000 . Then there was this disputed bid and he came back into the ring after Fly Like An Eagle had been bought. It was one bid of $55,000 and he was ours.
Actually we had some problems syndicating him. Phil, Glenys and Neil came in but the others had all been sold and Smolda still had a share available. Marcus saw him advertised on the website and took up the last share. It can be funny how things turn out.
He didn't race at two. Partly because we hadn't yet discovered that high cruising speed he had but mainly because he tended to touch a knee whenever he went up to speed. So I took him along quietly until he was more mature. But I did always like him and knew he had something. Not doing that hard racing early turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
His present leg problem has been with us for a while and I have had my doubts he would stand a Cup preparation for some time now. But he has surprised us before so we had to try.
Children's Cancer Colours
Marcus and Sharon Kirkwood are community minded people always helping others and when their son Tom developed cancer as a child they went to great lengths to help him and other children suffering from the disease by becoming promoters of the Child Cancer Institute of Australia. Among their many ideas was that Smolda could race in Australia in a specially designed set of colours to help promote the cause. Naturally all concerned agreed it was a great idea and the striking colours certainly made their mark on Australian tracks. They are shown in a photo above.
Unhappily Tom did not survive his illness but that hasn't dampened the Kirkwood's enthusiasm for the cause. True community spirits-and how they love Smolda.