THE YOUNG ONES- STEVE BOYD AND DEVELOPING ALL STARS TALENT
Every racing story is a series of chapters and if the first for All Stars yearlings is their purchase at the Sales, the more important Chapter 2 is their education at Steve Boyd’s West Melton property.
Steve’s business breaking in yearlings has grown like Topsy in recent years partly because he is now responsible for educating the vast majority of All Stars youngsters. But he also has other major clients like the Williamson, Kerr and Butt stables and he estimates he and his staff handle up to 150 horses in a year. At present he has 7 All Stars horses under his winter care.
“I actually don’t know how it started with Mark and Natalie. Mark rang up and asked me to take a few and it just sort of went from there” Steve recalls.
It is likely that that man for all seasons, Neil Pilcher, played a role for he had had some of his horses educated at Boyds and they made a positive impression when they were put into work it led to further business . The horses usually work in 6 week blocks but as with all things with horses that can be flexible.
“We have a good staff and put a lot of time into it but we don’t do anything special. We are guided by Mark and having his input has helped us with all our horses and I am sure we have gained more clients through the association” Steve says
“He leaves us to get on with it. I will ring if I want to talk about a horse and he will advise me and ring about the older horses and it gets sorted . He is easy to work with”
Jo Herbert was probably the real pioneer of female drivers in that she competed as a fully professional driver through the 1990’s. In 1998 she had over 370 drives as a Junior and the following year over 270 as a senior driver. She has driven 193 winners and hopes to return in the new season to top the 200. She has not driven in a race since 2010 when she retired to concentrate on parenting-another tole she has mastered
“I’ve had three trial drives and require five. They are not that easy to come by. I am still lacking a little confidence because I haven’t driven at that level for so long. So the more practice the better.”
Steve says one of his most important assets is his father, John, at 78 still being keen on working with the youngsters even though his health at times is indifferent.
“I just love working with horses at that stage of their lives and I guess they pick that up. We seem to get on good anyway” John says
He has a lifetime of association with racing gaining racetrack prominence through smart racemares like the family- owned Dainty Judy and Dainty Smooth. But he is chiefly known in more recent times as a contractor for freeze branding.
“I started in 1970 and I am still going though I don’t do it full time any more. That’s probably long enough !”
Steve was always going to be involved. He started as a junior driver in the early 1990’s, John training his first winner, Diva Franco, raced by a partnership that included Malcolm Shinn. Tommy Behrns was also a supporter. An early winner was Lady of Victory bred and raced by the estate of his grandfather, Colin Berkett.
Steve earned an Air New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship berth which meant visiting Australia and through that trip went back to work with New South Wales trainer, David Aiken.
Steve is one of many fans of the Aiken stable, home in recent times to stars like Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjyay
“I have never worked for a better horseman. Every horse was different. I remember once he had two top chances for a Friday night meeting and during the week gave the smaller more frail looking one fast work right through to the races and put the bigger prettier one in the paddock for a few days. You would be scratching your head if you saw them but he knew exactly what he was doing. They both won”
Steve also spent some time in North America with Chris Ryder -”another terrific horseman”- and returned to post his first training winner in 2000 at Hokitika with Smokey Range bred and raced by his parents. His next winner Cruella De Villi was driven by Jo Herbert who now works at the West Melton nursery.
Steve is planning to enlarge his training operation from now on, having posted some encouraging results in the past season.
“Philippa Hanley has been a great supporter of ours and she is happy to race them. We have about 12 of her youngsters on hand at different stages “
Virginia Cool and Back in Black were two of his 11 winners this season raced by Philippa and also including Vi Lee , raced by John, and Ive Already Told You raced by Steve’s wife, Angela, and now in serious work again.
He is also pre-training more older horses for All Stars the New Zealand Cup winner, Thefixer, being with him almost right up to the start of his spring campaign last year.
“Seeing what Mark wants done with them is a bit more to add to my knowledge” Stave says.
There is also the fact he has a Water Walker on the property an increasingly popular form of training variation and which especially suited Thefixer.
“We had a good filly called Lady Toro who won a Sires Stakes heat in Auckland but went amiss when we left her up there with Geoff Small. The water walker was a way to treat the problem and fortunately one of our owners was very handy with building projects and completed it.
It has been a terrific asset. The time they spend in there varies but they love it. I notice if you jog a horse and let it go in the paddock it will trot away ok but the ones from the walker are really keen and refreshed when they get off the lead”
The Walker is available also to outside owners and trainers.
Vitally important in the handling of young horses is the right staff and Steve is happy with his lot backed by the major increase in his business in recent years.
John, Eddie, Phil and Jo are on deck during our visit with Steve and Zoe Gilbert from Akaroa comes over two or three days a week.
“She has been with us 17 or 18 years and also helps with the freeze branding. Really focussed and accurate in everything she does. The dream employee and those are not easy to find” Steve says
Phil a descendant of Wes Butt holds a thoroughbred trainers licence and has worked in “many stables” over the years. Eddie Collins the important “ground organiser” with the team has long experience with all breeds of horses and is also active with standardbred sporthorses.
One of the questions horse educators most commonly get asked of course is how much you can tell about a horse’s potential from the early education.
“You can’t always pick the most talented because sometimes the most talented just do what you ask and they may not stand out to you until they are seriously tested. One Change was one of those last year.
What you can judge is attitude. And often you find the attitude of those early days flows right through their careers.”
This is one area that makes the generally “no nonsense” Bettors Delights deceptive.
“You will get a number of them that you ask to go a mile in 2.20 and they do it without any fuss but in a routine way But then you quicken to 2.15 and they will still do it without any fuss. Those ones make you sit up and take notice because they are likely to go a lot faster without any fuss as well. But our job is to get them to do it right without asking too much of them”
Jack Jones is an opposite example of what can happen.. Something of a heartbreak so far.
“He showed a lot of ability with genuine quick speed but the attitude wasn’t quite there. We spent a lot of time on him and I know Mark and Natalie did But he just didn’t seem to want to do it while Another Masterpiece, whom you would not have taken any special notice of at the time, was the leading two year old that season”
(Jack Jones, regarded early as the fastest juvenile in the stable, ran 1:54.2 at his second start (4th) in the Kindergarten Stakes but galloped and was pulled up in the Welcome Stakes and galloped and unplaced in a subsequent Addington start before being exiled to the north where he failed badly in two subsequent starts).
“But sometimes you get a standout that really grabs you. Darling Me (a sister to Sweet on Me and a daughter of Adore Me) is one like that among the current yearlings. Outstanding in every way. I am not saying there are not others we have handled who won’t turn out better, especially the trotters early on but she has what it takes”
The future of harness racing in its present form is often a topic among horsemen and two areas of decline have affected the Boyds.
“The freeze branding of course A lot fewer foals to do now. But also people available for breaking in youngsters. We have quite a lot sent up from Southland and Otago and even around here are there are declining numbers of yearling trainers. People ask me to recommend someone and it is not easy. “
Steve Boyd and his team, meanwhile, have their hands full. They know that means they are doing things right and offering a proven service.
You can’t ask for more
A group of All Stars youngsters relaxing at the Boyd property