VALE NEIL PILCHER

Neil Pilcher.JPG



Neil, who has been in indifferent health for some time, suffered severe back pain late in the week and was removed to hospital on Thursday. The family, including his wife, Rose  were summoned on Friday evening and he passed early on   Saturday morning . His last runner, Mach Up, had been a winner for Mark at Addington a few hours before.  He was 80 and had won nearly 350 races.

Neil had been closely associated with Mark's training career from the start of it in the mid 1990's and with Roy and Barry before that

"We had been family friends for years. Neil was in Kumeu earlier and transported the horses down south for Roy and Barry and was then in Christchurch so the association strengthened  when I moved south" Mark said.

Neil played a key role in that stage of Mark's career as a backer, advisor and "volunteer" stable hand. In more recent times he was the man finessing the track before and during fast work at Rolleston and master of the kitchen for staff breaks. But he did a lot more than that. Much more.

Smolda Days-In the birdcage after another triumph-the champ himself-more presentations-the Methven Cup   with Phil -the Flying Stakes- the great Neil Pilcher combination-a champion by Courage Under Fire, Mark Purdon as trainer driver after the Inter Dominion triumph in Perth

He raced any number of successful horses, most notably the $2.5m Inter Dominion championship winner Smolda and his contemporary Fly Like an Eagle as well as outstanding horses like Waikiki Beach (19 wins for Neil ), Major Mark (12 wins)  Follow the Stars (16 wins), Classic Cullen (16 wins) Border Control (18 wins)  Ohoka Dallas and  Russley Rascal ) to name a few.

But he remembered with affection lesser winners of earlier days in the north among them Takitimu Vance (10 wins from the Peter Wolfenden stable) of which he told many stories. And his winning tally could have been much higher but for the fact that Neil just loved "the deal" and was always prepared to sell horses for export before they reached their potential. He preferred to race with one or more partners, the Kennard syndicates Bill Grice and Trevor Casey being regular ones than solo ownership though he did both. He earlier raced with his wife Rose and brother Lee and members of the Purdon and Wolfenden families. Tony Herlihy was a close friend and was rarely without a horse of Pilch's in the stable. 

Pilch had  great affection for the stock of Courage Under Fire, Smolda being the best but with a long list of other successes including the second last, Turn It Up.

 Neil with his great friend and associate Roy Purdon

Neil with his great friend and associate Roy Purdon

"You should always leave something in the horse for the next joker. I have always followed that and if you do it they will come back for more" he used to say and a lifetime of experience in doing deals meant he was a man to listen to.

"He was just a really good bloke and of great support to me in so many ways" Mark said

"Roy and Barry had a horse for him, I think Speedy Demo, who  started his racing association with our stable. He was a good friend of Peter Wolfenden in those days and Peter Young trained for him as well. So he was a regular at the Kumeu track which is where we got to know him well"

"Like everyone else you always expected him to bounce back from a bout of bad health. He had done it so many times"

"It is a sad day for those of us who knew him but you are reassured by the knowledge that Pilch had done so many things in his life that he would have gone having no regrets"

1)With the Purdons and Tony Herlihy-family;(2)  With Jim Gibbs after a win at Addington this year with Turn it Up 3) Sales study with Mark 4) With Phil and Glenys at Awards night 5) with Funatthebeach 6) cake cutting on his 80th last year 7) Mark, Turn It Up,and Neil -another Courage Under Fire triumph 8) Adapting to the "low mileage" electric mobility machiine 9) Mach Up, the last hurrah. "so long Pilch"

Neil had indeed done many things in his eventful life but was best known to many for his highly successful Inter Island Horse Transport which from humble beginnings with one float  he bought from Don Hayes at Kumeu became the standard for horse transporters in this country. Trevor Casey was an associate.  Neil   sold to Majestic Horse Floats some years ago though retaining the ownership of the depots.

His business was notable for its professionalism. The later floats were state of the art, thoroughly cleaned after every trip and had special suspensions to aid horse comfort Neil never ran his floats "into the ground" preferring as with his horse sales to leave life in them or others while keeping up with the trends by renewing. He could be a hard taskmaster at times but aware of, and loyal to, those who who appreciated him. There are countless unknown people, especially in racing, who were beneficiaries of his kindness. 

Earlier he had been a farm hand at more than one venue, and a demolition operator in Auckland where sometimes mystery explosions after midnight bypassed the need for a lot of paper work with the Council. But in some ways his happiest working years were as, of all things, a nurse in a southern psychiatric hospital where he stayed several years going to work there on the advice of a friend who pointed out the pay was higher than on a farm and the hours better. "I got on well with most of the patients and you got to know a lot of them really well" he recalled

  His love of the art of the deal extended to truck imports from North America which numbered in their hundreds, taking the good with the bad when some arrived in a lot worse condition than promoted. E  Bay could sometimes be his second home.

Neil and some friends were badly hit when a business proposal involving the floats being merged with other aspects of racing failed in the tempestuous 1980's when the men promising the finance  walked away. It was a tribute to all concerned that they recovered from this serious setback their reputations untouched underlining Neil's business acumen. 

 Pilch after winning the Welcome Stakes with Zacharia which he raced with Trevor Casey

Pilch after winning the Welcome Stakes with Zacharia which he raced with Trevor Casey

He was also a successful owner of gallopers mostly out of the stable of Peter and Dawn Williams some of which also included Mark in their ownership. though he had been involved with them in his early years.

He was astute man on the deal, as likely to walk away if it didn't suit where others might compromise .The same with people. Neil was a good  friend and helper to a lot of people but it was  always better to stay in his blue book rather  than the red one.

Although Neil realised he was nearing the end of his life it never affected his spirit or his sense of humour, usually accompanied by a quiet grin

Recently he purchased a new truck preferring to source it in Auckland after a local dealer wouldn't do his price. He acknowledged that after he and brother Lee had gone to Auckland and driven it back to Christchurch there wasn't any difference in cost  from the original local quote . But that wasn't the point. It was the deal that did it.

Mark recalls a quip surrounding Neil's recent purchase of an electric mobility vehicle asking if i was new. Neil pointed out it was $5000 new and he had got it for not much more than half that. He noted that second hand was always better than new with such machines.

"They are almost always low mileage" he grinned

He went to the Sales  and spent $120,000 on one lot {"He was one of our owners we couldn't put a limit on !" Mark says "I think he regarded it as his last throw and he was making the most of it") and more recently has invested in several new ventures including the trotter Musculus just two weeks ago in anticipation of another Harness Jewels runner. He had hoped to be at Addington Friday where he had three runners engaged and then at Cambridge on Jewels day.

It is a great sadness for Neil Pilcher's family and many friends  not to mention a host of associates that this time he will not be there.

But there will,,l about now , be a deal being done somewhere Upstairs about the conditions he prefers -where St Peter might  more than meet his match !            

 ZION BROMAC wins at Addington recently in the hands of Mark's won Nathan- making it three generations of the Purdon family Neil's  winners were associated with.Raced with All Stars helper Mike Woodlock and Cheryl Rasmussen he is by (guess!) Courage Under Fire-and was sold to Australia one start later

ZION BROMAC wins at Addington recently in the hands of Mark's won Nathan- making it three generations of the Purdon family Neil's  winners were associated with.Raced with All Stars helper Mike Woodlock and Cheryl Rasmussen he is by (guess!) Courage Under Fire-and was sold to Australia one start later