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Robin Hapi's Belle of Foxton

The win by Dubai Belle (E Dubai[USA]– Shy Dancer) in the group three Merial Ancare Metric Mile has made that mare the "Belle of Foxton".

In the small coastal town just south of Palmerston North in the Horowhenua, with a population of around 2500, the mare is a heroine and a welcome diversion for the racing mad community who earlier this year witnessed a number of arson attacks on their race course.

"She's a celebrity in town especially at the Foxton Hotel. The racetrack is an iconic part of Foxton and we are very much a small racing community so it's good to have a horse like her. Everyone can follow and share in her success. It's been hard since the fires at the race course, so everyone is celebrating that a little fellow from Foxton has sneaked a group three winner!" said Robin Hapi, the so-called little person that not only races Dubai Belle but bred her as well.

Hapi is Foxton born and bred, and lives on a lifestyle block on the outskirts of town with his wife Kathy. They married in 1971 and moved away to make their fame and fortune before returning to friends and family in 1999. Hapi's fame and fortune came through, among other things, the fishing industry where he was chairman of Sealord, and chairman of Aotearoa Fisheries Limited, the largest Maori fishing company in the country.

"I am only just coming back down to earth after the win - it's been a roller coaster these past few days since the race and the phone hasn't stopped ringing. I have had an email from Northview Stallions in America wanting a photo of the race to use in E Dubai's advertising.

"I am only just starting to realize what a big deal it is to breed and win a group three race. I thought she was a runner's chance - she had good form at 1600 and on the Manawatu track, which is her home track, her form wasn't too bad and they were talking up Amberio and we beat her three starts back.

"I called in at the Foxton Hotel on Saturday morning to check the odds. We don't have a TAB in Foxton anymore just the automated machine in the pub, and people were asking me if she was going to win? I told them she had the stats and would we trying. It wasn't until I walked back in after the races with the trophy and the bunch of flowers for Kathy that I realized what a big deal it was for everyone. They all backed her - one chap said his father had $100 each way on her.

Hapi attended the races with his daughter Rahera and her two children, and he emphasizes that racing this horse is a family affair. At her previous start at Taranaki his son Terry was there with his children. Kathy gets too excited and prefers to watch from home.

"It was a pretty exciting race, she was there on the inner, and took on the leader with about 800 to run I thought then she was going well and by the time she ran into the lead in the straight I thought my God, she is going to do it. We started getting pretty excited then, and this time the other leader faded and she just kept going. Amberio came at her late but she fought on. She's a real fighter."

Hapi has always been keen on horses, and growing up in Foxton with its large racing community it was easy to get involved and start betting. He started dabbling in race horse ownership about the time he returned to Foxton in the late 90's, and enjoyed the odd success.

"I had a few horses. It's always only ever been about having some fun, and enjoyment and I love nothing more than winning a race at Foxton. One of my first horses, Miss Salute, won her only race here at Foxton and that is special. I have been involved in a few syndicates but I prefer to race horses on my own, and I have never got into breeding either, and I only bred two foals from Shy Dancer," he added.

Shy Dancer (Stark South[USA]-Shy Witch) was unsound as a racehorse, and was just out languishing in a paddock when Hapi's friend Fraser McDermott suggested I breed a foal out of her. Apparently McDermott had ridden her in track work when she was in training and she had shown a lot of ability and showed a good turn of speed and he thought she might make a good broodmare.

"I looked at her pedigree and I liked Stark South and she had some pretty good bloodlines, so I got her for nothing and sent her to Prince Ferdinand(GB) (King of Spain-Greensward Blaze). I left her empty for a year and then decided I needed to put a bit of thought into her next mating.

"So I talked to John Bradley who knows a bit about bloodlines, and he discussed it with Peter Neilson and after much consultation they came up with the idea that I should mate her with the Mr Prospector(USA) horse E Dubai. The only problem with that was that he was in Australia.

"Anyway we made enquiries with Darley in New South Wales and they said they would take care of everything, getting her from my gate to their gate and back again and with a live foal guarantee, and for less than $10,000 which was not a lot of money really.

"When she came back I sent her to Tony Bambry's as he has such wonderful facilities on his farm and great pasture and I knew he would look after her well.

"Her first foal was Our Max and Francis Finnegan trained him to win one race. We put him out after that win and when he came back he didn't really want to be a racehorse so that was the end of him.

"Shy Dancer foaled Dubai Belle at Tony's and he raised her from there. We never really thought about mating the mare again. There was never any rush with Dubai Belle. I wanted her to be sound, not like her mother, and I am just in the racing game for a bit of fun. I know I am not going to make any money out of it so I was just happy to watch her grow."

Under the care of Francis and Sam Finnegan – Sam is one of Tony Bambry's daughters – Dubai Belle was broken in and worked along to trial at two, she had one start in the spring at three for a second placing over 1600 metres. She was put aside and raced again in the autumn before going on to win a 1600 metre maiden at Manawatu at her sixth start in the early winter. She won her next start and was placed before going out for a spell.

"When she was three Francis and Sam started to get quite excited about her and said she had plenty of ability. She has now had 20 starts for six wins, four seconds and three thirds. It's hard for me to recognize that I might have something special here.

"The secret is to be patient and let them develop. She is really starting to get stronger now. Tony's training methods have helped this mare immensely. She doesn't go to the track and gallop twice a week like some horses, she spends a lot of time on the water walker and that gets her fit and gives her that strength. I am happy to be guided by Tony - he has been in the racing game longer than me – I am only the owner and he's the trainer. I know my place and he knows his. He will decide where we go from here."

Wherever that may be September 15 2012 is one day that Robin Hapi won't ever forget.
As not only was it his birthday, the fifteenth day of the ninth month, but Dubai Belle was number 15 in the ninth race. Was that an omen or what?


- Michelle Saba