The racing industry lost one of its most respected and admired characters with the passing of Trevor John McKee ONZM last week.
Born in 1937 Trevor entered the industry as an apprentice jockey, and progressed to be a champion trainer, becoming a successful, owner, breeder and businessman along the way. He started his training career in Pukekohe after a compulsory stint in the army at the end of his jockey apprenticeship in the 1950’s.
During his service he worked as a cook, and working with food led to a weight gain that saw the end of his riding days. While training at Pukekohe he married Noeline, and with an expanding family, they were blessed with three children, Suzanne, Stephen and Donna they moved to Takanini, where they had a family home until the training track closed there.
McKee was an exceptional horseman and wasn’t afraid to travel his horses, he had his own truck and he would frequently travel a team of horses to Wellington or Taranaki to win races. He maintained that HT license right to the end and when he relinquished his training license in 2006 he was still at the races with the team as the truck driver!
He told me he enjoyed driving and he appreciated nice cars as well and would often be seen arriving at the races in a late model Jaguar or BMW. Another of his passions was ballroom dancing and Trevor was definitely light on his feet when it came to that caper.
McKee’s first headline horse was Proud Chief in the late 1960’s, a gallant galloper who loved a wet track, amongst his wins were the Great Northern St Leger, the St Leger and the Avondale Cup. In the early years of his training career, McKee owned and trained a good deal of young horses that he then on sold overseas, enabling him to improve his stables and properties and to invest in better bloodstock.
During the 70’s more winners came his way and he started to feature in the list of top 30 trainers, and in the 80’s he began an association up with Richard Moore Senior and Junior and trained the Champion filly Solveig and her half-sisters Soltanto and Solstice and for the next couple of decades a whole host of other stakes performers from that family.
It was during the late 80’s that son Stephen joined his father in a training partnership, and in the 1989/90 season won over a million dollars in stakes and trained 67 winners, the following year they trained 87 winners and finished second on the Trainer’s Premiership behind the powerful stable of Dave and Paul O’Sullivan. From that time on until Trevor’s retirement they were frequently in the top tier on that premiership table.
That once in a lifetime champion horse Sunline was to come McKee’s way in the late 90’s and her remarkable record of 32 wins, 13 at Group One level, in three different countries and over $14 million in stakes, made him a household name in both New Zealand and Australia. And a recognised horseman internationally.
McKee became a member of the Auckland branch of the NZTBA in 1990 and regularly supported our awards evenings and other branch functions. During the glory days of Sunline he generously gave us memorabilia to auction at fundraisers and supported our inaugural Sunline Scholarship fundraising dinner giving freely of his time retelling tales of the mighty mare’s exploits.
In the 40 odd years that I have known McKee, he was always the same unassuming genuine nice guy, he would always say hello and he never forgot a face. He was quick to share advice or a good joke and was well respected by all in the industry. He will be sadly missed.
McKee is survived by his wife Noeline, three children Stephen, Suzanne and Donna, five grandchildren and a great granddaughter. A memorial service to celebrate Trevor's life was held in the Guineas Room at the Ellerslie Race Course on Thursday the 11th of April. - Michelle Saba