Breeding two winners on a Saturday race card, one a Group Three winner, is a great weekend by anyone’s standards.
Matamata veterinarian Bill Ewen achieved that last weekend when Supreme Heights (Jimmy Choux-Summer Heights) won the Taranaki RI Gr.3 NZB Ready To Run Trainers Series (1400m), while earlier in the day Ace of Spades (Redwood[GB]- Champagne Heights) won a maiden 1800.
But for Ewen and his wife Jane members of the Waikato branch of the NZTBA the weekend more thrills than just those delivered on the racetrack.
“You would think those two wins would make the weekend,” said a delighted Bill Ewen, “But what was even better than that was at the start of the day I went to my grandson Leo Williams’ soccer prize giving and he won Player of the Year for his grade.
“Then I went and watched fellow veterinarian Dave Keenan’s son Darcy play number eight for the Matamata College First XV and they won against Cambridge High School.
“After that I watched Ace of Spades win and I thought, well things come in threes so that’s my lot. So, you can imagine we were pretty excited when Supreme Heights came out and won the stakes race.”
Ewen his wife Jane, her brother Paul Culpan, Meredith Reid and Jamie McIntyre bred Supreme Heights, and apart from McIntyre, share in the racing partnership of the Mark Brosnan-trained mare with Brian Leach, Fred McCauley, fellow veterinarian Wally Niederer, Steve Bignall, Johnny Duffin and Doug Marra.
Matamata mare Supreme Heights is now the winner of six races from 15 starts and went into the New Plymouth event on the back of a win at her home track earlier in September and will look to get further black type going through the spring.
By the former Derby winner Jimmy Choux, she is the sixth foal and third winner from Summer Heights, and is a half-sister to Percival Potts (Sir Percy[GB]) and Queen of Heights (Keeper[AUS]). She was taken to the yearling sales with a $5000 reserve but didn’t get a bid, so was then placed on Gavelhouse.
Enter Brian Leach, another member of the Waikato branch but based in the Bay of Plenty, a follower of racing who has bred and raced a few winners over the last 40 years. He decided that his good friend Fred McCauley, a retired horse trainer, needed to buy a racehorse for an interest.
As a younger man Leach used to go to the races with McCauley, who trained for around 50 years.
“I used to love hearing all the stories about the old days, and we have stayed friends. He is retired now and living in Papamoa and was a bit bored so I suggested we buy a racehorse,” said Leach.
“We bought a horse off gavelhouse and Fred decided he would ask Wally Niederer to take a share as he used to be his vet, he bought in a couple of old mates, Johnny Duffin and Doug Marra, and then thought he better ask his accountant too so Steve Bignall got a share. The last three are all first-time owners.
“That horse bowed a tendon and didn’t get to the races, so I went back to gavelhouse to find another.
“I saw Supreme Heights on gavelhouse, but thought there must be something wrong with her if a vet is selling her, but when she didn’t reach the reserve I got in touch with Bill and he said come and have a look so Fred and I went over to Matamata to see the horse.
“Fred looked at her and said yes, so we bought the horse and then offered Bill and his partners a share and the rest is history. As a group there is a lot of communication and we have a lot of fun, I have been to all her races except for when she won during Covid and was at New Plymouth on Saturday to see her win. I think I was the only person on course cheering for her.
“For her first-time owners it’s been a lot of fun, they are also in their 80’s like Fred. All of Johnny Duffin’s family gathered at his place to watch the race and even his daughter in Australia tuned in. I’m also really pleased for Bill and his partners as they have now got black type for their mare Summer Heights.
Summer Heights has also produced Blushing Heights (Burgundy) who failed to win a race but was bought back by Ewen and will visit Proisir this spring.
A three-year-old is in Kevin Myers stable, while the yearling is being retained by his breeders.
She is due to foal to Shocking (AUS) and will visit one of Valachi Downs stallions this year.
“These days Summer Heights is not very fond of being in the crush,” Ewen said. “She is even less fond of going on a truck, she is very quiet in the paddock though. But I am sending her over to Valachi Downs as it nice and close to home. “
Meanwhile, Ace of Spades is the last foal of the Centaine (AUS) mare Champagne Heights, a half-sister to Summer Heights.
She is a half-sister to four winners including Acrophobia (Scardee Cat) who won eight races in Australia and Cristal Heights a winner of two races. The Ewen’s have retained Cristal Heights and she is currently under service to Proisir (AUS) and has a colt by that sire at foot.
Champagne Heights and Summer Heights are daughters of Fairy Heights and unraced Tristram’s Heritage mare bred by one of racings real characters Tim Douglas and his wife Elaine.
“I developed a huge friendship with Tim I would go there a couple of times a week for vet work,” recalled Ewen.
“It was great to sit at the table over a cup of tea and just listen and learn a hundred things. I did all his work when he had Royal Heights, and gelded Sky Heights as weanling. As he was getting on, he gave me a couple of mares and Fairy Heights was one of them.”
Fairy Heights was unraced, but she was a half-sister to Moet Heights a winner of two races and the dam of the Joint Champion Australian Three-Year-Old Sky Heights (Zabeel) who won 11 races including the Australian Derby and Caulfield Cup.
From Fairy Heights the Ewen’s bred nine foals and six winners, the best being Rising Heights a full brother to Summer Heights who won seven races including the Gr.3 Manawatu Cup.
They were out of Anaheim, an unraced Amalgam (USA) mare who was out of Claudine (Battle Waggon[GB]- Wuthering Heights), a winner of two races and dam also of the Champion three-year-old filly of her year Royal Heights (Sir Tristram[IRE]) and her equally good older sister Mapperley Heights (Sir Tristram[IRE]).
Royal Heights won seven races including the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks for the Tim and Elaine Douglas, while Mapperley Heights won eight races including the South Australian Derby.
It was, however, Claudine’s full brother Battle Heights who really put the Douglas family on the map.
Along with his father Don, Tim, who was an accomplished polo player who had captained the New Zealand Polo team, had been racing horses for about 40 years before his polo pony mare Wuthering Heights produced a very good horse named Gold Heights (Gold Sovereign [GB]) who won eight races, and left the Champion filly Noble Heights at that time was raced by rookie owners Sir Peter and Phillip Vela.
Gold Heights was followed by two further stakes winners her full-brother Monty and Arctic Heights (Arctic Explorer[GB]) before Battle Heights one of the greatest Australasian gallopers of the 20th century came along.
The Champion Stayer of the 1973-74 season won 23 races including a W.S. Cox Plate, Sydney Cup, AJC Metropolitan and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, a Wellington Cup, Trentham Stakes and International Stakes (now Herbie Dyke Stakes) to name a few.
The “Heights Family” as it became known has continued to produce top racehorses and stakes winners right through to the 21st century with the likes of the Australian Horse of the Year and Champion Three and Four Year Old Weekend Hussler, and his group one winning close relative Lucky Hussler being descendants of Gold Heights. It’s certainly a family that has done Tim Douglas proud.
“Tim used to say everything is one good horse away, you just have to keep them and keep trying,” mused Ewen. “It’s a tough game but we keep doing it for the moments we had on Saturday. If you get a moment like that we just keep going.” -Michelle Saba, NZTBA