A man of the land with good stock sense is just one-way Stanley “Ross” Nickel, who passed away earlier this month, will be remembered by his good friend and neighbour Jock Wilson.
Nickel, a member of the Waikato branch of the NZTBA and a stalwart of the Te Aroha Jockey Club, lived the most part of his life on the family farm in Waihou on the outskirts of Te Aroha and was a true Te Aroha local.
“He was a man of the land who demonstrated true stock sense, his stock was always in prime condition and that applied to his horses as well, and accordingly he had a pretty good strike rate,” Wilson said.
“In general, his horses were not that fashionably bred but he was renowned for always putting up the best jockeys available. He was unique in many ways as he was inflicted with all four thoroughbred vices, he was an owner, trainer, breeder and punter. He was a fearless and astute punter who wasn’t afraid to have a bold bet.”
His best horse was Classic Chief who won nine races including the Gr.3 Rotorua Challenge Plate, and the Listed Windsor Park trophy at Te Rapa, as well as running second in the Gr.2 Counties Cup.
According to Wilson however the best Classic Chief story was the one surrounding his first start.
“He won at his first start at Paeroa back in 1995, and was paying $14, but unfortunately Ross had forgotten to put the lead bag in Jim Collett’s saddle when saddling up and the horse was subsequently disqualified. He won at his next start at Te Teko at much shorter odds, but Ross took a fair bit of ribbing over the years about the incident.”
As an owner trainer he had around 20 individual winners, with his most recent winner saluting shortly before he died - Ridgeview Chief (Niagara[AUS]- Laugh), whom he bred, won at the Thames meeting at Te Aroha on January 3.
“He was a loyal and active steward at the Te Aroha Jockey Club for 47 years and was always ready to pitch in when we needed help,” Wilson, a former president of the club, said.
“Many of the horses he bred were served by stallions he had bought through the successful Te Aroha Jockey Club Fundraising Stallion Service Scheme. Besides breeding a few he would go to the sales and buy on type, he didn’t believe in spending a lot of money and most of the time it worked for him.”
Nickel’s interest in thoroughbreds developed shortly after he left school as his first job was at the concrete works in Matamata, located next door to the stables of the then leading trainer Bill Ford. Early in the morning before work he would watch all the activities going on at the Ford stables and this is where he learned some of his training skills.
He then took a job at Matamata Stud at the time that Hasty Cloud (GB) was standing there before moving on to Middlepark Stud in Cambridge at the time they stood Great Wall (GB).
“Great Wall a particularly nasty stallion,” recalled Wilson. “It was while working there that a young Dick Bothwell was attacked by the stallion and it was Nickel and another stud employee who rescued him from the horse.
“When Bothwell eventually recovered, he became a successful horse trainer and 1984 in trained one of Nickel’s first horses in Auland Chief (Auk [GB] – Genetic). He won two races for Bothwell before Ross trained him to win a couple of hurdle races.
“Officially that was his first winner, but he did help his father-in-law Geoff Feaver train Balkan Chief (Balkan Knight [USA]-Barbado) who won a Waikato Hurdles and ran second in a Great Northern Hurdles.
“Ross will be missed, he was a great friend and neighbour, with a bit of a devil in him, with a laconic rural sense of humour.”
Nickel was farewelled last week at a service at the Te Aroha Jockey Club, attended by more than 500 friends and family. He was survived is his two daughters Sheryl and Rhonda and four grandchildren. -Michelle Saba, NZTBA