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Kate gets the spring off to a good start for Don Skelton

Photo: NZTM website
Photo: NZTM website

The first day of the Rush Munro Hawke's Bay Carnival heralded the start of spring racing in New Zealand and the group one Makfi Hawke's Bay Challenge Stakes lived up to expectation producing a stunning win by Ocean Park (Thorn Park[AUS]- Sayida). However, on the under card, a very smart three-year-old filly in Kate (St Reims – Dutowin) also made her presence felt.

Scoring her second win, the big bay filly cleared away from her rivals in the 1200 metre New Zealand Bloodstock 3YO a race which is often a good indicator for the group two Hawke's Bay Guineas run later in the carnival. Kate has higher aspirations though and will be targeted at the group one VRC Oaks, according to her owner/breeder Don Skelton.

Skelton, a member of the Auckland branch of the NZTBA, believes she has the quality and class to run in the Oaks.

"You can see by the way she won over 1200 metres that she needs to go further now, and there are no mile races here for three-year-old fillies early in the Spring, so we may as well take them on over there. She will head to the 1000 Guineas at Caulfield on October 17th then to a 2000 metre race, before competing in the Oaks on November 8th," he said.

Kate, who is trained at Matamata by Vanessa and Wayne Hillis, has only had five starts. She made her debut at Counties in late January where she ran third over 1200 metres. She ran twice more in the summer, before being put aside for a spell. She returned to the racetrack in late July to win at Te Rapa, and then went on to win at Hawke's Bay.

"I tried to sell her as a yearling but she was passed in. There were a couple of women interested in her over the next few months but that came to nothing, and before she raced we had a large offer from Australia.

"It was good money, but I have got plenty of that. It was after she ran second in an educational trial - her rider was told just to give her a nice run and she ran second behind Pussy Willow. Sam (her rider) said to me afterwards, that they think that filly is pretty smart but I could have passed her at any time, so I was happy to keep her.

"I had to buy her mother back as a yearling – it's a family I have been breeding from for 30 years, and it's a family that does have ability."

It all started when Skelton purchased a Sharivari (USA) filly bred by Robert Priscott in the early 80's. She was out of an unraced (Just Whistle [IRE]) mare Superbo (ex[IRE] – Operetta), who was a half sister to Rapido.

"Rapido was a great racehorse in my opinion. Trained by Robert Priscott's father Bruce, he won a group one George Adams Handicap. He also won a Wellington Stakes and a Waikato Guineas. After he won the George Adams he was sold in the birdcage and went to America where he was a reasonably successful sire.

"My filly was Marwini (by Sharivari ). She won four races and she won on the right days – when she won the Centennial Cup at Paeroa she paid $38. She had a broken pelvis so had a limited career but she went on to have nine foals, including two winners. Avistar (Conquistarose [USA]) was trained by Tony Cole and was group three placed for him before he sold her.

"I kept one daughter Kaua'I and raced her and bred from her. Her first foal was Dutowin, I nearly sold her. I actually had to buy her back as she had gone past her reserve at auction and then I thought bugger it, I haven't got any fillies left out of this family, I better keep her so I had to buy her back.

"She was leased to Tom Burn and he raced her and she won her first start, but got injured at her third start and never came back from that, so she went off to stud and has left Jubilate (Falkirk). He races out of Graham Richardson's stable and Richie thinks he can win a big sprint this season.

"I have a share in St Reims – in fact I bought a share in St Reims specifically with Dutowin in mind – there was no duplications in their pedigrees except for a duplication of Nasrullah(IRE) and I like to out-breed and then duplicate some of the better stallions in the pedigree like Buckpasser and My Babu on the male and female sides – it's a reasonable way of breeding successfully. I have had a lot of luck breeding that way."

The duplication of Nasrullah appears through St Reims. His dam L'Quiz (USA) is out of Basin who is out of Delta, a daughter of Nasrullah, and through Danasinga whose dam Princess Tracy is out Princess Ru(IRE) who is by the Nasrullah sire Princely Gift (GB) out of Chiru.

Buckpasser (USA) is the sire of L'Enjoleur the sire of L'Quiz, and he also appears as the sire of Spring Adieu (CAN) the dam of Razyana the dam of Danehill(USA). My Babu comes through as the grandsire of Crested Wave ( USA) – the sire of Kaua'I and through Sir Tristram(IRE) as the sire of All My Eye(GB), the dam of Isolt(USA).

"When Kate arrived she was such a lovely foal I sent her straight back to St Reims, and she produced a colt which Lisa Latta purchased at the sales this year for $16,000. She has a Mr Nancho colt that I have just had xrayed and he is off to the sales this summer.

"Dutowin is due to foal to Shamaline Warrior (AUS) (Sharmadal[USA] – Picoline [AUS]). I am really looking forward to that foal and all going well she will go back to him. Now that St Reims is in Wanganui he's a bit more difficult to get to.

Don is a major shareholder with Monty and Judy Henderson in Shamoline Warrior who stands at Bluegables Farm. I can't wait for his first foals to arrive – I have two mares due right about now – a Street Cry mare Blue Beat (ex Ranein) and a half sister to Time Keeper in Electrocute (Postponed – Organdy).

As a child growing up in Pahi, a tiny settlement on the outskirts of the Kaipara Harbour north of Auckland, Skelton rode horses that were used on the farm for ploughing and other farm work. From there Skelton headed to the big smoke and as an entrepreneurial youngster in the 1960's had a successful take away joint called Floyds on the corner of Market Road and the Great South Road in Auckland and a dine'n dance in Three Kings.

"I raced my first horse 56 years ago, when I was a 16 year and you had to be 21 to race a horse. He ran third in a stakes race and I had to hide my delight as I wasn't supposed to be racing a horse. It was betting that got me started and it's betting that I enjoy the most," added Skelton who is a familiar sight at a lot of Northern race meetings and a regular at most Karaka horse sales.

"I had a girlfriend who was friends with a jockey and he used to give me tips – he used to be a jumps jockey and in those days they all knew what was going on," he added.

"I have raced hundreds since, and bred a few good ones as well. Five Chances (Truly Vain[AUS]-Legal Break) springs to mind - he won the group three Great Northern Foal Stakes, and Veejay (McGinty-Waipipi ) who sold to Lloyd Williams after running fourth in the Derby Trial. My wife Jo has banned me from getting anymore photos."

By the time he was in his early thirties he and his wife Jo had moved to Katikati and purchased a kiwifruit property. While recovering from his first serious heart attack he was studying his kiwifruit vines – which like all kiwifruit at that time consisted of one variety with a relatively short season.

"I was pretty much house bound and I was studying these vines and thinking how crazy it was that they couldn't be harvested until 1st of May and that there was only one variety, unlike apples which had many varieties that could be harvested from summer through to early winter, so I set about breeding kiwifruit and have developed numerous varieties that are now harvested from 21st January through to 30th June.

"Now there are about 600 varieties and my original plants are the ancestors of a lot of those varieties. We have varieties that fruit early, keep longer, taste better - its just ongoing. My kiwifruit varieties are grown in 26 countries around the world, in places like Egypt and Peru.

"It's still a passion and I walk through my vines at my Rangiriri property each morning and inspect them. Kiwifruit has set me up I have more money than I will ever need, and I race horses because I want to have fun.

"Because I am such a dye- in-the-wool kind of bloke and very argumentative I race horses on my own, with the exception of Kashin Girl that I race with Victoria Caseley. But unless things change here I don't think I will be racing anymore horses here. I think the abolishment of free racing is utter stupidity – the ticket gets clipped all the way along and the poor owner gets done all along the way.

"I have about eight in work and I think I may consider racing them in Australia where I have family. I don't travel overseas due to my health issues, so that wouldn't be much fun for me. You only get one crack at life and having fun is what you are meant to do."

- Michelle Saba


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