Three decades and five equine generations after taking an uncertain dive into racing and breeding, retired Northland farmer-come-horseman Vince Roberts is still reaping the rewards of his original thoroughbred investment.
“I’d always had an interest in horses, breaking them in, riding them around the farm, that sort of thing, but I was sick of just milking cows and farming,” Roberts recalled this week in the wake of Irish Girl’s win in the Gr. 3 Valachi Downs South Island Breeders’ Stakes at Riccarton.
“I guess I just wanted a bit of excitement, but I have to admit I really didn’t know what I was doing. The mare was Tonic Star and I bought her for $1,500 with a filly at foot and in-foal again to Lord Century. It all just went from there.”
Back then Roberts and his wife Joyce were dairy farming at Tinopai on the northern shores of the Kaipara Harbour, before selling up and moving to a property 10 kilometres inland from Northland’s most recognised racing centre, Ruakaka.
“To begin with Kumara (Kelvin) Snell, one of the local hard cases, got the filly I called Aimees Star going, then my wife suggested I could do it myself, so in 1992 I took out my owner-trainer’s licence.”
With what he still describes as beginner’s luck, Roberts met with immediate success when Aimees Star won a spring juvenile dash at Pukekohe and repeated three weeks later at Ellerslie.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he muses. “I took two to the races that day at Pukekohe and got a first and a second.”
Roberts ended that season with four wins from just 16 raceday starters and added another three in 1993-94. Aimees Star retired as the winner of three races and then produced six foals, the best of which was the Colombia filly Aimee’s Idol, who became Roberts’ favourite with six wins, including the Listed WRC Sprint at Te Rapa in 2006.
“She was the best I trained by quite a bit,” he says of his solitary stakes winner. “She wasn’t 100 per cent in the legs and took quite a bit of managing, but she was tough.”
Roberts had made the decision to sell Aimee’s Idol when she was carrying her first foal, and she was to spend the bulk of her breeding career in the ownership of the Curraghmore Farm-based Suncroft Bloodstock.
But when that first foal, a filly by Postponed, could not find a buyer as a weanling, Roberts leased her back, named her Aimees Babe and won two races with her. She is now the dam of Irish Girl, sadly her only progeny after she died while foaling three years ago.
Having relinquished his owner-trainer’s licence in 2015, Roberts handed Irish Girl over to the Ruakaka father-daughter partnership of Kenny Rae and Krystal Williams-Tuhoro. The five-year-old was bred by Roberts in partnership with his cousin, Pukekohe horseman Garry Hackett, and they race her with Irish couple Louie and Pat Henaghan.
“It was through Garry that I sent Aimee’s Idol to Postponed, who he part-owned, and with his connection to Westbury Stud he also organised the service to El Roca, which is how we ended up with Irish Girl.
“She got her name from the Irish couple, the Henaghans, who used to stay at the bed and breakfast we ran on the farm at Tinopai and have remained friends ever since. They’ve got family here and when they were last visiting we talked them into taking a 10 per cent share in this mare.”
Irish Girl was on her second southern venture when she won Saturday’s fillies and mares’ feature at Riccarton. On her first trip south last spring she put together a hat-trick that began with a maiden win and was completed in Rating 74 grade. In her remaining start she went down by half a length to the Trudy Keegan-trained Aimee’s Jewel, a half-sister by Proisir to Aimees Babe, in the Gr. 3 Canterbury Breeders’ Stakes at the New Zealand Cup carnival.
“That was a big thrill to see the two close relations fighting it out, but it was bigger thrill to go one better on Saturday,” commented Roberts. “It was a fitting reward after the lengths that Krystal went to in order to make it down to Christchurch, and that was a perfect ride by Terry Moseley.
“We didn’t go down there ourselves, with the travel and everything else it went in the too-hard basket, but we had a few friends around on Saturday to watch the race. Then when she won we had quite a few more turn up – it ended up quite a night.”
Vince and Joyce Roberts now live in retirement in the Marsden Cove Marina on Whangarei Harbour, complete with their own mooring and what Vince describes as a well-balanced lifestyle.
“To begin with I was told I could have a boat or horses, but not both. Somehow I managed to wangle it and now I’m 80 and enjoying the best of both worlds. Best of all the horse is winning and the wife seems quite happy about that!”