Watching the familiar colours being carried to victory by Who Can Tell at Awapuni last Saturday was a reminder of the once powerhouse of jumps racing in New Zealand.
When Who Can Tell scored a dour win in the IPL Plywood Maiden Steeplechase (3200m) in the hands of Toni Moki, the Sakhee’s Secret seven-year-old sported the brown with the red armbands and cap, colours made famous on the New Zealand jumping scene by the late Ken Browne and his wife, Ann.
Since the death of her husband 13 years ago, Ann Browne has continued in the sport she loves, but now leaves the training to others. Who Can Tell is one of the two horses she has in work with Wanganui horseman Kevin Myers, having sent him and stablemate Merlot south 14 months ago.
“I can’t run after them like I used to and I can’t ride them so it was better to let someone else do it all,” she said. “Besides, having just a few in work it was hard getting riders and there are no shortage of riders down there at Kevin’s place.
“I’d also had a few health issues and spent a bit of time in hospital so I couldn’t be around to do them all the time.”
Browne is to undergo an operation at Waikato Hospital on Monday (today) to remedy an irregular heart beat she has suffered for some time.
“It’s atrial fibrillation, similar to what some racehorses get,” she said. “My heart is beating too fast at times.
“I’ve had it for quite a while now, but it’s been happening more often since early February so I need to get it sorted. It’s a day procedure and they tell me it’s got a good success rate.”
Browne and her late husband were dominant on the New Zealand jumps scene for several decades and proved the stable to follow during the winter months, both over fences and on the flat.
They won nearly 800 races over the length of the country and together as owner-trainers they won every important jumps race in the country, including nine editions of the toughest of them all, the Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) at Ellerslie.
Ken Browne amassed an almost unmatched record as a jockey and trainer of jumping horses. His contribution to racing was recognised with an MBE in 1991 and two years after his death he was inducted into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.
He rode 156 jumps winners in New Zealand, 102 of which were over steeplechases with the last steeplechase win as a 67-year-old in 2001, not long before a schooling accident left him with a broken neck.
He spent the last five years as a quadriplegic and, through it all, his wife was not only at his side but also continued to run the training operation at Cambridge.
Just a month after the accident, Smart Hunter won the 2001 Great Northern double at Ellerslie, taking the Great Northern Hurdles (4190m) by eight lengths then two days later backing up and making history in a deadheat for first with Sir Avion in the Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m).
“We had a lot of good wins, but that was amazing the day he deadheated in the Northern,” Browne said.
After her husband’s death, Ann Browne went on to win three more Great Northern Steeplechases with Fair King (2009), Ima Heroine (2011) and Tom’s Myth (2012), taking her personal tally in the gruelling event to a dozen. And she still has a few links to two of those winners.
She has the three-year-old filly Ima Wonder, Ima Heroine’s first foal by Eighth Wonder, in work with nephew Graham Thomas and Matthew Gillies, who rode Ima Heroine to the 2011 Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4900m)– Great Northern Steeplechase double, and at home she has her half-brother, a yearling gelding by Jakkalberry, and a two-year-old by Civics from a half-sister to Fair King.
“Hopefully they’ll do something,” Browne said. “For now I’ve got the two with Kevin (Merlot and Who Can Tell), Unpainted with Niall Quinn and Raisafuasho with Rogie (Graeme Rogerson).
“It’s not the same as training them yourself, but it’s still good to get a win. I’m glad Who Can Tell managed to win. He’s always shown plenty of ability.”
Who Can Tell was Browne’s last training success when scoring by 21 lengths in a maiden hurdles at Te Aroha two years ago and the last runner from her stable was Unveiling at Ellerslie last October.
Browne also hopes Merlot can recapture his best form for Myers. He was a debut winner from Myers’ stable in July last year and after a next-up second he was off the scene until resuming with an eighth at New Plymouth recently.
Meanwhile, Raisafuasho, the runner-up to D’Llaro in the 2016 Great Northern Hurdles, has overcome a setback for Team Rogerson and is likely to start at Te Aroha on Sunday.
“Racing is not what it used to be, but I still like to be involved,” Browne said. - NZ Racing Desk