Farewell to a quiet achiever

Bill Weal, a humble man who lived for his horses and family.

Bill Weal, a humble man who lived for his horses and family.

Today marked a farewell to one of New Zealand racing’s gentlemen.

Eric Ballinger Weal, or better known to everyone as Bill Weal, passed away peacefully last Saturday at the age of 90 and his funeral was held today in Te Awamutu.

Bill was a successful farmer, a stockman and a thorough horseman who spent the majority of his life with horses. He lived for his family and his horses and despite achieving so much during his 90 years he was a quiet achiever.

A keen huntsman, Bill also did so much for the Pokuru and Kihikihi pony clubs and many other organisations. He was always there for advice and help if called upon.

Bill’s involvement in racing stems back to his early years as an amateur rider and he went on to make his mark as a trainer and have his name on the honours’ board of many of New Zealand’s major races.

As the owner and trainer of Stylemaster, he won the 1978 Auckland Cup and seven years later he added the Railway Handicap with Ardee One to his list of Ellerslie highlights.

Stylemaster and his close relative Surgemaster were the horses who catapulted Bill’s training career winning 10 and seven races respectively, and in later years a host of topliners included Trissaro

Bill developed Trissaro into an exciting young stayer and when sold to a client of Bart Cummings’ stable he went on to win such major events as the 1984 Sydney Cup, the Underwood Stakes and the Tancred Stakes (beating Veloso and McGinty).

Jayell’s Pride and Middle Ridge were two other good winners from the Weal stable and one that Bill’s son, Mark, remembers fondly is Impediment, who was his first winner when joining into a Te Awamutu training partnership with his father.

Another success story was Raffraichir, who won nine races but more importantly gave Bill a taste of Hong Kong racing when competing in the 1991 Hong Kong Cup.

Bill had a knack with horses and in the thoroughbred field it didn’t matter if they were sprinters, stayers or jumpers. He knew how to get the best out of them.

Climbing High (Shelley Houston) on his way to winning his last race, the 2012 Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase at Te Rapa.

Climbing High (Shelley Houston) on his way to winning his last race, the 2012 Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase at Te Rapa.

On the jumps front he celebrated success with Crojack, but, without doubt, his favourite horse in his later years of training was Climbing High.

Bill and Mark originally trained Climbing High for his lifelong friend Noel Wyllie to win two flat races and when Wyllie didn’t want to press on with him Bill arranged to take over the lease and he and his family raced the son of Yamanin Vital.

Climbing High was Bill’s pal, the two were virtually inseparable. Climbing High kept Bill going and it was an emotional day for the family when he won the 2010 Braxton Waikato Steeplechase in the hands of regular rider Shelley Houston, just a few days after Bill’s 84th birthday.

Climbing High went on to win a total of 13 races, including two over hurdles and nine steeplechases. He won two Hawke’s Bay Steeplechases, an Inter-Island Steeplechase, and was placed in such features as the Pakuranga Hunt Cup, Wellington Steeplechase and McGregor Grant Steeplechase.

His final racetrack appearance was at Te Rapa in May 2012 when winning the Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase, which he had previously won in 2010 and run second a year later.

It was appropriate George Simon’s commentary of the final stages of Climbing High’s Waikato Steeplechase was played as Bill’s body was carried from the St John’s Anglican Church.

As son Mark commented afterwards, “We didn’t want it (the funeral service) to be all racing.”

But that was Bill’s life. He loved his racing and his horses and that’s the way he’ll always be remembered — a humble man who was happiest when working with his horses.

On behalf of the Cambridge Jockey Club, condolences to Bill’s wife, Joan, and family.