Perfect result on emotion-charged day

Rory Hutchings saluting the late Steve Anderton when winning on The Diamond One at Wingatui today. (Photo: Tayler Strong).

Rory Hutchings saluting the late Steve Anderton when winning on The Diamond One at Wingatui today. (Photo: Tayler Strong).

Cambridge trainer Craig Thornton overshadowed Rory Hutchings when starting the Wingatui meeting off on a successful note today, but the day ended up belonging to the country’s leading apprentice and a special mare named The Diamond One.

Thornton, who has been campaigning a small team in the south, enjoyed success with One Direktion at Gore last month and today it was the winning turn of stablemate Fast Profit, who had finished third at that Gore fixture.

Fast Profit, a son of Fastnet Rock, raced away with the first event on today’s card, the Mornington Tavern Premier Stayers, winning by three and three-quarter lengths in the hands of Daniel Bothamley. The Lisa Latta-trained Missteeflying, who was ridden by Waikato jockey Sam Collett, was runner-up with Hutchings third on La Musique.

Though Fast Profit was a convincing winner for Thornton, his performance was soon eclipsed by Hutchings’ deeds in the next two races and particularly in the main race on the programme, the Gr. 3 White Robe Lodge Handicap in memory of Steve Anderton.

Anderton (43), a successful Wingatui trainer, passed away last Tuesday at Dunedin Hospital after doctors had removed him from the life support unit. He had been rushed from his stables to hospital on Monday morning after the loading ramp of his horse truck had malfunctioned and fallen on him.

Understandably it has been a heart-breaking week for Anderton’s wife, Claire (formerly Waikato apprentice Claire Anderson) and the Anderton family and friends.

Steve Anderton, one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet, left behind his three greatest treasures, Claire and their two children, Katie (three) and Tilly (eight months). And as family and friends grieved and gathered around in support after his death, Claire knew what she had press on and carry out her husband’s wishes.

Her husband had prepared horses for last Saturday’s local feature meeting and when that was abandoned after one event and the remaining races rescheduled for today, his focus had been on lining up his charges.

That’s when Hutchings entered the scene, being engaged to take the choice mount on the Anderton-trained The Diamond One in her bid to defend her crown in the Gr. 3 White Robe Lodge Handicap, the feature event sponsored by Anderton’s uncle, Brian, and his wife, Lorraine, under their stud’s name.

Hutchings had never met Anderton and never ridden The Diamond One before, but he was quick to learn the popularity of the southern horseman and he wanted more than anything to win on the Dennis brothers’ owned and bred mare.

“I’ll be doing my best tomorrow,” said Hutchings as he left Tauranga racecourse yesterday with a win on Tony Pike’s NZ Oaks candidate Chenille to his credit.

With over 300 wins on the board, Hutchings is one of the best young riders and he certainly lived up to his promise, making the day, in which the flag was flown at half-mast on course in memory of Anderton, a truly fitting one for the popular horseman.

A special arrangement was made for the four Anderton runners to race on the day under the training partnership of Steve and Claire and everyone was hoping the horses would do their late trainer proud.

Tears flowed when Hutchings won the second race on the Dennis brothers owned, bred and trained The Bishop, then emotions were even higher when he guided Landales Gold home at the head of the field in the next event for the special partnership.

Hutchings was thrilled to play his part with The Bishop and Landales Gold but more than anything he wanted to win on The Diamond One and he saved his best for that special mount.

Despite having the weight of everyone’s hopes of a win by The Diamond One on his shoulders, Hutchings rode a cool and calculated race on the top-class mare, erasing any concerns of her wide draw virtually from the outset.

The Diamond One began brilliantly from her wide draw and Hutchings soon eased her gently back beyond midfield and had her one off the rail in next to no time. And as the home turn loomed up he had slotted her in on the fence and was making ground along the rail.

With no signs of panic, Hutchings soon angled The Diamond One off the fence on straightening for the run home and had her outside the leading group. From there on it was just a matter of her winning margin.

Race caller Dave McDonald’s comment “with a wing on every shoulder” summed up the feeling as The Diamond One and Hutchings raced clear to score by four and a quarter lengths. It was as though Anderton’s angels were helping ensure such a memorable outcome.

It was a heartfelt gesture as Hutchings stood high in the irons, looked skywards and saluted Anderton. And the scenes which followed on the course made it one of New Zealand racing’s most emotional days.

The warm embrace of Anderton’s wife, Claire, and his twin sister, Debbie Kennedy, and her husband, Terry, was a most touching moment, experienced by Trackside viewers as well as many on-course patrons.

Terry Kennedy trained the runner-up Chapel Star and he was overcome with emotion over the result, more for the fact The Diamond One had prevailed for Steve and Claire than his charge’s effort. He knew there would be only one fitting winner of the race and to provide the quinella was the ultimate outcome.

Hutchings was fighting back the tears as he came back to scale on The Diamond One and, when seeing Claire Anderton come out to greet them, he knew he had done Steve Anderton proud.

Hutchings then went on to finish second in the next race on the Dennis brothers’ four-year-old The Believer.

One other rider who would have loved to have completed the day with a win in memory of Steve Anderton was Chris Johnson, who has ridden many winners for him over the years. Though he tried hard on stable runner Sofia Loren in the final event, he failed by the barest of margins.

Yes, today’s meeting started with a toast to Craig Thornton, but he won’t mind it being remembered as the meeting at which Hutchings helped farewell one of life’s gentleman on one of the most emotion-charged days on a racecourse.