Croon keeping “Legend” in the winner’s circle

Cambridge trainer Toni Croon and Te Awamutu jockey Mark Sweeney are the favourite combination of one of New Zealand’s legendary jumps riders.

Croon and Sweeney combined successfully with Dubai Dan to win the Radio Sport 99FM Tauranga 1400 at the Tauranga meeting last Saturday and on hand for the happy occasion were the horses two owners, Jim Hely and his partner, Heather Mongomerie. Croon also trains Hely and Montgomerie’s other horse, Miss Evita, who cleared maiden ranks at Rotorua last September when again ridden by Sweeney.

Hely was one of the top riders of his era and headed the Jumps Jockeys’ Premiership five times between 1952-53 and 1965-66. His major wins included two Great Northern Steeplechases (1961 on Patrick Molloy and 1964 on Johnny Dee), the 1959 Great Northern Hurdles on Nupla and three Grand National Steeplechases, the first two being on Young Prince in 1954 and the oldtimer Cogitation in 1957.

Hely and Montgomerie recently returned from attending this year’s Grand National meeting and it was a special occasion for him to be there as it was the 50th anniversary of his last win in the race, on the Ray Cotter-trained Golden Defaulter in 1962. And now thanks to Dubai Dan’s win the couple have extra spending money for their European holiday.

“We’re away for seven weeks and it’s great to see him win before we go,” said Hely after the race.“We can spend up a bit more on the trip. We’ll be back just in time for the jockeys’ reunion at Rotorua on Labour weekend. It’s going to be a big few months for us.”

Hely (81) spent 30 years in Australia after giving up raceriding in New Zealand and has been back in Hamilton since 1999, picking up again on his long-held interest in thoroughbreds. He has dabbled with a few horses as an owner in recent years and did enjoy a thrill with Dubai Dan’s dam, Seasonal Fun, who won a maiden event at Foxton in August 2005 by seven and a quarter lengths when trained by Dick and Chris Bothwell.

Though living in Hamilton, Hely is a regular at the Cambridge training track watching his horses work and there was no way he was going to miss last Saturday’s Tauranga meeting.

Dubai Dan was having his third start and had hinted a win was close at hand when following a debut seventh with a second at Te Aroha. Sweeney was aboard in both starts and was pleased with the horse’s chances going into last weekend’s race.

 “I rode him in a trial early on and he was very weak, but he’s just kept improving,” said Sweeney. “He loved the better ground and he should go further.”