Fair Fleet brings back memories

Lee Somervell spared a thought for a former top trainer after watching his filly Fair Fleet quit maiden ranks at Matamata today.

The Cambridge trainer prepares Fair Fleet for Ada Parnwell and the estate of her late husband Bert, and after witnessing the three-year-old filly break through for a half-length win in the hands of Jason Jago he recalled how the galloper had been named after one of his long-time favourite horses.

The other horse bearing the same name was Fairfleet, who was a top performer during the 1960s, winning 14 races for Matamata trainer Russell Campbell.

“My family was living in Matamata at the time and Russell and Rory McGovern had their horses down the end of our road,” said Somervell. “I used to go down and ride some of Russell’s horses around the roads and take them for walks after school. Fairfleet was one of them. She was a top mare.”

The original Fairfleet was ridden in her first major wins in 1965 by Ross “Butch” Fisher, including the Gr.1 Wills Championship (now Haunui Farm Diamond) Stakes at Ellerslie and the Gr.2 Desert Gold Stakes at Trentham.

Her other wins included the Gr.1 1966 Great Northern Oaks, 1967 Matamata Cup and three features in 1968 when ridden by Bob Skelton — the Gr.2 Stars Travel Invitational Stakes at Tauranga, the Gr.2 Chalmers Stakes at Trentham and the Gr.3 Wellington Racing Club Handicap, also at Trentham.

After years in Australia, Campbell is residing in Cambridge near the trotting course and Somervell catches up on occasions.

“He was chuffed when I told him we’d named a filly after Fairfleet,” said Somervell. “He’s followed this filly and I’m sure he would have watched the race on TV today. Russell was a terrific trainer and he had a real affinity with fillies.”

Somervell’s Fair Fleet was having her 11th start when she scored today and her best previous efforts had been a couple of fourths. But both Somervell and Jago never lost faith in her.

“Her biggest problem has been at the start,” said Jago before the race. “She just relaxes so much in the barrier and she’s slow away. But she can gallop.”

Fair Fleet made one of her best beginnings today and ploughed through the heavy ground to outfinish Sergio.

“She’s got plenty of ability and I knew sooner or later she would click. Today was that day,” said Somervell. “Hopefully she’ll go on with it.”