The Stoneleigh Sunday race meeting at Cambridge Raceway, this weekend features a special race, named in honour of back-to-back Gr.1 New Zealand Trotting Cup winner Just An Excuse.
Bred by Ollie and Irene Haines, Just An Excuse was born in 1998, he was the sixth foal out of My Excuse, a mare the husband and wife had raced out of John and David Butcher’s stable.
“She was a bloody nutter,” Haines said. “I don’t know how the Butchers ever got her to the races.
“I can still remember watching them try to get the cart on her one day at Cambridge and I had to walk away, I couldn’t watch.”
Despite her temperament, the daughter of Smooth Fella managed to win her first race and place on a further two occasions before retiring to the breeding barn.
“I bred six mares to stallions at Nevele R Stud that year,” said Haines.
“Live or Die was their new stallion and I sent two to him and got two colts, one was Just An Excuse and we lost the other one.”
The irony of breeding two sons by Live or Die, only to have one live and the other die isn’t lost on Haines, in fact it’s the beginning of a series of events that make the story of Just An Excuse even more remarkable.
“It was the same year that I had a brain hemorrhage,” he said. “I’d resigned from the (HRNZ) Executive and I’d also taken six horses to the sales and only came home with $16,000.
“I thought this is an idiots’ game and I decided to get out of it. I had a big clearance sale and sold almost everything.
“Just an Excuse was a weanling then and all of the trainers came out and saw him, but they didn’t like him because he had a club foot.
“The silly part about it was I never told him he had a club foot, so he didn’t know.”
Strangely enough that wasn’t the only time Haines tried but failed to sell the horse that went on to win over $1million in stakes money.
“I’d sent a few horses over to Alex Justice in Sydney that we’d gone fifty-fifty in so I rung him up about Just An Excuse after he had qualified but he said had too many but he would ask his mate down the road if he was interested,” Haines said.
“His mate asked how much I wanted for him and I said $35,000, he came back and said he didn’t want him because he didn’t qualify fast enough and he didn’t like this, that and the other. So, I said that’s alright Alex and I kept him and put him out for a while.
“Anyway, after he’d won his first four races, I put them all on a video tape and sent them over to Alex and said take it up to your mate who said he wasn’t fast enough.”
Such is Haines’ personality, he’s not shy in coming forward and he’s certainly not above taking pleasure in a stroke of serendipity.
Lordie, as he was affectionately known, did his early education with Brent Donnelly in Cambridge and he was trained throughout his career by Robert Mitchell and driven by his son Todd.
When his racing career was cut short in 2006, his undesirable feet having eventually got the better of him, Just An Excuse had won 17 and placed in 15 of 39 starts, five at Group One level - the 2003 and 2004 Cups, the 2004 New Zealand Free For All, 2003 Taylor Mile and NZ Messenger Championship. He had also raced in successfully in Australia, taking out the 2004 Ballarat Cup.
Tragically, Just An Excuse had a paddock injury early in his retirement, he broke his leg and as a result he had to be put down.
He’s buried at Mitchell senior’s Raglan property, from which he was trained throughout his career.
“I think Robert buried him at the back of the house there, but I haven’t had the guts to go out and see him. I’ve been out there but I didn’t want to go,” Haines said and you can sense he’s still emotional over the loss.
A former HRNZ board member and Cambridge Raceway president, Haines continues to race and breed a few horses that are based in Southland, where he says the costs are less.
However, his attendance at his local racecourse has understandably dwindled in recent years as he’s dedicated his time to caring for his beloved wife, Irene who has dementia.
In January Irene moved into specialist care prompting Haines’s decision to support the club by sponsoring a race named in their champion horses honour.
The Just An Excuse Mobile Pace will fittingly be run, at Cambridge Raceway, 17 years after he made his winning debut at the venue.
The Stoneleigh Sunday meeting, with Mulled Wine from the Marlborough vineyard on offer, kicks off at 11.30am with the first of 8 races at 12.04pm.
Entry is free but bookings are recommended. Race books will be available for a gold coin donation, the proceeds of which will be donated to donated Dementia Waikato, visit www.cambridgeraceway.co.nz for more details.