Inter Dominion Event Committee and Harness Racing Australia representative Michael Taranto presents Charlie with an award for distinguished service. Credit: Supplied
Harness racing legend and Cambridge Raceway patron, Charlie Hunter, was recognised for his achievements in the sport at an event in Auckland on Thursday night ahead of the Inter Dominion carnival held at Alexandra Park.
The long-time servant of harness racing was presented with an award for distinguished service by the Inter Dominion Event Committee and Hunter said the honour was a pleasant surprise.
“I had been asked to accept the role as the Inter Dominion ambassador and at the function the other night one thing led to another,” he said.
“It was a nice surprise. You don’t do the things you do in your life looking for acclaim and awards, but it is very nice when you are recognised, particularly from an Australasian viewpoint.
“I have enjoyed everything I have done in harness racing, whether it be administration, training, or driving.”
Hunter remains one of the most successful trainers to have competed in the series, winning three finals and the only trainer to have won both finals in the same year.
He won his first Inter Dominion Final in 1971 when he trained and drove Geffin to win the Trotters series, and Hunter said that first series victory was a great thrill.
“I won it with Geffin who was the first four-year-old trotter to win the final. He was a lovely horse.
“That was a real pleasure because he was a work in progress at that time. He had a very good season and won two heats and the final.”
Four years later, at Alexandra Park in Auckland, Hunter became the first (and to date only) trainer to secure both titles in the same year, winning the Trotters Final with Castleton’s Pride, and taking out the Pacers Final with a horse he labelled as the best he has trained, Young Quinn.
“He just did things that other horses haven’t done,” Hunter said. “In the 1975 season, he won 19 of his 22 starts, including the three heats and final of the Inter Dominion and a whole bunch of races prior to going over to Australia and winning top free-for-all pacing races, and then in Canada and the United States. He was just a super horse.”
Hunter was unable to take the reins in either final in 1975 due to injury, however, he said it remains one of his most pleasing achievements in the sport.
“1975 was a mixed carnival for the fact that my horse was brought down on the second night and I was out of it as a driver from thereon in.
“But it didn’t stop the pleasure of seeing my team race well and win. That’s what you are trying to train them for.”
The 1975 series was also a turning point for talented horseman John Langdon, who drove both horses in the absence of his then employer.
Langdon went onto forge his own stellar training career, winning the 1992 Trotting Final with William Dee and subsequently inducted into the Inter Dominion Hall of Fame.
“John Langdon was working for me at the time and had been for about three years. John was always a good horseman and he proved it at that carnival,” Hunter said.
“The next year I was going to the States and we had started off the season well. I was going to be away for a long time, so I split the team and John took over one of the properties that I had leased and he started up on his own with some of the owners. I had encouraged my owners to go with him and away he went.
“Everything worked out well for him.”
As well as the three Inter Dominion Final victories, Hunter came close in other years, as both a trainer and an owner.
“I was second at Auckland with French Pass back in 1968 and I was also second with Jenner in the early eighties, again at Auckland,” Hunter recalled.
“Sovereignty ran a place in the Inter Dominions at Melbourne and then at Auckland we were fourth. He was thereabouts without getting the job done, but he did a lot of good things.”
Hunter had been looking forward to contesting this year’s carnival with Group One-winning trotter Lemond, however, the Ross Paynter-trained seven-year-old was ruled out through injury.
“He generally races pretty well at Auckland,” Hunter said. “He has set a couple of national records up there for the 1700m and 2400m stand, and has won Group One and Group Two races.
“But it was evident to us a few weeks back that he was not going to make it.
“He was doing things which he doesn’t normally do. One was making a break at Auckland, and we thought we had that fixed, and then he went to Cambridge for the two mile race and he broke on the first turn. He just couldn’t handle the turns.
“We had him checked out by the vets. He went to Cambridge Equine Hospital where they have a scintigraphy scanner. That showed up a stress fracture in the left tibia between the hock and stifle.
“That was the obvious cause of pain and it also showed up another smaller issue. He is confined to a stall for six weeks and then confined to a small area for another six weeks, so we are not looking at racing him until next season.”
While Hunter is disappointed Lemond has been ruled out, he is still taking plenty of interest in the carnival, particularly with the performance of trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, who he believes can take out both finals this year.
“It will be interesting to see what happens in this championship, particularly with the way Winterfell went on Friday night,” he said.
“Mark has got a real chance of winning both the Pacers and the Trotters series, so it will be interesting to see if he joins me in the title of winning both finals at the one carnival. I wouldn’t count him out.” – Cambridge Raceway