Background About Us
Tony Herlihy Racing Stables
Tony Herlihy, New Zealand’s most successful harness driver, was born in 1958 and grew up in Te Awamutu. His uncle, Arnie Gadsby, trained horses in Auckland and, from the age of 10, Tony would visit to help out. He worked for his uncle and several other trainers after leaving school at 16, and became a freelance driver and also had a full time job employed by Barry and Roy Purdon for many years. Tony took out a training licence in the 85/86 season but only had it a couple of years before giving up the training to freelance drive only. He then got back into training when Mark left in 2002/2003 season.
Tony married Roy’s daughter, Suzanne Purdon and in 1990 they bought a property with his brother-in-law Mark Purdon at Ardmore, where Mark trained and Tony worked for him until 2002 when Mark left to move down to Christchurch. It was then that Tony and Suzanne bought Mark out of the property and Tony started training in his own right. In those early days the couple had up to 30 horses in training while Tony maintained his freelance driving and they have continued to maintain the number of horses at the current total of 30. Tony has driven over 2000 winners so far in his career including almost every major harness racing event in New Zealand and Australia. The one big race that has does not appear on his roll of honor at this stage is the Interdominion Pacing Final.
From 12 appearances in Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Finals through 2009, Tony finished closest when runner-up with Chokin in 1995 where he actually finished fourth, but was promoted to second with the subsequent disqualification.
Tony’s winning tally at Inter Dominion level including the 2009 series is 16 qualifying divisions with trotters and 12 with pacers. He won a Trotting Consolation with Breton Abbe in Christchurch in 1995 and Pacing Consolations with Ginger Man (1995) and Brabham (Adelaide, 1997).
Tony has also New Zealand Cup wins with Luxury Liner (l988), Christopher Vance (1991) and Chokin (1993), as well as winning an impressive eight Auckland Cups: Comedy Lad (1986), Luxury Liner (1987 and 1988), Christopher Vance (1991), Chokin (1993 and 1994) plus Sharp and Telford (1996) and Gotta Go Cullen (2008).
Other top Australian based victories included three Miracle Mile pacing Invitational’s with Christopher Vance (1991) and Chokin (1993, 1994). He also scored in the Victoria Derby in 2001 with Rare Gem NZ and again in 2003 with Bella's Boy, which he co-owned with John Season.
Tony has been New Zealand's leading reinsman between 1984/85 and 2004/05 on eight occasions and he continues to amass more achievements. At the close of the 2008/09 season, he led his country's Honours list with 2870 wins and 59 Group 1 victories. That year his tally featured three Trotters Grand Circuit wins with One Over Kenny NZ, including the mare's second Rowe Cup, and making her the first Kiwi trotting mare to win $1 million.
His driving skills are in great demand, as evidenced by his career figures of some 15,700 starts in New Zealand plus Australia by end season 2008/09; he has recorded near 3,600 race wins and prizemoney exceeding $30million.
Tony has been honored with some very notable awards which includes the induction into the Interdominion Hall of Fame for driving achievements of the great series but has been most successful in the Trotting Grand Final recording four victories with Diamond Field (1994), Pride Of Petite (1997), Buster Hanover (1998) and Delft (2006).
Tony was also inducted into the Te Awamutu Walk of fame in 2007.
Tony Herlihy creates NZ racing history
For Tony Herlihy, the celebrations of one of harness racing’s greatest ever feats will have to wait. ‘The Iceman’ made it to 3000 career wins in New Zealand at Alexandra Park last Friday when Veste led throughout to justify hot favouritism. The win came after two weeks stuck on 2999 but it was fitting it was in the colours of brother-in-law Mark Purdon, who has been such a big factor in Tony’s career.
But while he re-affirmed his place as our greatest ever driver and becomes the first New Zealand horseperson to 3000 wins, Herlihy wasn’t getting carried away last week. He had only returned two days earlier from earthquake-savaged Canterbury and was still feeling the effects.
“It has left us all feeling terrible,” said Tony.
“We all spend a lot of time in Canterbury and feel for all our friends down there and the whole region. It has been very, very sad and we can only hope things get better. So we will leave the real celebration of tonight until another time.”
As he does, Herlihy put on his usual smile for the presentation to mark his milestone. After wife Suzanne was presented with flowers, Tony was presented with a stopwatch on behalf of Harness Racing New Zealand while the Auckland Trotting Club marked the occasion with champagne and a photo of the big moment. Other celebrations are believed to be in the pipeline in the future.
He thanked the expected subjects last week: Roy, Barry and Mark Purdon as well as the countless owners and trainers who have put him on their horses.
“When you have a long career and are lucky enough to get to this number of wins, you have to thank a lot of people. So many trainers have put me on horses and owners who have supported me. And there are all the people who work with the horses who do their part too.”
But Herlihy said the biggest thanks goes to his family.
“Suzanne and the kids have been wonderful and support me all the time, and I couldn’t have had this career without them.”
•First winner: Gymea Gold, Cambridge, January 6, 1978.
•Career wins in New Zealand: 2990.
•Shortest win price: Chokin, $1 to win at Alexandra Park, January 10, 1994.
•Longest win price: Trendy Marie, $85.60 to win at Alexandra Park, July 26, 1980.
•Longest Group winner: Badlands Bute, $43.35 to win Great Northern Derby, Alexandra Park, December 17, 2004.
•Big ones: 59 Group 1 wins; 73 Group 2 wins: 43 Group 3 wins; 11 Listed race wins.
•NZ career highlights: eight Auckland Cups; three New Zealand Cups; six NZ Free-For-Alls; five Messenger Championships; four Rowe Cups; three Northern Derbys.
•Oddities: Has trained and driven horses promoted to win a Sires’ Stakes Final (Fergiemack) and Harness Jewels (Merckx).
•Easiest win: Bella’s Boy (one-horse race), Alexandra Park, June 27, 2003.
So just who are the best horses our greatest reinsman has ever sat behind?
Well it took Tony Herlihy a while, but he came up with this list after becoming out first ever reinsman to 3000 career wins in New Zealand.
1) Chokin: He was a great horse, and had it not been for a few problems he would have been even better.
The night he won the Victoria Cup he came from the outside of the front line and beat horses like Blossom Lady jogging. If he had stayed healthy, with the runs he got the rest of that season, I think he would have been unbeaten that year. The best.
2) Christopher Vance: The perfect racehorse. He had speed and manners and won all the big races apart from being just beaten in the Inter-Dom.
Won a Derby, Auckland Cup, New Zealand Cup, the Free-For-All and the Miracle Mile.
3) Luxury Liner: He was so tough and won me my first NZ Cup, which was a great race. He gave me confidence because he never gave up.
4) Comedy Lad: Might be the fastest horse I have driven. Won my first Auckland Cup on him, beating Roydon Glen, and he just flew. He was a great start to my career in big races.
5) Courage Under Fire: Only drove him twice but I was impressed. He tried so hard, even though he had a quarter crack at the time. You had to love him.
Sharp And Telford: Big fella who tried so hard and was a seriously good horse. Mark did a great job with him.
Supreme Ruler: Started with him when I was very young and went from maidens to open class together. He was a nervy little fella but he could run and I learned a lot driving him.
Sly Flyin: Had so much courage, was never really sound and still beat horses like Elsu and Just An Excuse.
Yulestar: Only drove him a couple of times but never felt like he was going to give up. Went on to be a great horse.
Alfriston: A horse a lot of people would have forgotten but had real ability and could have been a top horse had he not broken down. A personal favourite.
1) Pride Of Petite: I didn’t drive her that often but won the Adelaide Inter-Dominion when she came from last at the 400m at Globe Derby, which they are not supposed to do. I was watching the race an hour later and when it got to the 400m I thought there must have been another lap to go because she couldn’t have won from there. Champion mare.
2) One Over Kenny: Tried so hard, and when she was right she won races like the Rowe Cup jogging. She had so much determination.
3) Diamond Field: When we won the Inter Final in Sydney he galloped, still found the front and was gawking around in the home straight. He was underrated but not by me.
4) Buster Hanover: A real character, but he was very tough and had a big motor.
5) Delft: Michelle Wallis did an amazing job with him. He was sore all the time but still won an Inter-Dom and trotted some super quick times.
Directorship: He sat three-wide for a lap and won the Dominion.
Gee du Jour: Won the Rowe Cup.
Bellam: Only a tiny little fella but tried really hard. Hard not to like him.
Courtesy of Michael Guerin, Harness Racing Weekly