SA BOTRA, Older than Interdominions

Harness Racing originated in the USA just on 200 years ago.

Standardbred horses are the only distinct breed of light harness horse to originate in the last 200 years.

In 1788 a horse by the name of Messenger was imported from England to the USA. Messenger sired gallopers and a number of “road horses.” The horse of most interest to us is his great grand-son Hambletonian 10.

Hambletonian 10 is considered to be the founding father of Trotting. It is said that every pacer and or trotter on the planet, carries his blood.

Hambletonian 10 never raced but he did sire 1331 foals in 25 years at stud. 

Why mention that?

Well, I find it interesting that the sport was so readily received and adopted worldwide. In Australia Trotting took off like a wildfire. In a relatively short space of time participants here in SA were well to the fore. They were organised and diligent. SA BOTRA (Breeders, Owners, Trainers and Reinspersons Association), was formed out of the need to further develop and enhance the sport. SA BOTRA was up and running 100 years ago – remarkable.

Portrait photo of Michael Bryant
By Michael Bryant

Okay, on a completely different track …………………… I have always had a passion for the Interdominion. To me it’s almost the be all and end all of Trotting. It ties the sport together on a National level.

I believe the Interdominion is as important to Trotting as the Melbourne Cup is to the thoroughbred industry.

In this article(s) I will write primarily about the people who had success in the Interdominion and who served on the committee of SA BOTRA, and their outstanding horses.

So here we go……………………………. Interestingly, SA BOTRA is 14 years older than the first recognized Interdominion. The first Interdominion (1936) was won by Evicus (who won by amassing the most points during the WA series).

SA’s first Interdominion winner was Radiant Venture in Perth in 1957. Radiant Venture was bred by well- known SA BOTRA Committeeman Wally Bowyer. Wally Bowyer was a highly respected horseman. His understanding of the Standardbred horse was second to none. Wally Bowyer was elected onto the BOTRA committee and served as president for a number of years. He was held in high regard and was always willing to give advice to anyone and everyone. His standing in the Trotting world cannot be doubted. He served on the BOTRA committee for 17 years.

Wally Bowyer’s pride and joy was the highly successful racehorse and stallion, Radiant Robert. Wally Bowyer kept many of Radiant Robert’s progeny but he sold many too. He sold Radiant Venture as a youngster to Max Stephens of Port Pirie for $300.

Radiant Venture wasn’t the most magnificent horse to look at and in his juvenile years he didn’t set the world on fire. But as he developed, he became the best stayer of his era.

As an older horse he could really pick em up and put em down. At one stage Radiant Venture won 18 races in a row. His winning run came to an end when Eric Hurley (of Minuteman fame) drove a perfectly judged race on a high-class horse named Modulation and triumphed by a head over Radiant Venture, who didn’t enjoy the best of runs and had to come from way, way back in the field. The race was a FFA (free for all) at Port Pirie – Radiant Venture’s home track.

Ironically, Modulation was also by Radiant Robert.

As well as the Interdominion, Radiant Venture won the time-honoured A. G. Hunter Cup (the second most important race on the calendar – in my opinion) and a heat of the 1958 Interdominion in Adelaide (off a 24-yard handicap) no less.

Many old-timers who go back that far recall Radiant Venture’s Interdominion heat win with great reverence. It was widely acclaimed as the best two horse war ever seen on a racetrack up to that point in time.

The champion NSW mare Fettle (12-yard handicap) surged around the field in the early stages of the race and just kept going. As soon as the pace slackened off Radiant Venture (24-yard handicap) attacked. He powered around the field and “hooked into” Fettle. They went hammer and tong for the rest of the race. In the final lunge at the line Radiant Venture poked his bib in front. Remember too, this was an Interdominion heat. It was a strong field. Having said that, the rest of the field were just coming into the home straight as Radiant Venture and Fettle hit the line.

Wally Bowyer was also a topflight trainer/ driver. He won a heat of the 1950 Interdominion on the Reg Norman trained Findon Queen. He won a consolation of the Interdominion on Eringa and another Interdominion consolation on Interpretation. Wally Bowyer bred, owned, trained, and drove both Eringa and Interpretation. That is a feat rarely achieved these days.

Another plain looking horse named Free Hall won the Interdominion for SA in 1958. Free Hall was managed by Mr. Harry Mack. Harry Mack was SA BOTRA secretary for over 30 years. Free Hall was trained and driven by the legendary reinsman Bill Shinn. Bill Shinn had few peers as a driver. He was fearless and tactically brilliant.

True story, my old man (who was a good mate with a number of bookies back in the Wayville days) told me that when the money “went on” a horse driven by Bill Shinn, some punters didn’t even bother to walk from the betting ring to watch the race. Instead, they chose to line up to collect at the bookies stand before the race was even run. In those days you bet at the front of the bookies stand and you lined up and got paid out at the back of the bookies stand. Many a time when a really big plunge came off, the bookies ran out of money. So, the “big boys” lined up “early” to make sure they got paid out on the night. 

Bill Shinn was a member of BOTRA and served on the BOTRA Committee for a number of years. Bill Shinn was highly regarded as a trainer too. He was a very active member of the BOTRA committee. He was on the BOTRA committee when BOTRA suggested that country clubs be given a bigger share of the prizemoney which was distributed by the Trotting Control Board. This request was put into effect by the Trotting Control Board of the day (1952), much to the delight of the participants. Bill Shinn was on the committee when BOTRA suggested 8 races should be run each week at Wayville, instead of 7. Bill Shinn also ran the permit drivers’ school (1957) for junior and emerging drivers.

Bill Shinn drove Lu Raider to a heat win in 1949. He won two heats on Free Hall in 1958 (at Wayville) – and the final. He won a heat of one of the most famous Interdominions of all time (1963 Adelaide) on Smokey Eric and another on Ayr’s Idol that same year. He won a consolation of the 1963 Interdominion on Sheffield Globe.

In 1967 Bill Shinn won a heat of the Interdominion on Bon Adios in Perth. He also drove Bon Adios to win a heat of the 1970 Interdominion in Victoria. Bon Adios finished third in the final behind Bold David and Bylaw (by Aachen) in 1970.

In that final the ultra-smart Victorian pacer Bold David stormed to the lead when the tapes were released (it was a standing start). The rest of the runners were spread-eagled over 100’s of metres. The raging favourite for the 1970 Interdominion final was one of SA’s best ever pacers, Adios Court. Adios Court had finished second behind Richmond Lass in the final at Wayville in 1969.

Adios Court started a short-priced favourite in the 1970 final. He was sensational throughout the heats – but fate stepped in. In the final he bungled the start. He was on the back foot when the starter let them go – it was something he never did – but he did that night and that was that.

SA BOTRA is connected to Adios Court through Jill Neilson. Jill Neilson was only young when Adios Court was arguably the best pacer in the land. Adios Court was owned and trained by her grandfather. Jill Neilson travelled the country with the great horse. Adios Court won race after race against the very best pacers Australia had to offer. Adios Court won 2 A. G. Hunter cups.

These days Jill Neilson is a leading trainer here in SA. She has also bred numerous winners. 

Jill Neilson is a life member of the BOTRA Committee which she served on for many years. She has given her time freely and her involvement and clear thinking has proven to be invaluable in the workings of BOTRA. 

Bylaw (second in the 1970 Interdominion final) was another outstanding SA pacer. He was bred and raced by members of the Norman family. The Norman family is synonymous with Trotting here in SA. The Norman family were incredibly successful. Members of the Norman family stood the mighty stallion Aachen. Aachen was a superior racehorse. He won 20 races in a row before he started stud duties. Members of the Norman family were heavily involved with BOTRA here in SA. The Norman name can be found amongst the committee members of BOTRA for many a long year. Their contribution to Trotting in SA as BOTRA committee members, owners, trainers, and breeders cannot be under-estimated.

The Norman family used Dick Webster as their driver of choice. Dick Webster is arguably the best driver SA has produced. He was a horseman through and through. Dick Webster served on the committee of SA BOTRA for many years up until his passing in 1977.

Dick Webster won his first heat of the Interdominion on Raidella in 1949 at Wayville. In 1954 he won a heat of the Interdominion on Merchant in Adelaide. Merchant was owned by Mr. Bob Norman and trained by Reg Norman. Merchant was a wonderful pacer and was all the rage for the 1954 Interdominion final. All went well at the start. Merchant led.

The twist in Merchant’s tale came in the form of George Gath who attacked Merchant for the lead with a Tasmanian pacer named Sparkling Max. It was not a short attack, it was relentless. Merchant and Sparkling Max went hell for leather from the get go. Needless to say, both horses were a spent force a lap out and they both finished at the back of the field.

There was a huge uproar after the race. A large majority of people thought rightly or wrongly that Sparkling Max had been sent out to purposely run Merchant into the ground so that his stablemate (Dainty Rose) could win the day. If it was a set-up it didn’t work out because Tennessee Sky (from Western Australia) took the spoils ahead of Recovered and Andi (both from NSW).