Champion deeds acknowledged

4 min read

A new stakes race at Ellerslie on Boxing Day offers the opportunity for a trip down memory lane and a toast to one of the racing’s greats of yesteryear.

The Listed Shaw’s Wire Ropes Uncle Remus S. offers a nod of respect to a former champion 3-year-old, who thrilled crowds back in the late 1970s with a succession of classic front-running performances.

Uncle Remus (NZ) (Bandmaster {IRE}) was trained by the New Zealand Racing Hall of Famer Colin Jillings for Kim Clotworthy and Grace Donaldson.

He won 15 of his 28 starts and was accompanied on his exploits by former top jockey turned trainer Bob Vance.

“I rode him in all bar one of his races. I got suspended and Tony Williams rode him in the Waikato International and they ran third behind La Mer,” he said.

“He was a champion horse and could have been anything if he hadn’t gone in the wind after that.” - Bob Vance.

“He was a champion horse and could have been anything if he hadn’t gone in the wind after that.”

Former jockey Bob Vance (right) with daughter Maija

Uncle Remus won his first four starts, including two Listed events, before he finished runner-up in the G2 Great Northern Guineas.

“I got too far back on him and Jillo said after that to get him out in front and he’ll be too good for them,” Vance said.

That Uncle Remus was and went on a 10-race winning streak that included the G1 New Zealand Derby, the G1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas, the G2 Canterbury Gold Cup and the G2 Wellington S.

“He was the perfect racehorse with a perfect temperament.” - Bob Vance.

“He was the perfect racehorse with a perfect temperament,” Vance said. “He wasn’t colty at all, he went to stud for a while, and was just a terrific galloper.”

Uncle Remus

Vance was associated with an array of top-liners during his riding career and remembers Uncle Remus as one of his favourites.

“I rode McGinty and he raced for three seasons and Uncle Remus only raced for a season and a-half and if it wasn’t for his larynx going he would have been the best I’d ever ridden,” he said.

Uncle Remus was admirably managed by the affable Jillings, who retired in 2004 after holding a training licence for a remarkable 54 years.

Gentleman of racing

Regarded as a master trainer of stayers, he trained 1327 winners in total, 703 of those in partnership with fellow trainer Richard Yuill. One of racing’s gentlemen, he was respected and admired by his peers.

While still in his 20s, Jillings sent out his first winner Lawful (NZ) (Fair’s Fair {GB}} who would go on to win the 1958 Great Northern Derby in 1958.

Watch: Racing Hall of Fame's tribute to Colin Jillings

Jillings was to send out a Derby winner in each subsequent decade until his retirement.

As well as training five G1 New Zealand Derby winners, he trained three G1 New Zealand Oaks winners, and won four G1 Auckland Cups, a G1 Wellington Cup and two G1 New Zealand Cups.

Jumps maestro

His versatility as a trainer was also demonstrated in jumps racing, winning three Great Northern Steeples and two Great Northern Hurdles.

Jillings was associated with a host of top-line gallopers and Uncle Remus aside, he also prepared the multiple Group 1 winner McGinty (MZ) (One Pound Sterling {GB}), successful in the Caulfield S., Rawson S., Canterbury Guineas and at home in two editions of the Air New Zealand S. and the George Adams H.

In partnership with Yuill, he also trained The Phantom Chance (NZ) (Noble Bijou {USA}), who won the G1 Cox Plate and the G1 New Zealand Derby.

The Uncle Remus S. was elevated to Listed status off the back of past wins in the event by subsequent Group 1 winners Xtravagant (NZ) (Pentire {GB}), Hall of Fame (NZ) (Savabeel) and Age of Fire (NZ) (Fastnet Rock).