SA honours former champion

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    MINOR DERBY

    ONE of the most admired pacers produced on this side of the equator will be honoured at Globe Derby tomorrow night with the running of the Minor Derby Free-For-All.

    Headlining a handy program, the feature has attracted an even field, with Whats Emma Got the favourite despite her outside of the front row draw.

    Having finished midfield from a 20-metre handicap when first-up from a 16-month spell last week, the daughter Grinfromeartoear is chasing her 32nd win from 51 starts.

    Although drawn the back line, former Queenslander Corey Odonohue is the main danger, with Mark Dennis, Lost In Bangkok and Downtown Levi also among the leading chances.

    Yet with any respect to each competitor, none can “be mentioned in the same breath” as Minor Derby.

    An idol of the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Minor Derby achieved the seemingly impossible on a regular basis, particularly after missing the start.

    Boasting 45 wins for trainer Frank Smith, Minor Derby’s biggest claim to fame is becoming the first pacer to complete consecutive wins in the South Australia Cup.

    Sure that has been matched by Gammalite and Smoken Up, which have won the event four times, but Minor Derby’s victories were off large handicaps.

    Minor Derby won his first off 36 yards in 1950 and his second of an amazing 60 yards in ‘51.

    Converted to metres, 36 yards is 32.5, while 60 yards is 54 and that was on the old saucer-like Wayville circuit.

    Driven by Smith on both occasions, Minor Derby not only overcame his tough handicaps, but did it after blowing the start.

    Renowned for his horrific standing start manners – bear in mind there were no mobile races at the time – Minor Derby always gave his rivals an extra advantage, and on many times, a beating.

    Smith’s son Alan, who is still licensed in SA, recalls the former champion vividly, especially his tendency to break at the start.

    Alan, who was the gelding’s strapper, stated Minor Derby became a different proposition after he lined up behind the tapes.

    “He was a lovely quiet horse, but once at the races he had another attitude,” Alan declared. “It was the story of his life. He never went away without galloping first.

    “I remember a time he won off 108 yards (97 metres), plus his usual addition to that after galloping.”

    To shed more light on how bad Minor Derby was, former Adelaide caller, Arnold Ewens, was in Sydney for the 1952 Inter Dominion to cover the pacer’s campaign.

    Broadcasting his call back to Adelaide during one of the heats, Ewens declared: “Minor Derby is away well tonight, he is only 50 yards off the second last horse.”

    For the record, Minor Derby won the heat and set a Harold Park track record in the process.

    Not only did Minor Derby have an amazing ability to overcome huge obstacles, he did it the hard way.

    As soon as he settled into stride and caught the field, the tough stayer was sent forward to find the front in one sweeping run.

    With a preference for running along, Minor Derby was too risky to hold back once he got going according to Alan.

    “Once he paced he was fool-proof and had the ability to beat his rivals from large handicaps, which he constantly added to,” Alan said. “When he finally got going, Dad would set him alight and off he would go.

    “It was always best to let him go once he got into action.”

    That take no prisoners attitude is actually how Minor Derby secured his SA Cups, which was known as the Christmas Cup until 1958.

    Before anyone starts thinking it is tougher these days, it must be remembered, Minor Derby was racing the best there was and apples must be taken as apples.

    Lance Justice who trained Smoken Up doubts his multiple Group One winner could match Minor Derby’s feats.

    “To win the Cup off 36 yards is impressive enough, but to do it off 60 is freakish,” Justice said. “There is no way Smoken Up could have done it, nor could any pacer of the modern era.

    “That said, the racing is a lot more even now, which is one of the reasons we don’t see large handicaps anymore.”

    Smith formed a formidable partnership with Minor Derby, with the pair combining for 44 of his 45 wins.

    “Dad only missed one of his wins and that was when he broke his shoulder,” Smith recalled. “Max Lane drove him on that occasion.”

    Sadly, with the return to Wayville just a fortnight away, Smith’s health will prevent him from attending the night to relive some of Minor Derby’s amazing victories.

    As a one-off extravaganza, Harness Racing SA is conducting an evening of nostalgia, fun, entertainment, and of course, racing, at the state’s former home.

    Set down for Friday, October 27, the card includes TAB coverage as a host of local drivers – past and present – relive the halcyon days of ‘the trots’ around the 510-metre circuit.

    “I’ve got to have chemo the day before and it knocks me about it,” Smith said. “If I was fit enough I would be there thinking of all the good times at the track, but that’s the way it goes.”

    • PAUL COURTS

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