Bob Morris with El Khobar. Photo: Supplied
Bob Morris passed away in Cambridge on October 17th, one month short of his 92nd birthday.
In Bob’s passing, New Zealand lost one of
the very best horsemen it’s ever known. He was also one of the great
characters, a great stockman, a great mentor to many successful people in
horses, and in his own right, very successful as an owner, trainer and breeder.
Robert Lloyd Morris was born in Cambridge
in 1927, and it was there he lived for almost his entire life. He was a man who
commanded unending respect from all who knew him. He was a man of the land who
had an extraordinary knowledge of farming stock and thoroughbred horses.
A quiet achiever, he avoided taking credit
for anything, or for helping anyone who needed help; he often shared his vast
knowledge to the thoroughbred fraternity. He was a man of decisive action who
didn’t suffer fools but equally was kind of heart, a loyal friend, and a man
who liked his steak medium-rare.
He bred and raced numerous top horses over
a long period. His most significant success as a breeder came with the Geoff
Murphy trained Abdul in the 1970 Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m). Abdul also won the Gr.1
C.F. Orr Stakes (1400m), the Gr.2 Sandown Guineas (1600m), the Gr.1 All-Aged
Stakes (1400m) and the Gr.3 Liverpool City Cup (1300m).
He also bought and raced Savoir (Sovereign
Edition) which won the Gr.1 Thousand Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield, and the Gr.2
Wakeful Stakes (2000m) at Flemington.
In 1956 when aged 29, Bob took Sir Woolf
Fisher’s outstanding sprinter, El Khobar, by ship to America after the horse
had a string of victories in both New Zealand and Australia. The son of Gabador
won the Gr.1 Doomben Ten Thousand (1200m), The Ascot Stakes (4000m), and the Gr.1
Warwick Stakes (1400m).
In Brisbane in 1956, he also won a match
race with Syntax by eight lengths and was the best sprinter in Australia that
year. El Khobar also had a successful race career in the USA before retiring to
stud, firstly in the USA, and then back in New Zealand at Sir Woolf’s Ra Ora
Stud at East Tamaki.
The accompanying photo of Bob with El
Khobar in the USA surfaced only after Bob’s death. Although Carol Marshall worked
for Bob, and was with him for 47 years, she had never before been shown the El
Khobar photos – Bob wasn’t one to promote himself, even to the smallest degree.
Bob never married and is survived by his
older sister Grace and his nieces and nephews, and Carol Marshall, who worked
for Bob and lived with him and his older sister Margaret for all her working
life before Margaret’s passing three years ago at age 94.
His best friend was the late Maurice Paykel
of Fisher & Paykel fame. They were very similar characters, completely
devoid of ego but realists, intelligent, and they shared a good sense of humour
and a passion for horses. Bob was the practical horseman and Maurice was the
enthusiast, and together they bred and raced many horses together over many
Maurice Paykel turned down two knighthoods
during his lifetime, which was the measure of his humility, and Bob, like his
friend preferred to stay under the radar. Both were humble men to a fault, and
Together they bred and raced both the
Hermes mare Sequitur and her daughter, Sequita, by Sovereign Edition. Both
fillies/mares were multiple black-type winners.
When Maurice Paykel died aged 88, one
obituary said: “Paykel has been described as a caring person, always adhering
to high standards.” That was also Bob Morris to a tee. Bob was the most
punctual of men and detested latecomers and the thought of being late. When off
the farm, he was a dapper dresser and always wore a hat to the races.
In the early days of Cambridge Stud, Bob had
a significant influence on the preparation of yearlings and was a big help to
Sir Patrick Hogan in getting the Stud established.
Sir Tristram’s first stud groom John White described
Bob as “an outstanding horseman and outstanding with all stock, for that
matter. Even with the cranky old Sir Tristram, Bob used to clip his mane, and
all the yearlings manes, with a pair of hand shears. Because Bob was tall and
skinny, he could stand up beside Paddy and do the perfect job on a difficult
“His horsemanship was outstanding to
watch,” said Whitey. “In his lunge, he had a rope across the top to which he
tied to the horses, and if the horse had a go, or fell over, that rope had
enough slack, and the horse wouldn’t hit his head on the ground.
“I can’t say enough about the man, to be
honest,” continued Whitey. “He was a strong man, and he could fire-up if he saw
any poor horsemanship. But over the years he gave me a lot of good advice,
especially on buying and selling horses. A lot of the best advice I ever had
came from Bob.”
Bob was different in many ways. He never
forced his opinion on you, but he knew if you were open to learn, or closed to
fail, and he acted accordingly without fuss or condemnation. He had a way about
him that was special, a way not detected by many unless you got close to him.
And those that got close to him like Carol Marshall, John White and others will know that. It was a privilege to be a small part of the life of Bob Morris – he was a special man who made a difference to a lot of horse people.
Bob lived his life by his own rules, and in the end, went out by his own rules. He hated the thought of being a burden; he hated the thought of incapacitation from his deteriorating health, and in the end, he beat that inevitability by exiting on his own terms – the determination and courage he displayed throughout his life stayed with him to the very end.