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Don’t try telling Grant Crabbe that New Zealand harness horses aren’t the equal of the best in the world.
Because he is on a one-man crusade to prove they are. And when it comes to his world champion mare Shartin, Crabbe is winning the war.
The mare Crabbe bred out of his Canterbury base became the fastest pacing mare of all time when she blasted around The Meadowlands in 1:46.8 recently, winning so easily it is realistic to think she could have threatened the all-comers world mark of 1:46 had she been pushed or asked.
That continued a stunning last 18 months for Shartin and coming on top of Lazarus pacing close to 1:46 last year, New Zealand horses are running world class times in an industry where times are a far more valued than in thoroughbred racing.
Crabbe, a retired motor mechanic, isn’t surprised by the Kiwi resurgence and is more than willing to put his money where his mouth is to say it can continue.
Shartin is by New Zealand pacer Tintin In America, who was a speed freak when trained by Geoff Small but like so many domestic stallions doesn’t get elite broodmares.
But the first time Crabbe saw Tintin In America he knew he was the stallion for his one-win mare Bagdarin.
“I was doing some work at Nevele R Stud at the time and he got off the float and I said to one of the other guys, “that is the fastest horse I have seen in a straight line since Lord Module.
“The other guy told me that was fine but being a colonial stallion he will struggle for numbers.
“I knew he was right but I don’t care. I know our horses as as good as anywhere in the world and if our best stallions got the mares that Bettors Delight and Art Major did they would have just as much success.”
Back when Crabbe bred Bagdarin to Tintin In America it hardly seemed much of a gamble, she was a one-win mare who only had three starts and was retired “because she had arthritis in her knees so bad they looked like gorgonzola cheese,” he remembers.
“But she could run. She was from Bruce Francis’s breed and to be honest she was going to be retired before I started training because she was a bit uncontrollable.
“It took me three weeks to get her settled enough to work. But this whole family can run.” Shartin proved that straight away but she was too fast to last with a part-time trainer like Crabbe.
After a blazing trial at Ashburton she was sold to Australia where she had a top class three-year-old career before moving on to North America, where she hasn’t stopped improving.
So consistently dominant has she been that after last weekend’s world record she deserves to be in the conversation with the greatest New Zealand pacing mares, a list of beauty and brilliance.
But even though Bagdarin is only 12 and Crabbe could send her to any stallion in the world and get a high-priced yearling, he keeps the faith with the Kiwis.
Shartin has a three-year-old brother “who can really run” called Knockawarwon while last season she even visited local stallion Gold Ace, a former New Zealand racehorse who has only just sired his first domestic winner.
“I am a proud Kiwi and I don’t want to hear our horses aren’t as good as the best in North America, cause its not true.”
Crabbe says he watches every race Shartin has live online and gets regular emails from her connections but has never been tempted to jump on the big bird to go watch her.
“I am sure I’d have a good time if I did go see her but I’d also feel like spare part, and being a former mechanic, I don’t want to feel like a spare part,” he laughs.
And as for the question every breeder has to suffer when they sell a horse who goes on to the greatness: does Crabbe ever wonder, what if?
“No, never. I actually don’t enjoy racing horses that much because they lose more than they win and I hate losing.
“I am not a bad loser, I just hate the disappointment.
“So I get just as much thrill watching her race now as I would as the owner and she is bringing other people happiness.
“And she is doing our New Zealand industry proud. And I love that.”