A - Z of New Zealand greats - Uncle Remus
Uncle Remus was a marketing dream.
A striking black colt, with a catchy name and talent that matched his looks, he became enormously popular with the public during his wonderful three-year-old campaign in the 1977-78 season.
Uncle Remus raced in an era where racing’s hold on the sporting public was much stronger than is the case now and his presence at any meeting guaranteed a large crowd.
He became so popular that on occasions he was stabled in secret on race day, to avoid problems with over-enthusiastic fans.
Uncle Remus did not have a long career – as a result of a wind problem which emerged at the end of his three-year-old season – but it was truly spectacular.
Trained at Takanini by Colin Jillings and usually ridden by stable apprentice Bob Vance, Uncle Remus won twice as a juvenile and reigned supreme the following season.
He won 13 of his 15 starts as a three-year-old and had excuses for his two defeats.
He was late clear when a luckless second in the Great Northern Guineas and then won 10 races in a row, before the wind affliction started to tell when he finished third in the International Stakes at Te Rapa, in his last run for the season.
He dominated his age-group and also beat the older horses at weight-for-age. He won black type races from 1200m to 2400m and completed the NZ Two Thousand Guineas-NZ Derby double.
Since the classic races were restructured in 1973, only four other horses - Fury’s Order, Balmerino, Surfers Paradise and Jimmy Choux – have won both the 2000 Guineas and NZ Derby.
Uncle Remus also won the Wellington Derby, Wellington Guineas, Wellington Stakes, Avondale Guineas and Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes and beat the older horses in the Canterbury Gold Cup, Thames Valley Stakes, Clifford Plate and Rotorua Challenge Stakes.
He often set the pace and was rarely seriously challenged that term, with five of his wins coming by three lengths or further.
No New Zealand-trained horse since has managed 13 wins in a season.
Sadly, Uncle Remus did not win another race. He had a wind operation following his three-year-old campaign and was tried again as a four-year-old but never regained his best form. He had two seconds as a four-year-old but was unplaced in his six other starts and was retired from racing.
Vance, who rode Uncle Remus in all bar two of his starts, was 18 when Uncle Remus gave him the first of his four NZ Derby victories. Vance was the leading apprentice that season and won the jockeys premiership the following season.
Uncle Remus was raced by Kim Clotworthy in partnership with the horse’s Northland breeder, Grace Donaldson. The pair raced Uncle Remus for pleasure rather than profit.
They resisted overseas offers for the horse and helped ensure he began his stud career in New Zealand.
Uncle Remus, a son of Bandmaster II, had stints at stud in both New Zealand and Australia but had little impact as a sire. He left a handful of stakes winners, with the best probably being Miss Remus, winner of the McKell Cup in Sydney and the Queen’s Cup in Brisbane, both at 2400m.
However, his talent as a racehorse is undeniable. The sight of Uncle Remus at his peak, effortlessly powering away from his rivals, was not easy to forget.