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Breeders Corner \ Mainbrace

28 August

We hear how difficult it is to compare horses from different eras, but I believe the truly great ones stand out no matter the time of racetrack careers and in the case of this week's subject, Mainbrace, his efforts would shine no matter which era he had raced in.

The publication Notable NZ Thoroughbreds had a chapter devoted to Mainbrace and their opening paragraph sums up his quality very well ..... 

"After the all-time greats of New Zealand thoroughbred history - namely Carbine, Desert Gold, Gloaming, Phar Lap, and Kindergarten (ranked chronologically), few would quibble that Mainbrace comes next. Had his career not been cut short by injury, he could conceivably joined this list of immortals. As it was, his record of twenty-three wins from twenty-five starts, over distances from five to fourteen furlongs, speaks for itself. Mainbrace won classic, weight for age, and handicap races ,and was equally capable on firm or heavy tracks. His tally of seventeen consecutive wins is second only to the joint record of nineteen held by Desert Gold and Gloaming, and his achievement of fifteen victories within a single season is an Australasian record (at time of printing). Naturally such a horse be came a national hero, and his presence in a race was a guaranteed drawcard, not just for regular racegoers, but for many who would not have entered a racecourse. #Mainbrace was indeed a bright light in New Zealand's grey post-war period."  

Such is the quality of the information supplied by Notable New Zealand Thoroughbreds we will use this well-researched chapter to relate the history of Mainbrace and the achievements he went on to post.

Maneroo, the dam of Mainbrace, was purchased by Dr Thomas Fraser of Hamilton at the 1938 National Yearling Sale, for whom she won three races. On her retirement from racing Dr Fraser offered her as a gift to his relative Bob Nolan, a Cambridge farmer. Mr Nolan accepted on the condition that the offspring would raced jointly between them.

Maneroo's first foal was the good but ill-fated winner Big Notes, her second by Shirin was described as of no account'', and then her third foal was a chestnut colt by the successful English sire Admiral's Luck and was to be named Mainbrace.

A big, raw boned youngster, measuring 16.2hh as a two-year-old, Mainbrace was considered too big to make a top liner at that stage. Nevertheless his Te Awamutu trainer Jack McDonald had him ready to step out in October, where (after a slow start) he finished third behind the dead heaters The Unicorn and Correspond - the worst performance of his career.

A week later, Jack McDoanld persuaded Grenville Hughes to take the mount on the colt in the Welcome Stakes at Ellerslie. Donning the Fraser tartan and red cap proved to be a crucial step in the career of top hoop Grenville Hughes, who was already a fine horseman but is association with #Mainbrace brought him fame and fortune that no other one horse could match.

Mainbrace duly won the Welcome Stakes by five lengths and posted a further five wins to his record as a two-year-old, including victories in the Great Northern Foal Stakes, Royal Stakes (for 2 & 3YOs), Taranaki Stakes and Great Northern Champagne Stakes.

Resuming as a three-year-old Mainbrace was beaten again by The Unicorn in the Sheriff Handicap over six furlongs at Avondale and this defeat is summarised well in Notable NZ Thoroughbreds where they say,

"In retrospect, it can be argued that Mainbrace's initial failure to win at his first three-year-old could have been averted. Had Jack McDonald been aware that this one race was the difference between Mainbrace in the future holding the record for twenty consecutive wins and being only second with seventeen, it is likely he would have taken a less casual approach. As it was, he admitted that the colt was not fully ready, but the six furlong Sheriff Handicap at Avondale was not considered race to win with a class horse. Unfortunately he reckoned without another class horse, whose crafty trainer had seen the opportunity looming to beat his rival. Fred Smith had prepared Sir Stanley Goosman's The Unicorn to the minute, and that luckless horse, the only rival capable of seriously pushing Mainbrace at a distance, cruised past the chestnut in the straight to win by three lengths."

"The lesson learned, McDonald took Mainbrace home for some solid workouts; the Avondale Guineas was only a week away, and he dearly wanted to avenge his charge's defeat. Mainbrace disgraced himself as usual at the start, and he was sent to the outside, but it was The Unicorn who suffered the worst beginning in the event, and after taking so long to find his feet, managed only fourth. Mainbrace, meanwhile, made a superb start, had a perfect trail, and won comfortably by two and half lengths from Zenith."

This was the start of a seventeen race streak which included the Great Northern Guineas, Wellington Guineas, Waikato Guineas, Foxbridge Plate, and King's Plate all before the end of end of 1950 and in the space of 110 days. In the back half of the season Mainbrace went on to add the Great Northern Derby, Wellington Stakes, Gloaming Stakes, Trentham Stakes, North Island Challenge Stakes, NZ St Leger, Great Northern St Leger, Great Northern Challenge Stakes, and Awapuni Gold Cup.

As a four-year-old Mainbrace stripped a much fitter horse for his return in the Shorts Handicap over six furlongs at Avondale, and although burdened with the steadier impost of 10 st (63.5kg) he galloped freely and posted a one length victory over Barnsdale and Penfriend with regular pilot Grenville Hughes aboard.

Mainbrace headed to Wellington for the to contest the Harcourt Stakes at his next start, and while constant rain had reduced Trentham to its heaviest, teh champion assumed his customary role in front from the noted mudlark Red Jester. Halfway down the straight he stumbled in the conditions and nearly fell, but he picked himself and went on win by two-and-half lengths.

However post the race it was announced that Mainbrace had pulled up with muscle soreness and his training was to be eased. He did not race again after this race and was retired to stud where after good initial patronage, breeders soon dropped off and he failed to make an impact at stud.

However, as a racehorse, Mainbrace will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats and will hold a special place in the history of New Zealand racing.

Mainbrace's owner Bob Nolan was once asked by an interested observer, "Mr Nolan, what you rather have, a good trainer .... or a good jockey?" 

Nolan's response was very matter-of-fact, "Neither, give me a good horse and he will make them a good trainer and a good jockey!" 

In total Mainbrace had 25 starts for 23 wins, a second, and a third for £28,710 and died in 1967 at the age of 18.

Credit \ Notable New Zealand Thoroughbreds

Pictured \ Mainbrace and Grenville Hughes