Success in a lifetime is built around achievements and for Gerald Fell one of his proudest accomplishments will be on show again on Friday evening in Hamilton.
Fell (77) was one of the small group of dedicated racing enthusiasts who were instrumental in forming the New Zealand Racing Hall Of Fame (NZRHOF), of which he became the inaugural Chairman. The seventh biennial inductee function is being held at Skycity Hamilton on the eve of a premier day’s racing at Te Rapa.
New Zealand’s Racing Hall Of Fame was established after Fell and the current NZRHOF Chairman, Chris Luoni, were in Adelaide in 2003 and attended the annual Australian Racing Hall Of Fame dinner, which had first been staged two years earlier.
“It was a wake-up call,” said Fell, part-owner of Fairdale Stud (New Zealand’s oldest family-owned commercial thoroughbred stud). “Chris and I felt some of the history of New Zealand racing would be lost if something wasn’t done here.
“I had just retired from the (New Zealand) Thoroughbred Racing Board and knew the people who could help to get it established here. I did some shoulder-tapping, picking on people who a: wanted to preserve the history, and b: would have an input.
“It’s been a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without the initial backing and the ongoing support of our sponsors.”
Another nine inducteees (Brookby Song, O’Reilly, Might And Power, Veandercross, Sir Woolf Fisher, Murray Baker, Tod Hewitt, Noel Harris and Chris Waller) will be added to the NZRHOF list on Friday evening, taking the total since its inception in 2006 to 75.
The induction of Waller, the champion Sydney trainer, is special to Fell as he and his late brother, Rex, supported him when he started training in Foxton and also when he first tried his luck in Sydney with just a couple of horses.
Waller’s first runner when “testing the water” in Sydney in August 1998 was Party Belle, an Oregon mare raced by Fairdale Stud. She went through from a maiden to win three on end then returned the following May and completed another hat trick of wins.
As well as recognising the major achievers through the NZRHOF, Fell has also been the recipient of awards for his own achievements.
In 2008 he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to racing and breeding, which include helping form and be the inaugural 2002 chairman of RACE Incorporated (the partnership of lower North Island racing clubs), holding roles within New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association and the New Zealand Racing Conference as well as continuing Fairdale Stud’s success.
In 2016, at the New Zealand Racing Awards dinner, he accepted the award for Outstanding Contribution to Racing on behalf of himself and his brother, Rex, who lost his brave battle with cancer four months earlier.
The Fell brothers were born into racing and while Rex’s twin, Tony, carried on the farming side of the Fell tradition, Gerald and Rex took up the challenge to continue Fairdale Stud, which had been established in Manawatu by their father, Arthur, in 1949.
Arthur Fell made Fairdale Stud a household name in the breeding and racing industry through the success of Pakistan II.
“Tauloch was the first sire Dad stood then Pakistan II came along and put us all where we are today,” Fell said.
Imported in 1963, Pakistan II was an instant success, dominating the New Zealand sire ranks. He won six Champion Sire titles through the late 1960s and 1970s and became the Champion Australasian sire three times before his premature death in 1972, aged 13.
He sired an incredible per cent winners-to-runners’ ratio and 43 Stakes winners from just eight crops and carried that success on through his daughters and granddaughters.
The 1978 ARC Railway Handicap winner Silver Liner, one of Pakistan II’s 53 stakes-producing daughters, was raced by Arthur Fell from the Woodville stable of Eric Ropiha, an outstanding horseman who trained more than 250 winners for Fairdale Stud and prepared the first winner by Pakistan II.
Gerald and Rex Fell raced many fine gallopers under the Fairdale Stud banner, including Plume and Tall Poppy, and Fairdale Stud has been responsible for breeding the winners of 36 Group One races and over 200 Group and Listed winners in 14 countries in 68 years of breeding.
“The biggest highlight was breeding Hyperno, the Melbourne Cup winner, and, of course, standing Pakistan II,” Fell said. “Rex and I worked so well together. We ran Fairdale together for 45 years.”
The Fell brothers stepped back in 2007 and Fairdale Stud’s operation was equally divided. Gerald’s son, Duncan, took over control of Fairdale Stud and Rex’s son, William, took up the reins of nearby Goodwood Stud, which had been bought by Rex in 1990.
“We had 80-odd mares together and we divided them by the toss of a coin. We took turns picking one and there wasn’t an argument,” Fell said.
Another change for the Fell family is not standing a stallion. “This is the first year in 65 years that we haven’t stood a stallion,” Fell said
Last year the Fell family celebrated Goodwood Stud being named the 2016-17 New Zealand Breeder of the Year through the deeds of New Zealand Derby winner Gingernuts and Group Three winners Nicoletta and Order Again.
Fell has just watched Fairdale Stud and Goodwood Stud’s latest offerings at Karaka and each year attending the National Yearling Sales brings back memories.
“The first National Sales I went to was in 1956,” Fell said. “I was 16 and went there for J.A. Mitchell who had the first crop of Red Marlin, a son of Hyperion. I haven’t missed a National sale since then so that’s 63 in a row.”
Fell has spent his lifetime involved in racing and, even since retiring to Taupo seven years ago with his wife Robyn, he is still an avid supporter.
“I took up golf at 70 and enjoy it and I’m a respectable trout fisherman, but I’m still involved in the horses,” he said. “I’m on the (Racing) Taupo committee and still race a few.” – NZ Racing Desk