When it comes to horses I’m a hopeless sentimentalist.

I had the pleasure of calling all of the wins of the great Halwes at Harold Park in the late 1960’s, and he left an indelible impression on me. He was a horse with high speed, great reserves of stamina and a terrific will to win.

These were the thoughts running through my mind on a lovely February day in 1986, as I drove through a quaint little village called Hagley about 32 kilometres from Launceston in Tasmania.

I had been on a “drive yourself” holiday with my wife Ann and daughter Rebecca who was just 4 years old.

The moment I saw the Hagley signpost I thought of Halwes. I knew he would have to be every bit of 26 or 27 years old if he were still alive, and I knew his part owner and trainer Aub Wesley would have to be well in his eighties.

I went into a little general store in the middle of town, and asked the lady behind the counter where I might find Mr. Aub Wesley.

‘There he is over there”, she said pointing directly across the road. “That’s Aub in the blue overalls and the hat”. I could see an elderly man pottering around near some old galvanised iron stables.

Image Courtesy of National Trotguide. (Aub Wesley giving Halwes a light jog. You would cop a hefty penalty if you got caught out today, not wearing a safety helmet in track work). 

Image Courtesy of National Trotguide. (Aub Wesley giving Halwes a light jog. You would cop a hefty penalty if you got caught out today, not wearing a safety helmet in track work). 

A semi trailer roared past as we ducked across the road, and climbed between the rails of an ancient ironbark fence. “Can I help you sonny?”, asked the old man as I approached with hand outstretched{ it has been a bloody long time since anybody called me sonny}.

Aub only vaguely remembered having met me in Sydney some twenty years earlier, but was quick to enquire about his old friend Kevin Newman who had driven Halwes in most of his mainland races.

We exchanged platitudes for a minute or two before I asked the obvious question. “Is the old horse still alive Aub?”

“He was an hour ago, when I fed him”, said the wily old horseman. “Wait here and I’ll fetch him”.

I felt a little emotional when the veteran trainer emerged from a stable, leading one of my harness racing idols. There he was in the flesh- the great Halwes or “Toby” as the trotting world knew him.

A little ‘swampy backed’ perhaps, but looking quite remarkable at 27 years of age- testimony to the dedication of his old trainer.

The memories came rushing back. A mighty win off 12 yards behind in the 1967 Spring Cup at Harold Park, and his demolition job on a top class field in the 1968 Miracle Mile, in Australian record time.

That unforgettable victory off 36 yards behind in the Easter Cup. The tragedy of the 1968 Inter Dominion in Auckland, when he was a shock late scratching from the Grand Final. After winning all 3 heats in effortless fashion, he was lame on the big night when an old quarter crack injury flared up again.

“He would have won that Grand Final on his ear”, reflected Aub sadly. “He was the best horse never to win an Inter Dominion”.

He actually contested the Perth Inter Dominion a year earlier, finishing second in each of the first two heats to the WA champ Binshaw.  Halwes was lame after the second heat, and the following day a quarter crack was visible. The Tasmanian had to miss the third heat, and that was the end of his first Inter Dominion campaign.  

Image courtesy of National Trotguide. (Halwes and the great Kevin Newman). 

Image courtesy of National Trotguide. (Halwes and the great Kevin Newman). 

Halwes was rising 9 years of age when he time trialled at Harold Park in 1.57.3 in the middle of 1968- a record that stood for 3 years until broken by the freakish West Australian Mount Eden.

“Strange to say he really didn’t handle the Harold Park track”, recalled Aub. “I know he won 15 races there, but he was never completely at home”.  

It’s difficult to determine, why the stallion had problems with Harold Park, because he always looked comfortable on the tiny Melbourne Showgrounds track (610 metres), where he won half a dozen races.  Makes you wonder what horses like Halwes and Mount Eden would have been capable of on the Menangle ‘speedway” in 2018.

Aub, in a pose typical of a country man of his generation, squatted on his haunches chewing on a stem of grass, as he reminisced about his many travels with the great horse. He was happy for me to shoot home movie footage of Halwes, which still holds pride of place among my souvenirs.

The old horse seemed to understand every word spoken by his old trainer, including one usually reserved for watch dogs. When Aub  shouted “skitch ‘em”, the old horse pinned his ears back, bared his teeth and charged straight at us, skidding to a halt only inches from his yard fence.

There was no doubt he would have made a meal of anybody who got between him, and his old boss. Aub’s love for the horse was such that he had arranged for the insertion of a special clause in his will, directing that Halwes be “put down” should he die first. “I know it sounds bizarre”, said the veteran trainer,”but I trust nobody to look after him the way I do. I will not go to my grave with “Toby” in somebody else’s care”.

The terms of that special clause were never executed, because old “Toby” slipped away just a few months later, some 9 years before Aub’s passing.

By the time Halwes retired in 1969 his record stood at 45 wins from 63 starts, and the equivalent of $73,000.  That figure will give you some idea of the significance of a $300,000 offer, Aub had received from the USA, earlier in the year.

Aub Wesley would never have parted with his “horse of a lifetime” and was now looking forward to standing Halwes on his own property “Fairview”  at Hagley.

The great horse sired around 120 winners, but nothing even close to his own great ability. Aub passed away at age 91, and those close to him believed he was never quite the same after “Toby’s” passing.

I spoke to the late Kevin Newman several times about Halwes. Winner of 10 consecutive Harold Park premierships, Kevin unhesitatingly declared “Toby” to be the best horse he ever sat behind.

“Most horses can go once in a race”,said Newman.’Good horses can go twice, but Halwes could go three times”. The champion driver maintained that opinion until his passing almost a year ago.

Image courtesy of National Trotguide. (Aub Wesley nearing his ninetieth birthday). 

Image courtesy of National Trotguide. (Aub Wesley nearing his ninetieth birthday). 

Thirty two years have passed since my impromptu visit to “Fairview”.   I have never forgotten the wonderful few hours we spent with a grand old horseman, and the horse whose name had been a household word among Australia’s Harness Racing fans.

There’s something incomplete about the Halwes story, and there are no prizes for guessing what it is.

The names of Halwes, Aub Wesley and Kevin Newman are missing from the annals of Inter Dominion history.  It just doesn’t seem right.