Opaki trainer Brian Marriott may have just turned 91-years-old but he is showing no signs of slowing down. It was Marriott’s birthday on Tuesday, but he was delighted with a belated celebration when his sole runner Bellissimo won the Kem Keene Memorial (1400m) at Woodville on Thursday by 4-3/4 lengths. “It was a really nice win, the jockey (Maria Sanson) did a great job,” Marriott said.
The eight-year-old mare had finished runner-up in her two previous starts and Marriot said he was confident of a good showing on Thursday with just 51kg on her back. “I was pretty confident today and I said to Maria I don’t think she will be too far away,” he said.
Marriot holds the mantle as the oldest licensed trainer in New Zealand, but he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. “I am still as fit as a fiddle,” he said. “I work her at Opaki in the mornings, I only do five days a week and I give her the weekend off.” Marriot came to training later in life, but he said he has always shared a passion for horses and racing.
“I have been training since the mid-eighties,” he said. “I have always liked horses and I thought I would try my luck at it. I started off riding track work at Waverley and I went from there. “All of the horses I have trained I have won with. I have no favourites and as I always say, if you treat them right you get the results.”
Marriott has led a colourful life and he has enjoyed much of it with his wife Hazel. “I was in the Merchant Navy and in 1952 I joined the army and went to the Korean War,” he said. “I then came home and went back into the Merchant Navy, and that is where I met my wife Hazel. “We have been married for 64 years and Hazel and I have loved the horses. “Unfortunately she had a stroke and is in care at the moment, but she was watching the race and that would have given her a huge buzz. “She will be quite happy when I go and see her tonight.”
Bellissimo was originally trained by fellow Opaki horseman Jim Wallace, who won one race with the mare from six starts for his father Jim Wallace Snr. Wallace sold the mare for a paltry sum after being instructed to get rid of Bellissimo by his father and she has gone on to win a further four races and place on five occasions since transferring to his good friend Marriott.
“I said I’ll give her to you, but Brian refused to take her for free,” Wallace recalled. “He wanted to pay me for her. “So he gave me a dollar. “I said if that’s the biggest gold coin in your pocket you can find, that is fine. “He’s had a lot of fun with her and every time I see him, he gives me grief, which is every day. “He comes down to the barn and gives me grief and he is trying to steal another one from me, but I am very happy for him.”