For someone who was once asked if he found his trainer’s licence at the bottom of a Weet-Bix box, Riccarton trainer Michael Pitman has sure turned his racing dreams into a Kiwi-kid fairytale.
Pitman added the latest in a season of memorable milestones when his stable racked up its 2000th New Zealand winner at Riccarton last week.
Earlier this season, Pitman produced his 1878th New Zealand winner to overtake Hall of Fame trainer Dave O’Sullivan and climb to second on the all-time winning trainers’ list behind Hamilton’s Graeme Rogerson.
Not long afterwards, the partnership of Pitman and his son Matthew claimed its 400th win.
Pitman can’t claim all 2000 wins though as he was unable to have a licence in both New Zealand and Australia when he had a stint training out of Ballarat in the 1990s and his wife Diane produced 93 wins for the stable under her own name at that time.
“In New Zealand I’ve trained 1909 winners so along with Diane’s wins on her own, the stable has now passed 2000 wins,” said Pitman, a cancer survivor who turned his back on a professional golf career to follow a path in racing.
“Proserve gave us that 2000th win at Riccarton last week and it is a pretty special record for us.
“When I first got my licence, everyone said I got it out of a Weet-Bix box. I used to go out to Ray Harris’ – Paul Harris’ dad’s – place and spend weekends there, going to all the circuits with them and learning everything I could that way. I never earned a dollar working for another stable.
“Now between all the partnerships, with Diane and these days with Matthew, we’ve trained over 2000 winners as a family and that’s something I’m really proud of.”
The Pitman stable has really hit its straps in the past few weeks, with six wins last week alone, and it promises to again be a formidable force at Ashburton on Thursday and at Trentham on Saturday, where Okay Pal and Sharpie will race.
A winner of six of his 13 starts, including a smart 1000m open handicap scalp at Trentham last Saturday, Dissident five-year-old Okay Pal tackles the Listed Race A Horse With Te Akau Lightning Handicap (1200m), while Sharpie has bypassed the Gr.1 Wellington Seamarket Levin Classic (1600m) in favour of the special conditions maiden.
“Okay Pal pulled up super after last week’s race. He never left an oat,” Pitman said.
“He’s got a great record down the chute at Riccarton and now he’s won down the chute at Trentham. Lisa Latta said to me last week that our horses go well at Trentham and that’s because right from a young age, they get used to racing down the chute at Riccarton.”
The Pitmans produced Enzo’s Lad to win the Lightning Handicap in 2020, that horse having already won the Group 1 Telegraph (1200m) at Trentham twice, the second time with stablemate Sensei finishing a close third.
“The Lightning has been Okay Pal’s main aim because he just didn’t come into the Telegraph any good under the set weights and penalties conditions,” Pitman said.
“I expect him to be very competitive. We’re really happy with him. We’ll get him back to Riccarton after this and might even try him over 1400m. I trained his dam and his granddam for Jim Campin and they both got up over ground. His dam Sun Valley won a Kumara Gold Nuggets (1810m).”
Pitman said Sharpie had come through his first day run well, a wide run not helping his cause.
“Wiremu Pinn came back after last week and said it wasn’t his best work,” he said. “He should have stayed in but he came 10 wide but he’s in good order and this is a much more suitable option than the Group One.”
At Ashburton, the Pitmans will produce Copy That Race, Easyrider, Lennon, He’s Ready, St Andre, Meara Mary and Da Vinci Girl as they look to extend their winning streak.
“The maidens we’ve got in haven’t had a lot of luck but He’s Ready went a good race, he’s drawn well in a race where there’s a bit of pace and Lennon’s going well for that race too,” Pitman said.
“We’ve got Tina Comignaghi on three of our maidens too and she’s riding well as everyone can see, so with Kavish (Chowdhoory, stable apprentice) suspended, it’s a big help having her on.”