The economic environment of the 1980's was best described by author Stephen Stratford in his book The Dirty Decade as "New Zealand's adolescence, full of cringe-making behaviour, styles and attitudes, but a necessary part of our development as a nation".
In particular, the period 1982 through to 1987 was a time of excess and indulgence. The sharemarket soared and the champagne flowed.
Even I can vouch for this personally as it corresponded with my own time working in Wellington for a multi-national oil giant where going out to lunch more than once a week frequently morphed into staying for dinner as well to be followed by an unwanted scramble to Wellington Railway Station to catch the last train to Upper Hutt at 11.00pm.
They were times when lavish restaurants also became extended business workplaces.
If you were in the corporate world then borrowing money went seemingly unabated, paper worth was colossal amongst the many corporate high flyers and fashion events like the Yearling Sales became magnets as prices rocketed through the roof with a flurry of new entrants as new Stud Farms sprung up and ownership syndications flourished.
One man who was to first hand experience this new found frenzied environment, described by Stratford as being a backlash to the policies of the Muldoon government ( "Muldoon supressed us for so long that when freedom came we, or at least lots of us, exploded in craziness and bad behaviour" ), was David W Phillips.
A brother to accountant Steve Phillips, a co-founder of the Amateur Drivers movement along with his wife Anne ( who also devoted her time to the Northern Branch of the Cadet training scheme and a direct descendant of the famous Grice family of Seaview near Ashburton ), it is fair to say Dave Phillips had an introduction into the world of Standardbreds that also included a bit of pedigree already in the Industry.
Once acclaimed as New Zealand's "most eligible bachelor" amongst the leaders of the corporate high flyers when he was at the helm of both Pacer Pacific Corporation and Pacer Kerridge Corporation, he also found time to establish firstly Redvale Standardbreds ( mainly a Syndication vehicle ) and then National Bloodstock Corporation and it is through these two businesses that he first came to prominence as a significant participant in the Standardbred Industry.
National Bloodstock became an importer of North American stallions and quickly became a serious competitor to the highly established Nevele R Stud ( owned and operated by equally fierce competitors in Wayne Francis and Bob McArdle ) so much so that when Dave attended a Nevele R broodmare sale Wayne had Dave arrested and removed from the property. No love lost here right from the outset and it continued at a later date at the NZ Breeders Broodmare Of The Year Awards in Auckland where Patric O'Brien ( a former Studmaster at Nevele R and then working for Dave at National Bloodstock ) tried to arrange for Bob McArdle to have a drink with Dave. Whilst Dave agreed to this, Bob McArdle point blank refused.
So just like in the corporate world there was no love lost in the face of stiff competition.
From the outset of the establishment of National Bloodstock, Dave Phillips was destined to do things his way and on his terms, something that was to lead to division amongst breeders either loving him or loathing him and a determinant that would ultimately restrict breeding numbers to a great number of his stallion's including the highly effective Soky's Atom.
Just like in the corporate boardroom, Dave Phillips was establishing a reputation in the Standardbred breeding industry as a hard dealer or at the very least a difficult dealer.
When importing stallions from North America you do take a huge gamble as invariably the best are retained locally and we can often end up with the offcasts, good on blood but often poor on performance. And then there is the further worry over "will they work" across our existing broodmare genepool?
Amongst the many stallions that National Bloodstock imported into New Zealand were the failures, for one reason or another, such as Jiffy Boy, Jive Talk II, Apollo's Way and Rashad but equally where there are failures there are also successes with the likes of Soky's Atom, New York Motoring, Butler BG, Chiola Hanover and perhaps even the under-rated and moderately successful Devil's Adversary.
The likes of Soky's Atom and Chiola Hanover could be argued as having a defining impact on the advance of the New Zealand standardbred as a breed.
Through this period Dave was so immersed in Standardbred genetics and pedigrees that all 32 of his National Bloodstock broodmare band fitted into either his "A" grade team of mares, "B" grade team or his "G" grade team of mares.
When Studmaster Patric O'Brien asked Dave where the C,D,E and F grades were located he was replied to "G is for Genetics".
From a pool of 32 mares "with no breeding at all" and "certainly zero commercially" Patric mentioned that Dave worked on his theories and crosses with them to produce " a lot of good horses". Breeding for type and genetic characteristics was always important to Dave and was a major part of his success. Tight Connection, Desperate Comment and Spirit Of Zeus were three that he was extremely proud of when they were only a few days old.
I can also personally endorse these comments and sentiments of Patric O'Brien as from memory in April 2009 I think it was, I had the privilege of having a meeting with Dave at his Heartland Farm property in Pokeno and one of the things he did was take me around every one of his mares ( most with foals at foot and back in foal ) telling me what each foal was by and why he had bred the mare to the stallion and pointing out the pleasing outcomes he had achieved with each foal vindicating his initial decisions. This was Dave the perfectionist at work.
But it was not wholly about North America with his stallion choices.
The brilliant juvenile Tuapeka Knight was acquired by National Bloodstock for NZ$1 Million as a future stallion prospect but ongoing fertility issues thwarted what promised to be a stellar stallion career whilst a subsequent wave of North American stallions included Sands A Flyin and Road Machine.
National Bloodstock also imported quality mares the likes of Becalm Lobell ( granddam of I Can Doosit ), Tabella Bindy ( dam of Desperate Comment ) and perhaps the best and most influential of all on the New Zealand breed in Tabella Beth ( ancestress of Lazarus ).
The latter is now well-established as New Zealand's premier pacing Commercial maternal family.
When Dave bred Tabella Beth in 1979 she was to become one of his first horses syndicated for racing from one of the first Redvale Standardbred Syndicates that he had established prior to the founding of National Bloodstock a short time later.
And it was during her three year old season that she was to realise her trademark high sustained speed under the training care of John Butcher winning four of her last seven starts three year old starts and subsequently being sold to a USA buyer for NZ$100,000.
But Dave;s affinity with this mare was such that he was always destined to buy her back for breeding once her North American racedays were complete and so it eventuated.
With the Stock market having been on an unchecked bull run for five years from 1982 through to the latter part of 1987 and the digital world rapidly advancing and providing fingertip financial transparency, change was about to implode the economy world wide and on Black Monday 19 October 1987 all hell was to break loose, the American Stock Exchange falling over 20% in a single day.
Companies, many high flying household names, collapsed right left and centre and many businesses were to become casualties seemingly over night including National Bloodstock.
I recall some years later Geoff Small who worked at National Bloodstock at the time ( along with Aria, his wife to be, and also Peter Davis, Geoff's boss at the time ) telling me how under the cover of darkness he had to quickly move the nine horses he was training and had based at the premises, out to the sanctuary of Charlie Hadley's Pukeoware farm including horses such as Motoring Magic.
Not only did this market crash spell the end of National Bloodstock, it was to bring the curtain down on widespread syndications and also spelt the end for David Phillips as a corporate high flyer just as it did for a great deal of other "household names" in the corporate world, many of whom subsequently found themselves having to face court proceedings like David.
Life was to change for Dave as he regrouped to Heartland Farm with a smaller band of mares which he had retained and the stallions redeployed in other directions.
And some of this change I was to experience albeit from a distance.
Through my time working at Linden Park Stud in 2002 and 2003 for Graham Bell who had purchased the stallion's Sands A Flyin and Road Machine from Dave and played host to Dave's mares during breeding season ( part of the Sale conditions for these stallion's was that Dave had ongoing breeding entitlements to them ) I was able to see the tougher business side of Dave when it came to routine monthly financial settlement of his account, one meeting at the Stud resulting in Graham rejoining us for the day's work with tears rolling down his eyes and it took a lot for my old Tuakau Terrabulls Golden Oldies rugby buddy to show that level of emotion.
Resolution was not obviously attained at that meeting.
Through the period when I worked as part of the ground staff team at Geoff Small Racing Stables in his halcyon years of 2005-2008 I got to observe another side of Dave which exemplified his passion for his animals and the healing and medicinal applications of various plants and herbs. This was Dave the scientist and botanist. Often he would rock up to the stables with great bunches of willow tree leaves and other medicinal plants which he would toss into the boxes of his two racehorses Geoff was training for him, High Flyin and Mr Chin.
In April 2009 as part of my NZ Agency arrangement with one of the stallion farms I then worked for, I was to have a much closer personal encounter with Dave.
This involved a scheduled two hour mid-afternoon meeting with him at his Heartland Farm property. The two hour meeting extended to a four and a half hour visit and saw me departing in unplanned darkness.
As I drove up his long driveway I could not help but being "taken" with the little white signs prevailing saying that "Every living insect/animal deserves a life." Dave obviously also had a spiritual and philosophical side, that was in evidence.
As I sat upstairs at the balcony table outside the Attic entrance which he inhabited, he offered me a schooner of his home grown water fresh from the natural spring at Heartland along with one for himself adding the reassuring comment to our discussions that "I've been drinking this water for 20 years and it hasn't killed me yet" in glowing testimony to how good and pure it was including going into it's chemical test results.
Perhaps I treated some of his scientific discussions a little lightly as I was in deep concentration mentally telling myself not to slap and kill the mosquito that was free-feasting on the blood in my forearm.
Today, as you drive past Heartland Farm on Highway 2 there is a sign advertising that this water can be purchased. Marketing always wins out in the end.
This was a side of Dave which I was over the years becoming more familiar with, peaking one day when I picked up a copy of The New Zealand Herald and on the front page a half-page photo of a teepee village set up by alternative lifestylers in one of the paddocks at Heartland Farm.
By this time the entrepreneurial skills of David Phillips had led him to pursuing a Commercial life in St Petersburg in Russia, a port city on the Baltic Sea. Founded in 1703, appropriately by Peter The Great, St Petersburg was the Imperial capital of Russia for two centuries before becoming Petrograd in 1914 and Leningrad in 1924-91 but with the collapse of Communism Leningrad's name was returned to St Petersburg with the assistance of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also Russia's cultural centre with a population in excess of 5 million.
Rather fittingly, the statue of "The Bronze Horseman" ( aka Peter The Great ) stands proudly even today in the Senate Square in St Petersburg.
Each year Dave endeavours to return to New Zealand to take in a few months of our peak New Zealand summer ( in reality escaping the harsh Russian winter where -20 degrees is often the norm as the outside temperature in St Petersburg ) coinciding with the annual February Yearling Sales.
It was during one of these annual pilgrimages in more recent times ( when I was NZ Agent for the stallions of the NSW based Pepper Tree Farm such as Rock N Roll Heaven, Roll With Joe, Sportswriter,Always A Virgin and Aces N Sevens ) that Dave presented me with a beautiful and very professional ring binder dossier detailing each of his mares and the stallion's that he identified as being most compatible for each mare including some "outside" stallion's as well.
Each selection came with his personal justifications identifying the strength of each mating.
The aim was to put a package deal together for maximum cost benefit not only in terms of Stud Fees but also some ancillary costs. While a deal was not concluded, I was so impressed with the depths of Dave's work that I have retained this dossier to the present day.
One could write a book about David Phillips impact on the Standardbred breeding world in New Zealand and with experience he was not short of an opinion on something.
Just like stallion selection, sometimes you get it right and sometimes you can get it wrong.
One memorable one that was widely quoted at the time was when the first of the Direct Scooter invasion of stallions occurred in the 90's through the likes of In The Pocket, OK Bye, Deal Direct, Direct Flight, WRH and company in New Zealand and Stoneridge Scooter, Yankee Sensation and company in Australia.
Dave was on record as saying that Direct Scooter blood would not work with the saturation of Meadow Skipper-line mares that presided in New Zealand at that time.
But work with it, it did, and with resounding results, so much so that just about every horse bred carrying a 4x4 or 4x5 reverse-sex cross to Meadow Skipper ( as a result of a mating with In The Pocket ) was like a licence to print money.
One can only admire the courage of Dave Phillips here in coming clean and admitting publicly that he did get that one wrong proving that none of us are infallible in life's forecasts and predictions including other former great and memorable names that the name David W Phillips sits firmly alongside in shaping New Zealand's Standardbred past, present and future.
We salute you, Dave..
Premier Pedigrees was born out of Ken Mackay's passion for horse pedigrees to offer a very affordable pedigree matching service and valuable recommendations to new and existing Australian and New Zealand clients for both thoroughbred and standardbred mares.