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Battle HeightsThe Road From Polo Pony To Stakes Winner

By Russell Warwick.

While this might seem like a trip down memory lane, it is quite amazing how an impressive performance of a racehorse today can rekindle memories of previous eras and the outstanding performances within generations of a given family, reminding us all so vividly of the associations, acquaintances, and friendships which have been made years earlier.

The performance of the highly promising Peaceful State to win the Listed H C Nitschke at Morphettville on Saturday was that of a topliner in the making and leading conditioner Darren Weir makes no secret of the belief he has in the three-year-old son of Animal Kingdom who had been narrowly beaten in the Group 1 Australian Guineas earlier this year. Peaceful State races in the famous colours of Japanese owner Mr Katsumi Yoshida and indicated very early in his career that he was a horse heading for the top grade after finishing second to Villermont in the Sandown Guineas Gr.2 at just his third start, before running a very good second in the Group 1 Australian Guineas at Flemington in March.

You might ask where does a polo pony from the past fit into the picture?

Peaceful State is a half-brother to the champion racehorse Weekend Hussler, a prolific Group 1 winner ten years ago, but more importantly (from a New Zealand perspective) he descends from the Avondale Gold Cup winner Gold Heights (his fifth dam) and has the matriarch of the famous “Heights” family, Wuthering Heights, as his sixth dam. It may be a long way back in the pedigree, but physically there is a distinct likeness between Peaceful State and some of these high class performers of "yester-year" who emanated from this great family and it seems appropriate to remind ourselves (and introduce others) to some of the deeds and background attributed to this family.

When working at Cambridge Stud in the early to mid-eighties I was privileged enough to work closely with owners Tim and Elaine Douglas along with their son Ross and his wife Ellen. Every year the Douglas mares would come to Cambridge Stud to foal down, be re-mated, and return to their owners who were based on the outskirts of Morrinsville. It is quite amazing to think that one breeder with one broodmare (Wuthering Heights) produced some of the best horses in Australasia of that era – the likes of Battle Heights, Gold Heights, Arctic Heights, Monty, Claudine, Mapperley Heights, and Royal Heights, while the family went on to produce the topliners Sky Heights, Weekend Hussler, Lucky Hussler, Noble Heights, Allegro, Ad Alta, in the years following.

The origin of the matriarch of this family - Wuthering Heights - was quite different in comparison to where most of today’s Champion broodmares come from, and if nothing else the story of Wuthering Heights and her dynasty is certainly unique as we understand the history behind the family and the lofty ‘heights’ it has reached for near on six decades on the racetracks of New Zealand and Australia.

Tim Douglas was a man of many talents, a farmer, horseman, breeder, stockman, and heavily involved in the recreational world of polo in the Waikato. To cut a long story short Wuthering Heights began her career as a polo pony until Douglas spotted the plain 15.1.hh daughter of Avocat General at a sale to filll an order for a shipment of polo ponies destined for Malaysia. Tim Douglas purchased the mare for £50 only to find out later that she was infoal to a skewbald pony stallion and could not join the shipment to Malaysia.

On closer observation of the mare’s pedigree Tim Douglas found that Wuthering Heights descended from the imported European mare Yes and at the age of seven, he decided to send her to Rodmor Stud to be mated with Gold Sovereign, her first foal being a filly who was named Gold Heights and retained by the Douglas family.

Gold Heights, raced by the Douglas' and trained by Tim Douglas himself, proved to be a high class racemare during her career, winning on 8 occasions including the Listed ARC Islington Handicap and placed in the AJC Avondale Cup while finishing fourth in the ARC Easter Handicap. At stud Gold Heights continued to be a prominent contributor to the Heights family producing NZ 1000 Guineas winner Noble Heights (raced by Peter & Phillip Vela) and is now recognised through her daughters/granddaughters/great granddaughters as being responsible for the stakes winners Weekend Hussler, Lucky Hussler, Not On Friday, Phantom Thief, Saturday Fever, Miss Galilei, Harlem Shake, and of course the most recent of these being Peaceful State.

Like Gold Heights, the next three foals from Wuthering Heights were all stakes winners – who could ever imagine that an unwanted polo pony would go on to produce four stakes winners from her first four foals at stud. After Gold Heights, Wuthering Heights produced a full brother (by Gold Sovereign) named Monty who won ten races on the flat and over fences, winning a McGregor Grant Steeples, but he was also a talented open handicapper on the flat where he placed third in an ARC Auckland Cup during his career. The third foal Arctic Heights (Arctic Explorer) was also a stakes winner, and like Monty won on the flat and over fences but was better known for winning the ARC McGregor Grant Steeples-twice and a Waikato Steeples among his 11 career victories. 

In 1966 Wuthering Heights visited a first season sire named Battle-Waggon standing at Bill Brown’s Ancroft Stud and produced a brown colt as one of 21 foals born to the son of Never Say Die in 1967. The agreement with Mr Brown meant the colt had to be offered for sale as a weanling, and so taken was Tim Douglas with the foal, he bought the colt back for £260. Named Battle Heights, the gelding would change the lives of the Douglas family and write a new chapter in the history of the New Zealand racing and breeding industry as he became one of the all-time great horses to race both here and in Australia in the 1970’s.

Battle Heights did not start racing until the age of three and was recognised as very capable galloper across his first two seasons of racing, but it was not until age five that he started to develop into an open class stayer, and at age six Battle Heights stepped into the elite era, winning a Wellington Cup with Alwyn Tweedie aboard and then backed up winning the Trentham Stakes with Gary Willetts in the saddle. After the Wellington Cup Battle Heights won the Waikato International Stakes with Brian Andrews drawing the mount, before he ventured to Australia where he was victorious in both the Sydney Cup and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Battle Heights headed back to Australia in the spring of 1975 to win a WS Cox Plate at Moonee Valley in addition to running second to Leilani in the LKS MacKinnon Stakes and finishing an unlucky seventh in the Melbourne Cup.

Battle Heights had been a regular visitor to Australia since 1974 and returned for the last time in 1977 where he won the AJC Metropolitan Handicap and the Craven Plate, but unfortunately his racing career came to an end during this trip when he broke down in the LKS Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington at the ripe old age of ten.

While these were all outstanding victories at the highest level, one of my more vivid memories of Battle Heights was an unbelievable fresh-up performance when resuming from a spell over 1100m at Te Awamutu on the 30 July 1977 carrying 61.5kg with Roger Lang in the saddle. Settling well back early, the nine-year-old stormed home from the rear to run straight past his somewhat younger opposition and prove what an outstanding performer he truly was.

Battle Heights raced every season from age three until age ten, winning 23 of his 115 starts with $397,000 in stakes.

Following Battle Heights, Wuthering Heights returned to Battle-Waggon and produced a tall leggy filly named Claudine who was a moderate performer on the racetrack winning twice up to 11 furlongs (2200m), but it was as a broodmare that Claudine would make her contribution to the “Heights” clan, producing high class fillies Mapperley Heights and Royal Heights, and responsible for a number of quality performers through her progeny.

By Cambridge Stud super sire Sir Tristram, Mapperley Heights was raced by pools magnate and international racehorse owner Robert Sangster and after winning the Avondale Fillies Classic as a 2YO the strapping mare headed to Australia as a three-year-old where she finished second in both the VRC and AJC Oaks before winning the SAJC Derby against the colts. As a four-year-old Mapperley Heights won the Group 3 Rain Lover Plate and finished second in the Sandown Cup, third in the VRC Melbourne Cup, and third in the SAJC Adelaide Cup. 

Two years later Wuthering Heights produced a full sister to Mapperley Heights, named Royal Heights, a more refined filly than her older sister and but she possessed plenty of talent all the same, capturing the title of Champion Three-Year-Old Filly of the Year after heading up a Sir Tristram-trifecta in the NZ Oaks as well as winning the ARC Ladies Mile (now Eight Carat Classic) and ARC Royal Stakes, boasting with a total of 6 wins from her 9 outings as a 3YO.

Claudine’s second daughter Anaheim (Amalgam) was unraced but also had a claim to fame as the grand-dam of Australia’s Champion 3YO Miler Sky Heights who won a VATC Caulfield Cup, AJC Australian Derby, STC Rosehill Guineas, VATC Yalumba Stakes, AJC St Leger, VATC Sandown Classic, VRC Craiglee Stakes, VRC Turnbull Stakes, and placings in the Caulfield Cup, WS Cox Plate, VRC Derby and Underwood Stakes.

While Claudine and Gold Heights have been the main contributors to the success of Wuthering Heights through her daughters, high class performers Allegro, Ad Alta, Posing, Hear That Bell and company have been bred through remaining daughters/grand-daughters of Wuthering Heights. In total Wuthering Heights produced 13 foals across 17 years at stud, her last foal being a Marceau colt in 1981 at the age of 25 who was aptly named Final Heights but unfortunately did not race.

Darren Weir surely looks to have the next big name from the Wuthering Heights dynasty under his care and this unfurnished son of Animal Kingdom appears to be have possessed all of the family talent, while the pedigree suggests he can only get better with maturity.

Who would have thought that an unwanted thoroughbred mare born in 1956 and infoal to a skewbald pony could have created such a prolific family of high performing racehorses which is still going 60 years later.

Pictured: Battle Heights

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