February 20, 2023 National Trotguide
HE became famous all around the world through the feats of the mightiest of them all, the great Cardigan Bay.
So the light harness world was in mourning this week following the passing of legendary New Zealand horseman Peter Wolfenden.
Regarded as one of the greatest drivers ever to grace the tracks of New Zealand, Wolfenden passed after a brief illness at the age of 88.
Wolfenden won a remarkable 14 New Zealand drivers’ premierships as well as Inter Dominions, New Zealand and Auckland Cups and for three decades had no peer as a driver.
“He was phenomenal,” says New Zealand’s most successful-ever reinsman Tony Herlihy.
“When I started driving, Wolfie was the best and would have been the best anywhere.
“He was a great, great driver. Very fair out on the track but you knew there was something different about him. Something special.”
The winner of 1762 races driving in New Zealand, back when there was often only one meeting a week, Wolfenden was quietly spoken but respected worldwide.
For all his talent, recognised with an MBE, it is his association with Down Under’s greatest pacer Cardigan Bay, the first standardbred in the world to win $1million, that made him a household name.
“Dad was on the Ed Sullivan show with Cardigan Bay in the 1960s, he used to be on the front page of the [New Zealand] Herald often,” says son Glen.
“As kids when we grew up it was normal to us, but he was famous in racing all over the world.
“He didn’t talk about it much and he rarely discussed the great horses like Cardy, but we knew everything about them because everybody else talked about them.
“But when he did talk about them ,Cardigan Bay aside, the one horse he loved talking about was Armalight (the 1981 NZ Cup winner), who he said was a great mare.
“Dad was a wonderful trainer; he had a great eye for detail and keeping the horses healthy but when we started training together he pulled back from the driving a bit.”
Peter and Glen still trained successfully with standout pacers like Victor Supreme and Agua Caliente, while Wolfenden’s other son Ross is a hugely successful driver in North America, having driven more than 7500 winners.
Wolfenden, who is also survived by wife Lois and his daughter Julie, was rarely seen at race tracks in the past two decades, many of his former mates and rivals having long since retired.
His death is the latest in a series of New Zealand racing legends to have died in the last year, with his long-time mate Roy Purdon passing away last February while thoroughbred training legend Colin Jillings died in December and champion breeder Sir Patrick Hogan in January.
Wolfenden will be laid to rest this week after a private family service.
- Courtesy Harness Racing New Zealand (Michael Guerin).