A popular and successful harness racing trainer for over 30 years, Maurice O’Leary is being remembered as a “genuine type of guy” with very high standards.
Among his achievements was training a New Zealand Cup day quinella. In the very first race on November 12 1991, O’Leary drove Jenny’s Rocket to victory, with stablemate Jenny’s Comet and Colin DeFilippi finishing second, three quarters of a length away.
Having learned his early trade with Basil Lynskey, O’Leary started training in the late 1970s. He was based at West Melton, just outside Christchurch. He trained 65 winners with his last being Cullen’s Rocket at Addington in November 2009. He also had 20 winners from 184 drives.
The two Jennys – Jenny’s Rocket (8 wins), and Jenny’s Comet (6 wins) – were among his best horses, along with Toliver Twist (8 wins), Comet Soho (10 wins in NZ and Australia) and Perfect Princess (4 wins). Many of them he raced in partnership with the late Barry Cotton, a high profile administrator and industry figure at the time.
“He always had a small team, and he bred a few,” says long-time friend Garry Thompson, “and any horse he took to the races was ready to go well.”
“His place (stables) was always immaculate.”
Thompson, a retired lawyer, had dealings with O’Leary on a professional basis and they also crossed paths through harness racing administration, O’Leary as part of the Canterbury Park Trotting Club, Thompson at the New Brighton Trotting Club.
“He was very personable,” says Thompson, “and a genuine type of guy.”
Harness racing was an interest rather than a full-time job for O’Leary.
“He worked for Government Life that became Tower and he sold life insurance and managed funds to people – even going to Chatham Islands quite regularly.”
“He retired early in the 1990s .. he was in his mid 50s.”
Originally a motor mechanic, O’Leary lived in Wellington before making the move south.
“He was a good forthright fellow who did well,” says Thompson.
O’Leary was 85. A celebration of his life was held in Christchurch on Monday.
Discussion about this post