Rangatira: Power, Class & Heart

Jul 11, 2024 | Uncategorized

By Track Historian Bob Gates

Every once in a while a horse comes along that possess a unique combination of qualities that separates him from the rest.  Lloyd Gray & sons’ Rangatira was a racehorse that ticked all the boxes.

He was a gelded son of Nashua who was 1955s’ Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Colt on the strength of his performances in the American Triple Crown races.  He placed second in the Kentucky Derby, and registered wins in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Rangatira found his way to the Gray family barn following his purchase at the Belmont Park sale of horses of racing age in November 1969.  The $1,600 “bargain” was snapped-up by Clayton Gray who in his prime was one of the finest judges of horseflesh that has ever been seen in these parts.

“Rangy,” as he was affectionately known, had his issues of course or it’s likely he never would have run at Assiniboia Downs.  Once home he quickly became a big-time favourite of Lorna, wife of Clayton’s brother Don.

Don trained the bay and had this to say to the Free Press’ Elman Guttormson:

“I have never trained a horse with so much heart…one who would run so well despite his injuries…  We spend more time on him in the whirlpool, rubbing his legs, bandaging them… and just plain worrying about him.”   

Don gave Lorna full credit for his on-track performances.  She did all the galloping and leg work on Nashua’s son.  Make no mistake about it, Rangatira was Lorna’s horse.  Over time she and Rangatira would develop a special bond.  Lorna couldn’t put a number on all of the horses she had during her multi-decade career, and there were a lot of good ones, but Rangy ranked as her all-time heart-horse.

So what was it about this horse that he was so deserving of this kind of praise?

Let’s start with his first ever appearance at Assiniboia Downs in May 1970.  The 5-year-old bay topped an allowance field of seven going 5-furlongs and set a track record in the process, stopping the timers’ clock at :57 & 3/5, a time by the way that was 1 & 2/5 seconds faster than the 1970 Inaugural Handicap.

 

Rangatira May 9, 1970 Track Record

Jockey “Bobbie” Dimma (yes that’s how Bob’s name appears on his birth certificate) said that he worked harder to slow Rangatira down than he usually worked trying to get others to run.  Rangatira was fast and at his best going 6-furlongs or shorter.  However, he was vulnerable when he tried going two turns.

In his next outing he equalled the 6-furlong track record besting six other competitors that included Mays Relic, Glorious Pete, Windsor Gem, Marketable, Royal Love and Ragtown Rose.  Towards the end of the 1970 season, he broke a bone in his left front foot and would have to brought back to the track slowly in 1971.

He ran well in the 1971 Inaugural Handicap going 5 ½  furlongs, but a speed dual with Max Freed’s Spanish Key proved too much.  He settled for a second-place finish following suicidal fractions of :22, and :44 & 4/5.  In early June he once again broke a bone in the same area as the previous break.

Come 1972 he equalled the 6-furlong track record for a second time.  The bay gelding had tipped his hand.  It wasn’t a matter of “if” he would break the 6-furlong mark, but when.

 

Rangatira May 12, 1972 Track Record

Rangatira, with Dimma in the irons, made history on May 20, 1973 when he bettered the 6-furlong mark by 1/5 of a second. His time for 6-panels was 1:10 & 1/5.  Up to this point the 6-furlong mark had stood for 15 years and been equalled no less that six times with Rangatira doing so twice.

 

Rangatira May 20, 1973 Track Record

Later in his career Lorna became his registered owner.  Don and Lorna were always careful not to run him too often.  He had but two starts in 1973, one in 1974, 1975 and 1976.

Rangatira was like all the good ones; he loved to train and eat.  However, he wasn’t fond of being groomed.  You may have heard people speak of some geldings or stallions as being “gentlemen.”  Well they weren’t talking about Rangy!  He was fierce to look after and not easy to gallop.  He was born to run and wasn’t going to do well in any off-track career.   He basically liked to have things his way.

 

Rangatira September 28, 1975, Last Win

He was getting on in age when Don and Lorna raced him at Penn National in the fall of 1976 and time was running out on the still powerful gelding.  In many ways, Rangy was his own worst enemy.  He ran through pain, a brick wall or whatever else got in his way, to cross the finish line.

In the end his heart demanded more of him than what his worrisome ankles could give.  Lorna said losing him was as tough as it gets in the racing business.  The 11-year-old son of Nashua had been plagued with injuries his entire career, but his ankles finally got the better of him.

While he was used to getting what he wanted, when the Grays packed to leave Penn National, Rangatira didn’t join them.

Rangatira was but one horse in a few years of Lorna’s life, but Lorna was Rangatira’s everything for most all of his.  Even though he never made it home, life had granted him one last wish.  The son of Nashua got to be a racehorse…

Until he took his last breath.