By Tony Potter, The Auckland Star, November 4, 1985
Waverley is a one-horse town, and that horse is called Kiwi.
Surprisingly the sign about 500m on the south side of town saying “Welcome to Waverley” doesn’t mention that it’s the home of Kiwi. If you don’t know, though, the locals in this speck on the map half way between Wanganui and Hawera will soon put you right.
Like Bruce Andrew, who took over the Waverley Hotel a couple of weeks before Kiwi won the 1983 Melbourne Cup: “We are always keen to tell visitors that this is town that gave the country Kiwi.
“It’s the prestige – they all associate themselves with Kiwi, we call it Kiwi loyalty.”
Or Val Bradley, who runs a TAB sub-agency in the corner of her main street dairy: “We have noticed that passers-by come in and they call it Kiwi's town.
“People come in for a cup of tea and they know it’s only a little place, but they also know Kiwi is the star here.”
And just a day or two away from the eight-year-old’s second tilt at the cup (he was denied a go last year thanks to an Australian vet) the name Kiwi is on everyone’s lips.
Sandra Harvey, in Harvey’s Book Store (“Kiwi will win”) is the goddaughter of Anne Lupton, the horse’s part-owner.
“I had all the clippings from his win in 1983 and I wanted to put them up on the shop windows this time. But when he didn’t run in ’84 I didn’t think there was going to be another year so I gave them back to Anne.”
In the town’s two pubs (the Clarendon is immediately opposite the Waverley) there are pictures of the local hero above the bars. And in the Waipipi bar of the Clarendon a poem castigates Victorian racing officialdom that did not allow Kiwi a fair crack of the whip last year.
It isn’t Tennyson by any means, but at least it’s better than the terrible dirge Wanganui radio has been playing all week (“Kiwi from Waverley”).
The last verse of the pub poem:
Our victory is moral
It will last down through the years,
And never will be forgotten
Those “sportsmen” and their fears.
The town that loves Kiwi is small (population 1275) and like many farming communities is close-knit.
Owen Savage, president of the 25-member Waverley Chamber of Commerce, says business hasn’t been brisk lately. “It’s a good farming community, but of course it all depends how long the farmers keep going. If Kiwi wins, well the hotels will do OK for a couple of months.”
The punters in Waverley will do their bit to send Kiwi out as a favourite on the New Zealand TAB but Savage adds with a smile: “With the record that he has I think there must be a fair bit of support for him over in Australia too, don’t you?”
Ross Dallison, who the locals refer to as “The Mayor” but is, in fact, the town council chairman, says Waverley is “a very close community and we rely completely on the country people.”
There’s a sawmill, which employs about 50 people, a trucking firm with 20, and asparagus is a growth industry. But it’s mainly a farming area, and one of the local farmers is Ewan Lupton, better known as Snow.
Along with farming .340ha, which includes a spread his son Warwick, farms, Snow Lupton trains race horses, most notably the staying star, Kiwi.
A quiet, softly-spoken and utterly natural man, Lupton, 65, doesn’t go in for all the ballyhoo and hoop-la associated with such big-time racing as Flemington during cup carnival.
The Luptons try to avoid much of the publicity involved in racing such a charismatic horse. As Anne Lupton has said of their champion: “He’s a racehorse, not a film star.”
But they do show off Kiwi when asked by the locals. After his dramatic last-to-first win, Kiwi was taken to the local school where children could pat and photograph him (the big gelding stands at 16 hands, but has a supremely equable temperament).
Ross Dallison remembers when a group of 37 people from the Dalby rugby club in Queensland were in Waverley. Some locals took them to the Lupton farm.
Kiwi was paraded in his bright red Melbourne Cup cover. Dallison: “They were rapt. They all wanted their picture taken with him, and Snow let them walk him around. Now if you had a horse like that would you let them do that?” Then, as the horse quietly munched at grass on the lawn, the Luptons laid on a couple of cases of beer for the Dalby tourists.
At the local Lions Club monthly meeting Ian Cunningham, one of the social officers, is announcing a function for Cup day “which is Guy Fawkes night and we hope it will go with a bang, just like Kiwi will.” Later Cunningham recalls that his son, Tim, had to do a school project on Kiwi. “He had everything but a picture, so he went out there and Snow put the cover on the horse, got a replica of the cup out, did everything for him.
“One evening he rang the kid – this is a 10-year-old, mind – and asked ‘Can you get up before 6 o’clock?’
“Tim said yes, and the next morning Snow arrived at the front door with Kiwi in the float, and took him down to the racetrack to watch him gallop and get more pictures.”
Kiwi doesn’t always work out on the Waverley track. More often than not Snow climbs on the horse as the sun is just peeping over the horizon and gallops him on the farm. The day we are there ducks take off from the lake, pheasants cackle in the still air and mist lies in the dips as Lupton takes his famous horse on a 10km ride around the property.
At one stage, with dogs yapping around his feet, Kiwi herds cattle from one paddock to another. The next day it might be sheep. Kiwi is clearly more than just a racehorse.
After hosing him down and turning him out into a paddock, Lupton speaks of this year’s cup (“It’s a big assignment”), the horse’s temperament (“If he plays up at all it’s in the birdcage, at the stalls he walks in like a lamb”) and the media madness in Melbourne (“They are incredible over there, it’s amazing”).
And that this year’s $1 million Foster’s Melbourne Cup will probably be his last race in Australia. “It would be very doubtful if he would ever go for another campaign there.”
Meanwhile, back in the township cup fever mounts. Groups are organizing parties and barbecues to coincide with the running of the race, sweeps galore are being drawn up.
If, or rather as Waverley people put it “When”, Kiwi wins they will expect another glut of phone calls from the Australian media wanting reaction. One they will probably call is Bruce Andrew at the Waverley, who remembers when he was offered the pub in 1983.
“The broker told me ‘We have a hotel for sale in Waverley’. I said ‘Where the hell is Waverley?’
“You can’t say that any more – the horse has changed that.”
Reproduced with permission of the author. Kiwi went on to finish fifth in the 1985 Melbourne Cup. He died in 1995 and is buried on the Lupton farm, though Snow Lupton passed away in 2004. Waverley is still a speck on the map halfway between Wanganui and Hawera.