Extert taken from The Park Sensations - A Story of the Napier
Park Racing Club written by Joe Lorigan.
Chapter 29 - Famous Horse! Sacred Cow?
"I would never
ride that ugly looking bloody thing!"
That was the expressed reaction of Spencer Gollan's daughter when she first saw Moifaa, New Zealands most famous steeplechaser and subject of a myth to many thousands of racegoers - a "sacred cow" to many more.
But before Spencer Gollan purchased Moifaa, he was looking him over at Alf Ellingham's property at Takapau in 1903. The horse was a huge brown gelding and appeared to have a placid nature. However while Gollan was examining him there was an earthquake. Moifaa took fright - and took off! He jumped from paddock to paddock with astonishing agility.
Gollan was so impressed with the horses leaping ability he bought him as a hunter for his daughter. Her outburst on seeing the horse was justified. He was a big, ugly animal.
Moifaa was taken to Gollans sheep run at Fernhill and was allowed to run freely, but when they wanted to catch him he would jump from one pasture to another with exasperating ease.
A frustrated Gollan told his daughter. "Right, if he is so keen to jump - that's exactly what he will have to do!"
And he entered Moifa for the 1904 Liverpool Grand National at Aintree, England. Moifaa entry was no big deal. The horse had an outstanding history of winning jumping performances with Ellingham before Gollan bought him.
Alf Ellingham had purchased Moifaa as a two year old for 50 pounds and with him won numerous hurdle and steeplechase races, including the Great Northern, Wanganui & Hawke's Bay steeplechases. (Alf Ellingham is the only owner/trainer/rider to win the NZ Grand National, Wellington, Hawke's Bay, Wanganui & Great Northern Steeplechases) so the big horses nomination for Liverpools jumping horse toture race must have been the logical conclusion to successful jumping feats in New Zealand which were ended only when he was weighted with impossible loads. But the decision to take a team of horses - including Moifaa - to England at that time, was a bold one and startled the racing world, as travelling in the early 1900's was primitive and gruelling for horses, especially in the small sailing and steam ships of the times. Many horses were mamed or killed through mishandling and shipping hazards.
The legend of Moifaa being shipwrecked, swimming ashore and then winning the Liverpool Grand National has often been disclaimed but is still deep-rooted and has "sacred cow" connotations that hide a little-known fact about his former owner, Alf Ellingham, who in his day was the best hurdle and steeplecahse jockey in NZ.