LORD ZIRITO - Versatility and Endurance

Wellington Steeplechase win 1995

Wellington Steeplechase win 1995

LORD ZIRITO – Versatility and Endurance

By Sally Blyth

By Zamazaan out of a Kiwi mare Gnapal, Lord Zirito (Lordie) has a few claims to fame. As a racehorse, he’s about as versatile as they come and he’s also had plenty of great jockeys ride him through the years. He certainly gave his owners many thrills during his racing career.

Lord Zirito came into Craig Leishman’s life, along with trainer Graeme Rogerson, via an ad in The Sunday Times and thus began an enduring and successful partnership. This was the first horse Craig took an ownership share of – and, with the glory experienced through Lord Zirito, there could be no looking back. (See article p10, Summer 2024 Owners Bulletin).

Lord Zirito won 21 races from 113 career starts and proved almost unbeatable on the heaviest of tracks. His first race was in May 1985 at Counties as a 2YO – he came 9th. After his potential future as a stallion was terminated, he went on to win his Maiden race at Ellerslie on 25th June 1986 on Heavy going at his fifth start, ridden by Gary Grylls. He followed that up with another nice win, also at Ellerslie, on 8th July – this time ridden by Tony Allan. A hat trick ensued with a 2L win at Counties on 2nd August 1986 ridden by Gary Stewart. Oh, but wait, there’s more – he made it four-in-a-row with a win at Te Rapa on 16th August, again ridden by Gary Stewart. He bounced around for a while with some placings interspersed with some also-rans, before winning again on 6th June 1987 at Ellerslie, ridden by Lance O’Sullivan. And then another win next up at Ellerslie on 24th June, again ridden by Lance. That’s six wins from 19 starts already!

Two more back-to-back wins came in August 1987, ridden by Warwick Robinson, again on Heavy going. Then, following a spell through injury, and a hiatus of wins, his next victory came at Ellerslie on 18th July 1989 over the hurdles, ridden by Toby Autridge. This turned out to be the first of another hat trick of wins! Next up was a win on the flat at Counties on 5th August (Darrel Lang) followed by another win over the hurdles at Ellerslie, with Toby back on board. But wait, he then turned that hat trick into another four-wins-in-a-row streak with a win on the flat (2100m) at Te Rapa, again ridden by Darrel Lang.  Then a ½L second at Counties before yet another win at Te Rapa on 16th September (Darrel again). This boy obviously loved being a racehorse!

A run in The Metropolitan at Randwick in October produced a 12/20 result, with Darrel going over for the ride. The Good track may not have been in his favour as Lordie had shown his best to date in heavier ground. Back in NZ, another win first up at Te Rapa (Gary Stewart). He didn’t do any good in the Rotorua Cup or the NZ Cup that year but won a listed race at Counties in May in Soft going with Peter Tims in the saddle.

In June 1991 he went to Australia, firstly to Queensland then NSW but he didn’t do much as it stopped raining wherever he ventured. Then to Victoria where he had a couple of placings over the hurdles in preparation for his Flemington debut on Melbourne Cup Day – again, a firm track.

In 1991 Craig was on course to watch Just A Dancer run in his second Melbourne Cup. Lord Zirito ran in Race 1 of the day, the Melbourne Cup Hurdle, adding another layer of pleasure to an iconic day for any owner. Ridden by Brett McDonald (James’ dad) and paying $18, Lord Zirito gave a great sight, running second most of the way, leading into the final few jumps, and ending up a close-up fifth. Few owners will get to experience such a magical day with not one but two horses to cheer to the post on the first Tuesday in November at Flemington. Pure magic!

Back on NZ soil, Lordie’s next win came on 30th May 1992 at Ellerslie when, ridden by Peter Tims, he won the Great Northern Hurdles by a mere nose. He then won the Eric Riddiford Steeplechase at Trentham on 10th July, ridden by Rick Cassidy.

Alas, he had no wins in 1994, with his next win being in May 1995 over the hurdles at Te Rapa, again with Peter Tims riding. He lost Peter at his next outing when attempting to win the Waikato Hurdles – the reliable word is that Tims jumped off when LZ clipped the second-to-last hurdle and, if he hadn’t, that trophy might have also been in the bag. However, redemption prevailed and LZ won the Great Northern Hurdles again at Ellerslie, romping away to a 6.5L win, with Peter [still] on board. All on LZ’s preferred Heavy going.

Lordie won both the Western Park Steeplechase and the Wellington Steeplechase at Trentham with Brett Scott riding, again on a Heavy track. The latter, 15th July 1995, was to be his last winning race before retirement. He won it by miles (the records show 15L) and was simply far too good for his opponents, with Brett peering back through his legs. Brett was a champion jumps jockey who went over to Australia where he rode successfully and is now a trainer.

Lord Zirito ran five more races, his last one being on 18th May 1996 – a hurdles race at Te Rapa with Peter Tims up for the final time. He ran a battling fifth and then he raced no more.

Lord Zirito amassed an impressive collection of statistics and interesting facts during his racing career. Grey Way tops the stats with 50 wins in his career (Craig watched several as a young man), but Lord Zirito’s claim to 21 wins puts him up there in the top echelon of winning NZ racehorses.


The Stats at a glance:

  • 113 starts for 21 wins, 14 seconds, 10 thirds, 10 fourths, 8 fifths and 50 unplaced.
  • 13 wins on the flat (79 starts), 3 over the steeples (10 starts) and 5 over hurdles (24 starts).
  • 20 wins in Heavy going, one on Soft and zero on Firm (using the old categories).
  • $329,224 in prize money.
  • Racing until 14, he was equal oldest to win the Wellington Steeplechase, aged 12, in 1995. (The others were Orient in 1890, Haydn in 1907, Teak in 1971 and Amanood Lad in 2017).
  • Won two Great Northern Hurdles.
  • Won 7 races between 1800-2100m (28 starts) and 7 races between 2500-7000m (34 starts).
  • 1995 Champion Jumper, Horse of the Year awards.
  • Oldest horse racing in NZ at one stage.

After some ups and downs, a fall or two (including a heart-in-the-mouth somersault at Ellerslie), and even a few last placings, Lord Zirito clocked up pleasing and consistent results over his long career. Aged 14 when he retired, he lived to be 27 years old. It’s fair to say that he was an enduring and endearing, albeit small (less than 15 hands), racehorse who clearly loved his job. How good to have a horse like this as your first foray into racehorse ownership!? If only we could all pick ‘em like that!

Lord Zirito provided his ownership crew with many joyful times between his first race in May 1985 to his final hurrah in May 1996 – that’s 11 years of fun. A standout moment for owner Craig was being able to be there in person to watch him run around Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day in 1991. Watch the video of that race here.


PHOTOS: Supplied

Wellington Steeplechase win 1995 From left – Brett Scott (jockey), Lyn Hawtin, Craig Leishman, Helen Foster, Keith Hawtin (trainer, in partnership with Graeme Rogerson at the time), Brendon Hawtin (who did the work with Lordie).

Wellington Steeplechase win 1995 From left – Brett Scott (jockey), Lyn Hawtin, Craig Leishman, Helen Foster, Keith Hawtin (trainer, in partnership with Graeme Rogerson at the time), Brendon Hawtin (who did the work with Lordie).

Footnote from Craig about how “Lordie” kept a Champion in NZ: As a youngish lawyer in the Hutt Valley, I was approached by a lovely young couple who had heard I owned a share in Lordie. They had taken a small % share, along with some friends, in a horse leased from the breeder – they had chosen well as their first horse won a couple straight off, but the breeder now wanted to sell. When an offer came knocking, the couple were distraught that their fun might end. After reviewing the lease, I was able to reassure them they couldn’t be forced to give up the horse. The end result was that the majority of the lessees bought out the owner, and the horse continued to race. That horse was none other than the awesome Rough Habit who won no less than 11 Group 1s and dominated the Brisbane winter carnivals for several years. For those of us old enough, who can forget Roughie’s incredible weaving win in the 1992 Stradbroke Handicap (if you haven’t seen it, seek it out on YouTube and prepare to be astounded!) It is nice to think Lordie had a small part in keeping that Champion in NZ hands whilst giving a lovely young couple memories they will never forget, as they tripped back and forth across the ditch collecting silverware.