Inter Dominion Hall of Fame
Tony Abell

Kotare Knight
Kotare Knight

Tony Abell - principal of Kotare Downs
Tony Abell - principal of Kotare Downs

Tony and Gay Abell
Tony and Gay Abell with IDHRC Chairman, Robert Marshall, at the presentation of Tony’s Ern Manea Inter Dominion Gold Medal

Tony Abell New Zealand Order of Merit
On the morning of his investiture for the New Zealand Order of Merit. (from right), Tony and his wife, Gay, daughter and son-in-law, Marcia and Warren Kaler, and grand-daughter Rachel Kaler.
Tony Abell


During the 2005 series held in Auckland, Tony Abell received the Ern Manea Inter Dominion Gold Medal for his service and contributions over a long period of time to the championship. Following Dewar Robertshaw and Jack Phillips, he became the third New Zealander so honoured.

That same year, Tony Abell was a thoroughly-deserving recipient of the New Zealand Order of Merit, bestowed on him in Queen's Birthday honours.

For more than half a century actively involved in harness racing - most of that time giving dedicated service to the sport he has loved - Tony Abell must rank high amongst the harness code's top administrators of all time.

Advancing in the sport from the ground up, Abell, originally a chicken farmer at Yaldhurst, near Christchurch, first registered his North Canterbury farming company – Kotare Downs Ltd. - in 1954. He and wife Gay bought their first horse, a broodmare, in 1967. That marked the genesis of what became Kotare Downs Stud, formed in 1969 after the purchase of 40 hectares at Fernside (33 kilometres from Christchurch). There, over the years that followed, they stood several stallions, including Brad Hanover, Bay Foyle, Dominion Hanover, Estes Minbar and Kotare Legend.

Their first “quality” racehorse was Kotare Scott, who after finishing second in the NZ Derby of his year was sold to America. In all, the Abells bred more than 100 winners, headed by Kotare Legend. This son of Fallacy and Australian-bred mare Silver Halo (whose outstanding half-brother Don't Retreat finished third in the 1976 Inter Dominion Grand Final in Adelaide) was champion 3-year-old of his year (1973-74), when his nine wins took him to open class. Runner-up to Robalan in the 1974 New Zealand Cup, he was an Inter Dominion Grand Finalist – albeit unplaced – in Auckland in 1975, then became a successful sire.

Other good horses bred by the Abells included Kotare Knight (a Ballarat Cup and Inter Dominion heat winner and later a successful sire in Australia, where his credits include Tasmanian standout Halyer). There was also Kotare Topaz (Victorian Silver Chalice winner) and Kotare Testament, the latter catching Mark Purdon's interest after showing exceptional promise.

It is common knowledge within the harness racing fraternity of New Zealand that the flourishing NZ Standardbred Breeders' Association might never have got off the ground but for the foresight, initiative and energy shown in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Abell and his close associate Peter Binnie, also of Canterbury. In the face of some stern opposition from die-hards who resisted their efforts to establish an appropriate body to govern the blossoming breeding industry around those years, Abell and Binnie eventually won the day.

Abell's close links with the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club were begun almost 40 years ago. In the first half of that time he served diligently as a steward and committeeman, while he subsequently became vice-president for five years, then, from 1994, president for five years.

Serving as “the Met's” representative on the NZ Sires Stakes Board (of which he was chairman from 1984 to 1993) he brought a wealth of experience to that organisation, which appreciatively recognised and worked with all that he had to offer.

For good measure, he contributed extensively and valuably to the Canterbury Owners and Trainers' Association, of which he is the esteemed patron. He received the Needham Heatley Merit Award for services to harness racing, and he is a past chairman of Rangiora Rotary Club.

His worth was recognised at top level when, after being appointed the New Zealand delegate to the Inter Dominion Council in 1995, and serving as its Treasurer to 1997, he was elected vice-president, and was then its president from 2000 to 2005.

In 2005 Queen's Birthday honours he was bestowed with the coveted National Award for Harness Racing Contribution Excellence, and was inducted into the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club's Hall of Fame in 2011.

Among Tony Abell's many and varied accomplishments, his proposal of the registration of stud prefixes was accepted and registered by the NZ Harness Racing Conference.

Following a visit to the USA, he lobbied successfully for the registration and training in New Zealand of artificial insemination technicians.

In association with Mr John May (then promotions manager of the Auckland Trotting Club) he co-authored the initial conditions for a group racing structure in New Zealand, which was later adopted, almost without amendment, by various Australian States. He wrote the conditions for the first NZ Sires Stakes Series, using the New York Sires Stakes constitution as a model, and was similarly responsible for the conditions of the 3-year-old Fillies' Series. Using the successful fillies format as a base, he proposed the re-formation of the Triple Crown Series, which was adopted.

During Abell's involvement in the Inter Dominion Council, several notable innovations and changes took place. The clubs running the Inter Dominions were given much greater flexibility in programming and were encouraged to introduce new ideas. Most importantly, he was a key figure in the negotiations which resulted in all the clubs involved in the Inter Dominions signing up for a funding agreement to ensure the long-term stake-money for the pacing and trotting championships would be maintained at the highest possible level.

In contrast to their parents, Tony and Gay’s two children have established their horizons beyond the standardbred industry. Daughter Marcia is a home education practitioner (in Wellington), and son Rhodes has business interests in South Africa. Both have three children, who give grandparents Tony and Gay many happy moments to share.

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