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Harness Horse Nominee: Jack Morris

Hall of Fame
Jack Morris

The New Zealand bred gelding Jack Morris was voted Australian Pacer of the Year in 1993 and 1994 on the back of four Group One wins across the two seasons and he was voted Australian Harness Horse of the Year in 1993 - but Jack Morris was much more than just a super horse – he was the most famous pacer in Australia as controversy seemed to follow his and his trainer/driver Sean Harney.

Harney had taken a fancy to Jack Morris while on a trip to New Zealand and used his not inconsiderable powers of persuasion (aka as the gift of the gab) to convince businessman and Jeans West owner Peter Volk, who Harney had only just met, to part with $30,000 to bring Jack Morris to Perth.

Harney had gained a measure of fame in 1990 when he drove rank outsider Tarport Sox to victory in the WA Pacing Cup for trainer Colin Joss but he needed the funding of Volk to bring the horse to Perth.

Harney worked his horses hard and in Jack Morris he had a horse that could handle the workload although he was to provide Harney with plenty of headaches as he was also a wilful race-horse who just wanted to run fast.

After costing Harney dearly when he galloped hopelessly from a standing start as a heavily backed favourite Harney then settled for a mobile start at Bunbury on 9th March 1992 and, with Colin Lavin at the reins, Jack Morris won by a conservative 50 metres. He followed that with equally effortless wins as Pinjarra, Wagin and Gloucester Park.

After a spell Jack Morris resumed racing in July 1992 with Les Poyser at the reins as Harney was serving a six month suspension following a foul-driving charge.

As a one city win class horse Harney then started Jack Morris in the open class Winter Cup and impressed Gloucester Park regulars when he was a close third to The Harlem Boy and Zakara after the toughest run in the race.

Jack Morris then won his next four starts in Perth to advance to open class ranks and then left people agog when he came from last at the 400 metre mark, after copping a chequered run, to be beaten a neck by John Owen in the James Brennan Memorial.

Jack Morris then won his next three starts including the 1992 J P Stratton Cup before he lined up in the Fremantle Members Sprint on November 13th over 1700 metres. Jack Morris ran the fastest “mile” in Australia that season when he rated 1:56.5 beating Miss Bo Scott and John Owen.

The ebullient Harney was on the phone to the New South Wales Harness Racing Club the next morning demanding an invitation to the 1992 Miracle Mile at Harold Park which was scheduled for November 27th. NSWHRC Chief Executive Peter Vlandys had never heard of Jack Morris or Sean Harney so he rang the gelding’s owner Peter Volk.

Volk indicated that although Fred Kersley would probably drive Jack Morris in Sydney he felt that Harney would want to drive the horse as he was about to complete his six month suspension. Vlandys scoffed at the suggestion saying it was trying to compare a Rolls Royce (Kersley) with a Mini Minor (Harney).

Harney heard about the conversation and rang Vlandys and opened the conversation along the lines of “Hi, Mini Minor here and I will be driving the horse, take it or leave it.” The rest is history as Jack Morris was invited into the field and newspaper headlines screamed “JACK WHO?”

The Glen Tippet-trained Franco Tiger, driven by Brian Gath, surged to his third consecutive Grand Circuit victory for the season in the most open Miracle Mile on record. Franco Tiger (13-4) led throughout to win by two-and-a-half metres from Christopher Vance (3-1), with Jack Morris (8-1) five metres away third.

Franco Tiger clocked 1:56.7, leaving his opponents with no excuses, although a history-making protest by Harney on behalf of Jack Morris may have suggested otherwise.

It was the first protest in the 27-year history of the Miracle Mile, and Harney alleged interference by the winner on the first turn cost him the chance of leading, and ultimately, his chance of winning. After a hearing lasting nine minutes, the objection was dismissed.

After that controversial third, Sean Harney declared the gelding would get better and we would be hearing a lot more about Jack Morris.

At his next start after the 1992 Miracle Mile, Jack Morris led throughout to win the M H Treuer Memorial at Bankstown, beating Band Magic and Christopher Vance with Miracle Mile winner, Franco Tiger back in fifth place.

Franco Tiger and Jack Morris locked horns again when Jack Morris resumed racing with a win in a heat of the WA Pacing Cup on 22nd December 1992. Franco Tiger also won that night and was again successful five nights later when he beat a gallant Jack Morris in another WA Cup heat.

The stage was set for the WA Pacing Cup final on January 2nd 1993 and Harney exuded confidence in a pre-race interview declaring, despite drawing the outside of the field in barrier nine, that “I’m the best driver” and that he would drive Jack Morris as the best horse in the field.

Harney started the action packed Cup by crossing to lead from barrier nine then slowing the field abruptly which resulted in a couple of moves being made early and Harney being forced to increase the tempo. In so doing his created a gap in the field which enabled Brian Gath to manoeuvre Franco Tiger away from his position three back the fence and zip around the field and past Jack Morris and into the lead.

Harney bullocked Jack Morris away from the rails with a lap to travel and with 400 metres to run he moves up alongside Franco Tiger only to lose momentum as the Victorian lugged out under pressure. With Harney driving like a man possessed Jack Morris hits the front in the shadows of the post only to have victory snatched from him by the 100/1 chance The Harlem Boy which had been the last horse selected in the elite field.

Harney declared post-race that Jack Morris was the greatest certainty ever beaten in the race and vowed vengeance in the upcoming Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion.

While Jack Morris was to gain revenge, Harney would not as the heavily backed Franco Seven crossed Jack Morris at the start of the Group Two Mount Eden Sprint on 29th January 1993 and he elected to stay on the fence when there was sufficient room to get off the rail. Jack Morris went to the line climbing over the back of Franco Seven and Sean Harney received another six month suspension from the stewards.

Rod Chambers drove Jack Morris when he won his prelude of the Victoria Cup and a week later was again at the reins when Jack Morris finished second to New Zealand star Master Musician in the Group One Victoria Cup.

Jack Morris was brought back to Perth to be prepared for the 1993 Inter Dominion at Brisbane’s Albion Park track and he was pre-post favourite for the final and shortened further after a win over Warrior Khan on the opening night.

He followed that with a second to his great river Franco Tiger on the second night before cementing his place as favourite for the final with an easy win over Rustic Lad and Christopher Vance on the third night.

His price shortened from 6/4 to 4/6 when he drew gate three and despite being beaten out in the early speed battle Chambers soon had him settled outside the leader Franco Tiger before Chambers released the hand-brake with 500 metres to travel and Jack Morris cruised home six metres clear of Warrior Khan and Blossom Lady.

In a little over 15 months Jack Morris had gone from being a complete unknown and was now the best known pacer in Australasia.

He resumed racing at Gloucester Park in September 1993 with a couple of soft wins and a third placing to Zakara before Harney took him back to Brisbane for the Group One Queensland Pacing Championship where he went under to Warrior Khan by a half-head.

Jack Morris next started in the Group One Australian Pacing Championship at Moonee Valley and after downing Nicholas Branach he was the first horse invited into the 1993 Miracle Mile. Harney celebrated the invitation a week later when Jack Morris accounted for the Group Two Legends and then had to survive a double protest from the drivers of Franco Tiger and Nicholas Branach.

Harney then took Jack Morris to Hobart a week later when he easily won the Group One Tasmanian Pacing Championship before the pair headed to Sydney for the 1993 Miracle Mile on November 26th.

The 1993 Miracle Mile received unprecedented media coverage - in the press, radio and television - mainly due to the flamboyant and colourful Sean Harney.

All that pre-race publicity, plus more than 12 months hard work by NSWHRC officials, went down the drain, however, when the warning siren sounded at approximately 10.I5pm on Friday, November 26.

In one of the biggest sensations to precede a major Australasian race, Jack Morris was withdrawn only seconds before the race was scheduled to start.

Dominating betting at 4/6 after drawing barrier three, Jack Morris was scratched on the recommendation of veterinary surgeon, Dr David Evans, as the field lined up behind the mobile barrier in the back straight when blood was noticed trickling from one nostril.

Pandemonium broke out when it was announced the odds-on favourite had been scratched. It was later estimated almost $2 million wagered in bets involving Jack Morris had to be refunded.

The 1993 Miracle Mile was won in pedestrian fashion by Chokin and while it may not have packed much punch as a spectacle, it will be best remembered as the year the hot favourite was scratched at the barrier.

Owner Peter Volk was understandably furious and ordered Harney to bypass the Treuer Memorial and to take Jack Morris straight back to Perth where the gelding won a heat of the WA Pacing Cup on December 22nd 1993 at his first start for some six weeks.

Jack Morris disappointed in finishing fourth to Hilarion Star in the $400,000 final and was sent to the spelling paddock.

He didn’t race again for some 20 months and when Jack Morris next started it was in Victoria from the stables of Andrew Peace. A suspensory problem brought a premature end to the career of Jack Morris and his last 16 starts in Victoria yielded just three minor class wins and four placings.

As for Sean Harney he was diagnosed with a tumour on the spine and cancer of the oesophagus and on 29th September 1994 he died a month short of his fortieth birthday.   



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