Empire Rose’s trainer Laurie Laxon dies at 75

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Empire Rose (inside) narrowly defeats Natski in the 1988 Melbourne Cup for trainer Laurie Laxon.
Empire Rose (inside) narrowly defeats Natski in the 1988 Melbourne Cup for trainer Laurie Laxon. © Bruno Cannatelli / NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

New Zealand Hall of Fame thoroughbred trainer Laurie Laxon, whose horses won a Melbourne Cup and earned him multiple Singapore training premierships, has died at the age of 75.

Laxon had lived in retirement in the Coromandel seaside town of Whitianga since returning from Singapore in 2017, the year after his induction to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame. He died in his sleep.

He had ruled supreme in Singapore training ranks after relocating there in 1999, claiming nine premierships and becoming the first to win 100 races in a season, and the first (and still only) trainer to reach 1000 wins at Kranji on the way to a full tally in excess of 1250.

Laxon was born into racing as a member of a family involved since New Zealand’s earliest European settlement years. Growing up north of Hamilton, as a teenager he became an amateur rider and in his final race day ride he won the Duke of Gloucester Cup.

After completing a carpentry apprenticeship, he was drawn fully into racing when he established a stable near Ngaruawahia. From there he first made his mark with the 1974 Great Northern Hurdle winner Cobland, who he owned with his late wife Jenny, before establishing his credentials as the trainer of major flat performers.

A big part of that early success was the association Laxon built with the brothers Philip and Peter Vela, leading to their joint maiden Group One success with the Sir Tristram filly Noble Heights in the 1981 New Zealand 1000 Guineas.

Sir Tristram was also the source of the Laxon-trained, Vela-owned and bred Romanee Conti, winner of the 1993 Hong Kong International Cup, and dam of Ethereal, who was trained by Laxon’s second wife Sheila to win the 2001 Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

Laurie Laxon at Karaka in 2017.
Laurie Laxon at Karaka in 2017. © Trish Dunell / NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

Sir Tristram also sired the Vela-owned and bred Riverina Charm, a four-time Group One winner on either side of the Tasman under Laxon’s training, while for owner-breeder Fred Bodle Laxon prepared the giant Sir Tristram mare Empire Rose to win the 1988 Melbourne Cup.

“Laurie was an outstanding trainer and horseman who was particularly skilled with fillies and mares,” said close friend and near neighbour, New Zealand Bloodstock Chairman Joe Walls.

“When Laurie went to Singapore he remained staunchly loyal to the New Zealand-bred and much of his success there was down to the horses he sourced from New Zealand,” Walls said.

Laurie Laxon, pictured in Singapore in 2008.
Laurie Laxon, pictured in Singapore in 2008. © Bruno Cannatelli / NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

Another to pay tribute to Laxon was highly respected former trainer Bruce Marsh, who developed a close friendship as a fellow Kiwi expat in Singapore.

“Laurie was the instigator of me going up to Singapore,” said Marsh, who is now retired in Cambridge. “He was an immense help to every New Zealand and Australian expat who went up there – myself, Mark Walker, Cliffy Brown, Michael Freedman, all of us.

“He went out of his way to show us the ins and outs, and he was always there if you needed any help.

“Obviously Laurie was a top-notch trainer, he will always be remembered for his huge success back home, in Australia and up in Singapore.”

Laxon is survived by his sons Craig, Roger and John, and daughter Lucy.

New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing

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