Bill Roberts with partner Jenny Butt. Photo: Butt Family.
Former Southlander Bill Roberts passed away in Christchurch Hospital over the weekend shortly after the final whistle was blown on his beloved All Blacks’ win over France at Eden Park.
He was 73 and had been in ill health for the last month after a heart operation did not go as well as hoped.
After starting as a junior driver in the late 1960s, Roberts eventually became a trainer and prepared 33 winners between 1971 and 2016.
Roberts was best known for a top pacer in the 1970s, Balgove, a son of Out To Win he bred, owned and trained to win 16 races before a sale to North America.
About 11 years ago, the hobby horseman moved to Templeton and became the partner of Jenny Butt while helping out at the Cran Dalgety stables in West Melton.
Roberts’ last training win was with Butt’s trotting mare Prestine two years ago after Tim Butt had won four with her, while he also raced the good pacing mare Kristina in recent times.
Roberts trained Kristina for her first win and Dalgety produced her to win four more races in 2011, including a heat of the Canterbury Mares Series at Ashburton in 1.55.2.
A farmer at Lawrence at the time, Roberts was a relatively young man when he had Balgove, a hot favourite for the 1977 New Zealand Cup.
The gelding had looked all over the Cup winner that year after winning the Louisson at the National meeting in August, the Hutchinson FFA at Addington in September and the Ashburton Flying Stakes, when it was run on the grass over 2600m.
He had been a star at the Cup meeting the previous year, winning the first three days before Main Adios narrowly got the better of him on the final night.
No horse had gone unbeaten through a four day/night NZ Cup meeting at that point since Cardigan Bay, although an unsound 5-year-old in Gentle George would achieve the feat in 1978 for Bill Bagrie in what were his first four races for the season.
Later that season, Balgove won the Ashburton, Wellington and Easter Cups, and later that year he would be one of five starters in the NZ Cup sired by Out To Win.
He looked home in the '77 Cup when he shot to the lead at the half for Robert Cameron, only to be collared in the run home by three very good stayers in Sole Command, Greg Robinson and Wee Win.
Cameron had run placings in the Cup with Robin Dundee (2nd in 1963 to Cardigan Bay) and a 4-year-old Young Quinn (3rd in 1973 to Arapaho), but this had looked his best chance to win one.
"I can recall Bob being so confident he actually gave up drinking for the week prior," said Roberts a few years ago.
"But Balgove got his tongue over the bit at some point. I put a tongue tie on him for the FFA, and he blitzed them (beating Greg Robinson and Stanley Rio by five lengths)," he added.
As well as his partner Jenny, Bill is survived by his three children – Peter (Perth), Wayne (London) and Melanie (Auckland).
His funeral is on Friday at Lamb and Hayward Funerals in Burnside, Christchurch, at 2pm.