Phil Butcher has driven 670 winners in New Zealand, across 35 years. Photo: Trish Dunell.
One of the north’s most accomplished drivers is hanging up his whip at the end of the month.
Phil Butcher is retiring from driving after a 35-year career that has netted 670 winners.
“I’m going to try and get a bit of a life,” the Cambridge horseman told The Informant.
“There’s a few reasons why I’m doing it. At the moment there aren’t enough drives out there; I’m committing 10 hours on a Friday to go to Auckland and it’s usually only for a couple of drives.
“Feasibly it’s not really worth it. And then on Saturday there are workouts and once you’ve finished there half the day is gone.
“I love my golf and I want to play a bit more of that - perhaps even try and qualify for a few tournaments.”
It’s been a quiet final season for Butcher – just nine winners – and he says he gets a feeling that perhaps the game has passed him by a bit.
A recent misconduct charge for an on-track verbal incident resulted in a $600 fine and that was seemingly the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I promised myself that if I ever got charged again with something I didn’t deserve, I would finish up.
There have been plenty of highlights for the 52-year-old, though.
“Winning the Noel J Taylor Mile with Abdias for dad (John Butcher) was probably my proudest moment. It was my first Group 1 and meant a lot.
“I drove two more Group 1s when I got back from overseas – another Taylor Mile with V For (2005) and a Jewels with Charlemagne (2012).
“He actually won two Jewels, Charlemagne, but the second one wasn’t a Group 1 as it was for five-year-olds that one year they did it (2013).”
Butcher left for an OE in England in 1995 and after a couple of years there moved to Australia, where he stayed until 2000.
“I honestly didn’t even think I was going to drive when I came back from overseas, but I did and it’s been a wonderful experience.
“I got to drive in an Inter Dominion Grand Final, three or four New Zealand Cups and plenty of Jewels.”
Since 2000 he has been the main stable driver for Mike Berger as well as doing a lot of driving for Geoff Small, Logan Hollis and Shane Robertson and Colin Butler.
“I’ve done a lot of driving for Mike and I’m grateful for his continued support.
“Someone said to me why don’t you just keep driving at Cambridge on occasion and I thought that’s not really fair to Mike.
“I can’t just say I’ll drive Cambridge or Auckland, he needs someone who is prepared to go to Palmy with the team too.
“You have to be 100 percent all in or not at all, that’s my philosophy.”
An extended version of this story appears in this week's Online Edition and Harnessed.