October 12, 2002, Saturday
The Press (Christchurch)
Freeman Holmes, who died last week after a long battle with multiple sclerosis, was best known to the wider public through his association with the champion pacer Noodlum. But he made a major contribution to both horse racing codes as the third direct descendant to bear his name and make it famous in sporting circles.
His grandfather, a leading jockey, trainer, driver, and breeder became a legend in both the harness and racing codes, as fine a horseman as this country has produced. His father, also Freeman Holmes, a brother of two other famous reinsmen, Maurice and Allan, was at least their equal as a harness horseman. The third Freeman Holmes experienced his first racing successes at the age of 20 in 1945 with his own horse, Cry Baby, on the popular Hawera Easter circuit. He then changed direction, training as a woolclasser where he scored a perfect 100 in his final examination at Massey College. For some years he combined farming at Darfield and Oxford with wool and skin buying, breeding standardbreds, and, from 1949, as a racecaller.
Operating chiefly at Hutt Park near Wellington and Forbury Park near Dunedin, he was famous for the fine timing of his arrival at transport connections. "They had to hold the plane up for him once, but in all those years, he never missed a meeting -- much to the surprise of the family," recalls Holmes' son-in-law Sam Ballantyne.
In 1969 the Holmes family relocated to a mixed farm at Ellesmere, known as The Manor, and extended it into a standardbred stud. Freeman Holmes again took out his trainer's licence.
Edis Nova and Armbro Free got him away to a flying start, but it was the arrival of Noodlum in 1973 which thrust him into the headlines. The remarkable young pacer, which established unprecedented records in terms of races won (23), time records, and money earned as a two and three- year-old, was raced by Holmes in partnership with Ann Wilson, who bred the colt and named him by reversing the letters in the surname of politician Rob Muldoon whom she admired.
Typical of Holmes' unselfishness was his giving up the drive on Noodlum for most of a season to allow his uncle, Maurice, to win the national driving premiership for the 18th time in his last year as a horseman before being forced into an age-based retirement. In 1974 when Noodlum was the champion three-year-old, his half-sister, Olga Korbut, also with the Holmes stable, was the champion two- year-old.
Freeman Holmes' knowledge of bloodlines and his wide circle of friends helped get Noodlum the patronage which made him twice the champion harness stallion against fierce opposition from imported horses. Noodlum mares later left household racing names like Il Vicolo and Lyell Creek.
Holmes also took a keen interest in thoroughbreds. He successfully raced a number from the Balcairn stable of John and Karen Parsons, including Manor Lad.
In recent times the young trotter Above the Stars kept his name to the forefront as a part-owner.
Freeman Holmes was diagnosed with MS in 1982. He faced the subsequent lengthy battle with typical spirit and optimism, and the continued inspired support of his wife, Peggy.
A contemporary, Derek Jones, recalls how visiting his friend in hospital helped his his own perspective on life.
"In all those years I spoke to Freeman often but never once heard him
complain. I used to leave the hospital feeling much more grateful for my
life because Freeman was so positive about his."
© Copyright 2002 The Christchurch Press Company Limited