Congratulations - Helen Pope

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Monday 02 Jun 2014 5:00a.m.


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Mrs Helen Henrietta Pope, Ashburton, for services to harness racing

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Helen-Pope-Large.jpg Helen Pope continued a grand family tradition on the race track and created one off it by being elected to the Addington Hall of Fame.

Helen is the daughter of Bill Doyle a famous horseman in his own right in the history of the trotting horse in New Zealand as his father had been before him.

Helen is one of three daughters who have carried the Doyle flag with pride and achievement in the years since their father passed on.

Denise, wife of Denis Nyhan and a pioneer herself in early races open to women drivers and Lyn Smith have both had success with trotters at the highest level though not quite at the peak Helen reached with “Call Me Now” a champion trotter she raced in the 1990’s.

The Doyle girls have continued to breed from their father’s bloodlines, often in partnership. Currently two of those descendants, tough veteran “Some Direction” trained by Lyn and her son Justin and “With Intent” owned by Denise and Denis have maintained the tradition.

However Helen’s biggest contribution to harness racing has been in the administrative role. When elected president of the Ashburton Trotting Club she narrowly missed being the first woman to be elected to any such position, but was the first to be in such a position for a major club.

Helen continued in that role for some years and then stepped up to the Board of Harness Racing New Zealand where she was the first female member.

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Helen Pope - MNZM


By Matt Markham


Helen Pope had thought her days of receiving accolades for 40 years of service to harness racing were over, but the industry that she has loved for so long, had one more surprise in store for its unofficial First Lady.


Mrs Pope was named as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to harness racing when the Queen’s Birthday Honours for this year were announced over the weekend.


It’s a fitting title for someone who has been an industry stalwart from very early on in her life and even if she might believe there are others more deserving than her of the title, there are few, if any, you could find who would begrudge her the honour.

“It was the last thing I ever expected,’’ Mrs Pope said.


“I’ve been lucky enough to be invited into the Addington Hall of Fame and have won the Mid Canterbury Sports Personality of the Year title as well as the Robilliard Trophy which is awarded for services to sport in the area.


“So I have had a good run you could say, but to receive this in the mail was quite a shock.

“It’s something I am very proud of though.’’


Mrs Pope served on the Ashburton TC for 24 years from 1981 to 2004, the highlight being the period 1990 - 1993 when she was President. This was a noteworthy achievement as she was the first ever female President of a racing club in New Zealand.

Following on from her time with Ashburton, Mrs Pope soon after became the first female to become a member of the Board of Harness Racing New Zealand, a position she thoroughly enjoyed.


“I would have really liked to have been able to do another term on the board of Harness Racing New Zealand, but it wasn’t to be which was a shame.’’


One of the three daughters of legendary horseman W D (Bill) Doyle, Mrs Pope was only ever destined for a life in harness racing and it began from a very young age.


“Dad was always asking us to take on a challenge.


“It was as though we were his three sons and not his three daughters, there was never anything we shouldn’t have tried and that set the platform.


“He also taught us a great work ethic I believe.’’


While her name might not be as prominent as on the racing side of the coin as her sisters, Denise Nyhan (wife of Denis) and current licence holder Lyn Smith, Mrs Pope can lay claim to having claimed success at all levels of the industry. In 1995 she claimed her greatest achievement as an owner when Call Me Now won the Inter Dominion Series in Christchurch.


Although not as heavily involved nowdays, Mrs Pope does take a lot of enjoyment from watching her father’s wonderful breed continue to do the job on the track and she is also the ambassador for the Ashburton Trotting Club – where it all began.


“It’s a role I really enjoy, I get to walk around at the race meeting and speak with a meet people who I have never met before and take them for something to eat and drink.


“It’s a nice way to be still involved, as I have loved this industry for almost all of my life so I’m not keen to stop yet.’’


Published: Tuesday, June 3

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This is a well deserved award not only for her work with harness racing.  Helen and her hsband Mick have done a lot of unheralded work to help and support people in the local community.  Either one would have been a worthy recipeint. 

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