Champion trainer farewelled in New Zealand

New Zealand racing has lost a highly-respected, successful and decorated horseman with the recent passing of Eric Ropiha.  He was 88.

Ropiha’s career spanned from 1948 to 2001 and included the 1959-60 National Trainers’ Premiership with 43 winners.

He prepared a number of top-class gallopers including 1960 Caulfield Cup winner Ilumquh (Sabaean) who was also twice placed in the Melbourne Cup.  The Ropiha trainer Fans (Fair’s Fair) finished third to Rain Lover and Fileur in the 1968 Melbourne Cup.

Ropiha’s first major success came with the 1952 New Zealand Cup winner Conclusion and other feature race victories followed with Roman Consul (New Zealand Derby), Routine (NZ Oaks), Baraboo (Railway Handicap), Baloo (Canterbury Gold Cup-twice) and Judge (Grand National Hurdles).

Honoured with an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1996, Ropiha also enjoyed a long and rewarding association with the Fell family’s Fairdale Stud.  “Eric was at the top of his game in 1965 and we chose him to train Chapel Belle, a filly we retained from the first crop of Pakistan,” Gerald Fell said.

“She became Pakistan’s first winner and Eric trained more than 250 winners for us.  He had Ajasco, who won the Stewards and the Railway Handicap, and he had her first foal Silver Liner who also won the Stewards and the Railway.

“Chapel Belle was the dam of Harp and Eric won the Hawke’s Bay Cup with her and she was beaten a whisker in the Auckland Cup and he also had Tiptoe, who won the George Adams at Trentham when it was a Group 1 race.

“Eric was an absolute master at setting a horse for a race and having it peak on the day, a great conditioner with a great instinct about horses.  He trained for some of the aristocracy of New Zealand racing – two Governor-Generals and Sir Woolf Fisher.

“Eric was self-made and was a shy, but very proud person.  He was a real gentleman, widely-respected and was always immaculately dressed, a fine fellow.

“After retirement, he became heavily involved in the show jumping world and again was well-respected and successful.”

Ropiha is survived by his son Eric jnr, a Toowoomba based trainer, and daughters Anne and Judy.

Eric Ropiha

Eric Ropiha (right) pictured in the early 1970s with (from left) Dannevirke racing identity Tom Beatson and

Fairdale Stud’s Gerald and Arthur Fell.