Minutes before her flying filly, Habibi, won the prestigious $750,000 New Zealand Derby at Ellerslie on March 2, co-owner Heather Crofskey (64) was greeted with the question, “What’s it
to be – the money or the bag?”
It was a question she had heard many times before because Heather – who owns the thoroughbred with husband Peter, stepson Gavin and close friend Pam McIntyre – was formerly Heather Eggleton, the 1970s co-host of TV show It's In the Bag, alongside radio and television personality Selwyn Toogood.
“Selwyn loved horse racing and sport in general, and we always found time when touring New Zealand while making the It’s In The Bag series to sort out a few bets together,”
she recalls. “ He was a man who loved ordinary people and gave me some great words of advice. Those gems included, ’Treasure your integrity, because you'll have it only once,’ and ’TV personalities live and die by public consent. You have to be real and you must like people.’”
Heather Eggleton, as she was then, was a pioneer in a range of formats. She worked as a booking agent for National Airways Corporation (now Air New Zealand), and later became a member of the New Zealand Players acting quartet, which also included Sam Neill and Peter McKenzie, who is also a thoroughbred trainer.
She was the first actress to be professionally contracted in New Zealand and appeared in productions at Downstage in Wellington and in the cast of the Dunedin Players Theatre Trust.
Without any formal training, she made her TV debut as a presenter in a live broadcast from Dunedin of the Miss New Zealand Show. She also served as a weather presenter and continuity announcer.
She survived the transition from black and white to colour television and worked with many great broadcasters of her time, including Philip Sherry, Bill Toft, Dougal Stevenson and Marama Koea, who later became Marama Martin.
Twenty years ago, Heather married Taranaki dairy farmer Peter Crofskey. Together with his son Gavin, they milk a 180-cow herd in Lepperton, while breeding thoroughbreds has become their passion.
Over the years they have bred several successful racehorses, but it was a mare given to them by a friend which catapulted the Crofskeys to the pinnacle of success in New Zealand racing.
Heather reasoned her best chances of breeding a New Zealand Derby, and perhaps Melbourne Cup, winner was to put their broodmare, Danny Holiday, with USA-bred Cambridge stallion Ekraar.
The result was Habibi, who as a three-year-old filly has won six of her seven races – the last four in top company – for earnings of $610,000. After Habibi’s third win, and before the horse was a definite contender for the New Zealand Derby, she placed $100 on her to win with the bookmakers at odds of $41.
Those quiet bets, once shared in consultation with Selwyn, are still paying dividends for Heather.
Next month, the Crofskeys’ pride and joy is embarking on an Australian campaign and, depending on the outcome, could have a tilt at the Melbourne Cup in November.