A 50 cent TAB punting mother was the inspiration behind Eric Buttler’s passion for racehorses which lead to him buying a stud, Napier Park, at Euroa more than 30 years ago.
The 81-year-old Buttler passed away on Melbourne Cup Day after succumbing to cancer.
With no previous background in the horse industry, Buttler’s daughter Michelle Rix said her father’s love of the equine pursuits and breeding began with his mother’s modest bets.
“My grandmother, who nickname was Tottie, loved a punt and used to put 50 cents on the horses and would love to bet,” Michelle said.
“And when she passed away, she left dad a little bit of money and he put every cent towards getting a horse and started off with a little horse called Tot’s Pride that was trained by a local trainer here in Kilmore.
“And that’s sort of how he started.”
After being beaten on debut by 10 lengths, Tot’s Pride (True Statement x Starthos) came out at out at her next start at Bendigo and demolished the rivals by eight lengths at odds of $26. She won another race but ran second eight times and had one third.
After that big win, the racing bug bit even deeper for Buttler whose passion for breeding intensified which lead him to buying the 530 acre Rangal Park Stud 31 years ago.
At was at a time when the recession was hitting business of all types extremely hard, with many being force to close their doors rather than attempting to ride out the financial firestorm.
“Rangal Park Stud was actually called Napier Park Stud back in those days and basically went into liquidation and dad went in there and happened to takeover a lot of the broodmares and foals when he purchased the stud,” Michelle said.
“From there he just started the business up.”
For a man without that equine background, Buttler read a lot, researched a lot and put a lot of time of time and effort into becoming an expert in all facets of the industry.
“He did a lot of that reading and researching to make sure he knew what he was talking about,” Michelle said.
“There was a lot of research.
“He just loved it.”
Michelle said her father had grown up in the “poor part” of Toorak, and the family home has been at Kilmore for around 40 years. Buttler’s wife, Marlene, of still lives in that home.
A steel fabricator by trade, Buttler established two businesses which he operated at the same time.
His two sons, Charlie-Albert and Brett, took over the fabrication business – Buttler Engineering at Campbellfield – about 10 years ago, while Michelle helped her father run the stud for the past couple of years.
Buttler built the factory himself in Campbellfield and then extended it when his business began to grow before buying the block next door and building another factory to lease.
“I think life is all about those little chances and opportunities that came his way,” Michelle said.
“One of the stories at his funeral was when a company went broke and they had a big overhead crane which was a big part of what he needed to set his business up.
“The crane was worth $70,000 and he got it for $15,000 and that was the kick start to the business which he needed because he needed that crane to lift the big steel beams and move things around.
“It was being in the right place at the right time. He went to the auction and he thought there would be hundreds of people and there were two people there and no one was interested in the crane so he got for $12,000 – and he has still got the receipt.”
When asked if horses or the engineering business was his passion, Michelle said it was anything that he could put his hands on because he was always a busy man.
“He had a property up at Allambie and he’d pull out tree ferns and cut up black wood and plant pine plantations and whatever he was throwing himself into, he was just a man that had a lot of go.
“Whenever there was a hard working opportunity to come his way, he’d work hard and make it his passion. He had lots of passion.”
Michelle said her father had experienced the ups and downs of horseracing, like most in the game.
But he had bred and then raced horses in many big races, including the Melbourne Cup and Blue Diamond Previews. He also bred and sold yearlings that went onto win at the ultimate Group 1 level.
He bred and raced Lady Elsie (Rainbows For Life x Princess Kingston) which was a Listed winner that raced in the 1999 Melbourne Cup.
And he also bred and raced racing Northeast Sheila (Keltrice x Jovan) who won the first two-year-old race of the 1998 season by seven lengths and then won the Blue Diamond Preview.
Keltrice was a special horse for Buttler who he raced partnership.
The entire won the Group 1 Lightning Stakes at Flemington and he later stood at Rangal Park.
Other stallions to stand at Rangal Park Stud included Palace Music (USA), sire of 12-time American Group 1 winner Cigar, Naturalism and more recently Cliff’s Edge, Danerich, Boom Time and Soul Patch.
Michelle said her father loved the breeding side of the industry probably more than the racing side of it and was always keen to get the right mix of mare and stallion.
Buttler was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma 10 years ago and doctors didn’t think he would be able to fight it off but he did and went into remission. Then about three years ago he was diagnosed with a slow moving cancer that would cause immune system issues and was told he would was never walk again.
“He didn’t like to be told what to do and got himself walking,” Michelle said.
“He got the boys to weld him up some handrails and he blew everyone’s mind that he could get himself walking on a walking frame again.
“He was going really well and then on top of the cancer, a new cancer formed, probably three weeks prior to him passing and it was a brain cancer which was really aggressive.”
Buttler was forced to sell Rangal Park Stud during the middle of last year and a dispersal sale for his stock was held this year, while his stallions found new studs.
The success of Eric’s horse pursuits, wouldn’t have been possible without his loyal Stud managers, Graham Burley who worked for Napier Park and then worked for Eric for around 15 years and then Tim Jackson took over as Manager for the next 16 years. They both lived on the property with their families.
Buttler joined Kilmore Racing Club and was elected to the club’s board and later became chairman and was recognised for his service with life membership.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marlene and their four children Charlie-Albert, Keillianne, Brett and Michelle.
Eric was a doting grandfather to his seven grandchildren, Jade, Josh, Matthew, Christopher, Larissa, Declan & Blake.
Buttler was farewelled by his family privately at Kilmore Trackside on Monday, November 15.