The New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing awards in Auckland on Sunday night had a distinctly Whanganui flavour.
Sprinter of the Year, Start Wondering, has been a labour of love for a group of horse racing fanatics led by his owners, Stephen Gudsell and his wife Jo.
The seven-year-old gelding dominated the Sprinter of the Year category receiving 50 votes on the strength of his win in the Group One Sistema Railway Stakes on New Year's Day, his narrow second in the Group One JR and N Berkett Telegraph, victory in the Group One NRM Sprint and second in the Haunui Farm Weight-for-age Classic.
Throughout his career Whanganui jockey Johnathan Parkes has been his pilot, while father and daughter training combination Evan and JJ Rayner have prepared the Eighth Wonder-Roseanbar gelding. The Rayners took over from nephew and cousin Paul Belsham who retired after doing all the early work on Start Wondering.
The classy galloper was also bred in Whanganui by Ian (Fish) Hadfield.
It all began when Stephen Gudsell and dairy farmer mate Shaun O'Leary of Who Shot Thebarman fame went to the Karaka Sales six years ago.
"We went to look at a Zabeel-Diamond Lover colt hoping we could broker a share from whoever bought him," Gudsell recalled.
"Sir Patrick Hogan passed him in and we asked if we could buy a 10 percent share each, which we did. The horse went to John Wheeler to prepare and he told us we could geld him and have a bit of fun, or leave him as a colt and stand him at stud after racing and still have a good time.
"He was Eighth Wonder and he only had one race. Sir Patrick allowed us to stand him at stud, but did say 'don't stuff it up'.
"We stood him at Jeff Bliss' place in Taranaki and his first season he covered seven mares we managed to get together, including Ian Hadfield's Roseanbar. She was out of Assessarose, a mare he bought off Harvey Green. Five mares foaled and the progeny included Start Wondering and Diamantine who started off from John Wheeler's stable. He was a handy sort who won a race on the Gold Coast just the other day."
And even Diamantine has a Whanganui connection being out a mare bred by Chris Turner of Veandercross fame.
Eighth Wonder unfortunately succumbed to a bout of colic after serving just four seasons.
"There are still a few promising sorts to get the races, but Start Wondering is the best by far at this stage. It was very humbling and an awesome feeling to win Sprinter of the Year with him, especially with the massive Whanganui connection the horse has," Gudsell said.