Whanganui has a very diverse business community that creates jobs and economic wealth.

While we are all familiar with the higher-profile businesses and business owners in the district, there is an industry that is mostly out of sight and out of mind which has had a big impact on our local economy this year.

At 5 every morning, while the rest of us are all tucked up in our beds, the local men and women of the horse racing industry are out exercising their thoroughbreds.

And they have just experienced a phenomenal racing season - possibly the most successful yet. Huge stakes have been won and a lot of this money gets spent here in our community, in one form or another.

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While many of you may think horse racing is the sport of kings, queens, sheiks and wealthy industrialists, that could not be further from the truth.

The sport might include a lot of world-renowned figures, but horse racing people are generally the salt of the earth and usually come from very ordinary backgrounds.

They struggle and toil for most of their lives, often working seven days a week, in the hope of finding a champion horse that will give them fame and fortune - and very rarely does that ever happen. Most just work hard, grinding out the racing season in the hope of keeping their head above water and simply having enough money to pay the bills.

That said, we have certainly had our fair share of champions and top-class performers here in Whanganui.

Some that come to mind are Kiwi, the 1983 Melbourne Cup winner, owned and trained by Waverley's Snow Lupton; Veandercross, the Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year in 1992-93, owned and trained by local schoolteacher Chris Turner; Wotan, the 1936 Melbourne Cup winner, owned by the Smith brothers; Hypnotize, who won the Great Northern Steeples on three occasions, owned and trained by Raymond Connors at Whangaehu; Satisfy, winner of the 1987 New Zealand Derby, owned and trained by the Nicoloff brothers; and last, but not least, champion broodmare Eulogy, whose bloodlines have left dozens of Derby and Oaks winners.

This racing season the accolades for our local horses and racing identities have continued.

Start Wondering, trained by Evan and JJ Rayner and owned by local farmers the Gudsells, took out the Sprinter of the Year award and has now won more than half-a-million dollars in stakes.

Start Wondering was bred by local man Ian "Fish" Hadfield who has had plenty of success over the years.

The O'Leary brothers have their claim to fame with Who Shot Thebarman racing in recent Melbourne Cups, probably the most prestigious staying race in the world.

Just recently, Wise Men Say, trained by Raymond Connors, who co-owns the horse with his father Mark, took out the Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie. The horse was ridden by Waverley horseman Isaac Lupton.

On top of all that, Turakina trainer Kevin Myers finished second in the trainers' premiership with 82 winners and more than $1.4 million in stakes. Kevin was also the top jumps trainer in New Zealand by a country mile.

Other local trainers; Nigel Auret, Wayne Marshment, Bill Thurlow, Jaimee-Lee Lupton and ARA Fieldes also had several winners this season.

Jockey Johnathan Parkes was fifth on the jockeys' premiership, winning races worth $1.7 million, and Lisa Allpress, New Zealand's top jockey last season, also had a great year, despite time riding overseas and time off for injuries, she still won races worth $1 million this season.

While they may be well known around horse racing circles, most of these people are not known around the district, yet they help keep Whanganui prospering, create jobs for our youth and deserve every success for the huge risks they take.

Adding to the excitement of these identities are dozens of local racing syndicates with hundreds of members who put in as little as $100 a month to race a lot of our local horses.

The roof of the Whanganui grandstand was nearly raised when Hundyamonth won a race in March - the horse is raced by the St John's Club Racing Syndicate No 1 and it sounded like every one of the dozens of owners was in attendance that day.

It does not matter if you have a 5 per cent or a 95 per cent share in a racehorse, when it wins you still feel like a king or a queen for the day.

May the horse be with you all this season as well.

-Steve Baron is a former apprentice jockey and a former licensed horse trainer