"He's just one out the bag, a special type of horse."
That's how champion Rotorua part-owner, breeder and trainer Bill Pomare describes his five-year-old galloper Ocean Billy.
On Saturday the horse took out the $500,000 Auckland Cup at Ellerslie, giving Pomare his biggest thrill on the track in 30 years in the industry.
The Group One race is the biggest achievement of Pomare's career and means the horse qualifies for the prestigious Melbourne Cup in November.
It's a rags-to-riches tale for Pomare, who has in the past been open about his rough upbringing that led to homelessness then gang life as a young man.
In the decades since, he has become a respected and successful Rotorua businessman as the owner of Pomare Electrical.
He's been a service club member, survived cancer, and stood as a leader in the horse training and breeding field, clocking up 88 race wins.
Pomare told the Rotorua Daily Post from his home in Hamurana on Sunday he always knew Ocean Billy would come in top-three, helped by his good run-up to the race with a win at the Waikato Cup in December.
He described Ocean Billy as a special horse who just wouldn't stop sprinting.
"He will want to do three rounds and will still sprint away. He just wants to run and run and run."
Laidback in nature, he's also a comical horse, who nibbles at your calf and calls out to you if you've stepped away, Pomare said.
"He's just one out of the bag and a special type of horse."
Pomare said now having won a Group One race, Ocean Billy qualified for the Melbourne Cup and they would put in his nomination and take it from there.
"To have a horse in the Melbourne Cup is every horse owner and trainer's top ambition. To win it is the pinnacle."
The celebrations were continuing with family and friends at Pomare's home in Rotorua today.
He said family greeted them when they arrived back Hamurana late last night.
They went out for breakfast this morning and intended to have a few drinks later in the day.
"We won a beautiful bottle of Moet and I guess that'll get popped and my son gave me an expensive bottle of whisky a while ago which we've always said we'd open if we won a Group One race, so the cap will be coming off that now."
In Auckland after the race on Saturday, Pomare fought back the tears as he described his journey to the winner's circle on the biggest day in New Zealand racing.
"My family is here while old Pete Ludgate, his part-owner who is 90-odd, is back in Rotorua so I'm just hoping his heart handles it," he said.
"For me, a young Māori boy who came out of nowhere, who slept under bridges and in cars, to suddenly have an Auckland Cup winner is incredible.
"This is the dream race to win and to think that he [Ocean Billy] has come out of a sprinting mare is amazing.
"I have to mention Justine Sclater as we both bred him and it was her vision to go to Ocean Park, as I couldn't afford it. I also owe my wife Suzi, who rides him every day."
Pomare also paid tribute to rider Johnathan Parkes, who he said rode Ocean Billy "perfectly".
"I said to Johnathan that if he wanted to go past them, then go past them, as he had plenty there and they won't get past him in the straight.
"[Johnathan] has given us such a thrill."
Parkes described the win as a "terrific staying effort".
"[It's] great for Bill and all his connections. A super staying effort."
Not horsing around
• Ocean Billy is a son of One Cool Cat mare Cool Storm and grandson of Pomare's quality sprinter Flying Free, which won nine races including the Listed Rotorua Stakes.
• He has now won seven of his 20 starts and over $448,000 in prizemoney.
• In the Auckland Cup, the horse takes $300,000 of the $500,000 prizemoney.