Four Hawke's Bay people got to celebrate success at the 2020 New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards even though they were unable to attend last Sunday's event in Auckland, which was run under virtual conditions due to Covid-19.
Waipukurau couple Trevor and Debbie Walters own a 10 per cent share in Melody Belle, who not only took out the top sprinter-miler and top middle-distance categories but also retained the title of New Zealand Horse of the Year that she won last year.
Her stablemate Cool Aza Beel, who Hastings woman Christel Jager owns a 2.5 per cent share in, was a unanimous choice as Two-Year-Old of the Year while Hastings-born Shaun Fannin was named Jumps Jockey of the Year.
Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards was the sole contender for Trainer of the Year and stable rider Opie Bosson was named Jockey of the Year. Richards and Bosson were the leading Group 1 performers in Australasia for the season.
Te Akau Shark was runner-up to stablemate Melody Belle in the sprinter/miler category and Probabeel was runner-up to Catalyst in the 3-year-old category. Te Akau also secured the media award, with Julia-Rose Hayes the winner.
Melody Belle shared the limelight on Sunday night with veteran Palmerston North trainer Kevin Gray, who received the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Racing Award.
Gray, 83, still runs a successful stable and finished 12th on the New Zealand premiership last season. He was the second leading trainer in the Central Districts in terms of wins.
Gray did not take up training till he was 43 but has won more than 1000 races and has had Group 1 victories on both sides of the Tasman. He has also been a prominent owner, breeder and administrator.
He is renowned for his work with apprentices and has educated and mentored a host of successful riders, among them Lisa Allpress, Hayden Tinsley, Kim Clapperton, Bruce Herd and Damon Smith.
"I'm very thrilled and grateful to get this award," Gray said.
"I've been with dogs, sheep, cattle and horses since I could walk and have had contact with many people, good tutors and great owners right from when I first started in Taranaki.
"I've always said to my staff that hard work will never hurt you and I've had so many good people and staff work for me.
"I pride myself that I've never had to advertise for anyone to come and work for me and the staff I have had are a source of great pride to me.
"I can also say, without my wife Kathleen I wouldn't be where I am today."
Five horses received votes for Horse of the Year, but Melody Belle was a runaway winner, receiving 90 per cent of the 60 votes cast.
The 5-year-old mare had an outstanding season, with four wins – all at Group 1 level – and five placings from 10 attempts, earning almost $2 million in stakes.
She was a Group 1 winner at the Melbourne spring carnival and became the first horse to win all three legs of the Hawke's Bay Triple Crown.
The Hastings series has been a target for New Zealand's premier weight-for-age horses since 1999 and tests a horse's class, consistency and versatility, with the races run over 1400m, 1600m and 2040m.
Melody Belle recorded her 10th Group 1 victory when successful in the Empire Rose Stakes in Melbourne and has already added another in the new season. She has now matched Rough Habit in terms of Group 1 wins and needs two more to equal Sunline's tally.
She will start favourite for today's $250,000 Livamol Classic (2040m) at Hastings, which was one of her four Group 1 victories last season.
In addition to her wins last term, Melody Belle was runner-up in the Mackinnon Stakes, third in the Futurity Stakes and All-Star Mile and a luckless fourth in the Doncaster Mile.
The Horse of the Year award was introduced in 1971 and Melody Belle is the ninth horse to win the title more than once. Sunline took the title four times, with Show Gate, Rough Habit, Xcellent, Seachange, Mufhasa, Mongolian Khan and Bonneval the other dual winners.
Melody Belle, a $57,500 yearling buy for Te Akau principal David Ellis, is raced by a Fortuna syndicate and has had 16 wins from 33 career starts and earned $3.67 million in stakes. Waipukurau's Trevor and Debbie Walters are the biggest shareholders in the syndicate.
"It's a big thrill with a fantastic mare and it's just so great to be associated with her," syndicate manager John Galvin said.
"There are 34 individuals who have a share, 33 from New Zealand and one from Australia."
There were no surprises in the HOY awards voting and the smallest winning margin was the 19-vote majority recorded by Catalyst in the three-year-old category.
There was considerable depth in the 3-year-old division and five horses received votes, but Catalyst's outstanding domestic campaign earned him the title.
Catalyst was unbeaten in five starts in New Zealand, including the Group 1 Two Thousand Guineas, and won each race by more than two lengths. He had two starts in Australia, finishing a close second to top Australian 3-year-old Alligator Blood at his first attempt and had an excuse when failing in the Australian Guineas.
Cool Aza Beel was one of three finalists for the title of Champion Two-year-old and was a unanimous winner, with 67 votes. The Savabeel colt had six starts last season for four wins and a second, his victories including the Listed Karaka Million (1200m) and Group 1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie.
Jamie Richards, in just his second season in sole charge at Te Akau's Matamata stable, had an extraordinary season. He won a record 11 Group 1 races, including three in Australia, and his 20 black-type victories included wins in the Karaka Million 2YO and 3YO. The stable headed the NZ premiership and topped $7 million in earnings for the season.
"It's a big thrill to have your name up there with some of the other legends of the training ranks," Richards said.
"To do it in your own right when you are leading a big team of horses and people is very gratifying."
Opie Bosson, who was named Jockey of the Year for the sixth time, also won 11 Group 1 races, including five in Australia, and was the leading rider at the Sydney autumn carnival.
Cambridge Stud proprietors Brendan and Jo Lindsay were named Owners of the Year.
Their racing team was headlined by Probabeel and Matamata Breeders' Stakes winner Vernazza and also included the Group performers Bavella, Not An Option, Pretty To Sea, Manchu and Familia.
Julia-Rose Hayes became a second-generation media award winner, when claiming the prize for her work for Te Akau Racing. Julia-Rose emulated her mother, Karyn Fenton-Ellis, who won the same prize in 2012.
2020 New Zealand Thoroughbred Horse of the Year Awards
New Zealand Horse of the Year: Melody Belle.
NZTR Award for Outstanding Contribution to Racing: Kevin Gray.
Champion Two-Year-Old: Cool Aza Beel.
Champion Three-Year-Old: Catalyst.
Champion Sprinter/Miler (up to 1600m): Melody Belle.
Champion Middle-Distance Horse (1601m-2200m): Melody Belle.
Champion Stayer (2201m and further): The Chosen One.
Champion Jumper: It's A Wonder.
Trainer of the Year – sponsored by Dunstan: Jamie Richards.
Jockey of the Year: Opie Bosson.
Jumps Jockey of the Year: Shaun Fannin.
Owner of the Year: Brendan and Jo Lindsay.
Stablehand of the Year– sponsored by Majestic Horse Floats: Lisa Kennedy (employed by Kevin Myers).
NZTR Award for Contribution to Media, Digital & Content: Julia-Rose Hayes (Te Akau Racing).
Trainers' Premiership: Jamie Richards.
Jockeys' Premiership: Lisa Allpress.
Apprentice Jockeys' Premiership: Kozzi Asano.
Owners premiership: Brendan & Jo Lindsay.
Newcomer to Training – sponsored by Gavelhouse.com: Chrissy Bambry.
Mehrtens delivers special win
Mehrtens added a bright spot to a tough week with an impressive victory at Hawera last Saturday.
It was the fifth win of a 20-start career for Mehrtens, who is trained by Suzy Gordon at Foxton. Gordon also shares ownership alongside John Bradley, Sharon Townshend, Pauline McGuigan and the gelding's breeders, Goodwood Stud.
Goodwood owner William Fell is married to popular jockey Rosie Myers, who is still in Wellington Hospital following a freak accident at the previous Tuesday's Foxton trials.
After winning a trial aboard an unnamed runner from the Gordon stable, Myers was dislodged when her mount veered sideways after the finish line. A rival runner then made contact with her head.
Myers was in a coma, but in a stable condition, with a small bleed on her brain and a facial fracture.
"It was a very good win and, being bred and part-owned by Goodwood, it made it a very special result," Gordon said. "It was quite an emotional afternoon for all of us.
"I hope it helps and gives a bit of a boost to William during such a difficult time. He sent me a text that said 'that was for Rosie', so that was great.
"They actually gave the horse to me, which was incredibly generous of them, they didn't have to do that. So, when he started to show a little bit of ability, I wanted to offer them a share back, and they accepted.
"He's never been the soundest horse, but they knew that we had the beach that we could train him on. It's worked out well.
Mehrtens is a full-brother to Barbaric, who carried the Goodwood Stud colours to eight wins including the Listed Levin Stakes (1200m) and Legacy Lodge Sprint (1200m). He also finished fourth in the Group 1 Telegraph Sprint (1200m) at Trentham.
Winx loses foal
Australia's darling of the turf, Winx, lost her I Am Invincible foal on Tuesday night.
"There are so many people involved in the Winx story from owners, staff past and present, to her many fans around the world," former trainer Chris Waller said in a statement.
"Our thoughts and attention at the moment are on Winx ensuring that she remains healthy, as anyone in this situation would respect.
"It is a traumatic time for a mother and those involved and Winx is now the centre of our attention following the loss of a beautiful filly.
"We wish to thank everyone for their support and understanding."
Winx won 37 races on the track, including 25 Group 1 victories, a record four Group 1 Cox Plates (2040m), and more than A$26 million in prizemoney.