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Blue Ribbon day for Denise Howell

Soriana takes out the Group 3 Eulogy Stakes at Awapuni. - Photo: NZTM website
Soriana takes out the Group 3 Eulogy Stakes at Awapuni.

Photo: NZTM website

Soriana's (3f Savabeel[AUS] – Call Me Lily) win in the group three Eulogy Stakes at Awapuni in Palmerston North was a big thrill for Waikato branch NZTBA member Denise Howell for more reasons than one.

"You wait a long time to get a good horse and winning a group race is a big thrill but winning a group race in the Central Districts makes it more special as racing in the CD is where it all started for me," said the owner and breeder of the classy Savabeel filly.

"I never get nervous before a big race, but before this race I was very, very nervous. I turned down huge money for her before the Manawatu Sires last year, and if she hadn't run in the money I was beginning to think I had made a big mistake. Graeme has always been very positive about her so it was good to see her prove that."

Soriano has now won two races. She won her first start in February before running fourth in the group one Haunui Farm Diamond Stakes, and sixth in the Manawatu Sires Produce. This season she ran fourth, fresh up at Taupo, before running on in the group three Gold Trail Stakes. At her next start she ran second in a rating 65 event at Egmont before running a promising fourth in the group two Wellington Guineas. On the back of that she headed for the group one 1000 Guineas where she ran sixth, before producing a big late run to finish third in the group one Levin Stakes. Her next start was her emphatic one and a half length win in the Eulogy.

The day started out well for Denise when Duellista, a filly she bred and races, won the opening event at Awapuni and improved significantly when Soriano won.

As a young child Denise developed her passion for the races and love of horses attending race meeting with her grand parents Chum and Alice Howell.

"My parents weren't all that keen on going to the races but my grandfather had some good horses and I used to love having a day at the races with my grandmother. I was lucky enough to land a job in the Stud Book department of the Racing Conference when I left school where I worked for a few years before moving north and started working for Graeme Rogerson."

That was about 35 years ago and Denise has been a big part of the Rogerson stable ever since. During that time she has owned some good horses including the stakes winners La Bella Dama, Call Me Lily and Bella Renza, all racing in the same black colours with the light blue hoops and light blue cap that Sharda, a stakes winning open handicapper, made famous for her grandfather in the Central Districts all those years ago.

Call Me Lily (Just A Dancer – Colero) is the only one of that trio of stakes winners that Denise has raced that she bred and has bred from. She raced Colero – the dam of Call Me Lily - to win one race before she went to stud leaving two winners from five foals. Colero was a half sister to the group two Dulcie Stakes winner Kiss who went on to leave Fire House, a stakes winner in Singapore and two other stakes performers in Volkiss and Casual Kiss.

"Colero died shortly after foaling Call Me Lily, and I can still remember Sue Schick telling me what a lovely foal she was and not to worry that she was orphaned. And she has turned out to be a great broodmare as well.

Before going to stud, Call Me Lily won eight races including the listed Wagga Gold Cup and was placed in stakes company a further four times. She did most of her racing from Rogerson's Sydney stable and retired to stud in Australia visiting En Costa de Lago (AUS) and Fusaichi Pegasus (USA), before returning to New Zealand in foal in 2005.

Her first foal was Lilies who won two races in Sydney. The foal she was carrying when she came back to New Zealand was Affairoftheheart who is part-owned by Denise and races out of Rogerson's stable. She is a winner of six races and was placed second in the listed Karaka Classic at Counties in 2011.

Call Me Lily was then amongst the first mares to visit Savabeel, who had been bred by Denise's boss Graeme Rogerson in partnership with Glenlogan Stud. He then went on to win three races including the group one W S Cox Plate as a three-year-old, before retiring to stud at Waikato Stud. ThatSavabeel foal was Sukab, a full-brother to Soriano and the winner of three races in Sydney.

Denise then sent Call Me Lily to another first season sire, Duelled (AUS) [Redoute's Choice –Leica Pretender] whom she part-owns with Rogerson and stands at stud at Paxton Park. That foal is Savana From Havana who is a placed maiden in Rogerson's stable.

The following year it was back to Savabeel, but she missed then returned again to produce Soriano.

"She has been back to Savabeel four times since she produced Soriano. The next colt was sold for $65,000 earlier this year and is with Robbie Heathcote I believe, and her yearling colt will most likely go to the Sydney Easter yearling sale in Trelawney's draft.

"She missed to Savabeel last year, and has been served by him again this year – fingers crossed she is in foal. However we do have Affairoftheheart in foal to Savabeel so will at least be producing a three-quarter relation to Soriano.

Denise is reluctant to say how many mares she owns but it's a few and most of them are in foal to Duelled.

"I have to support him but I am not very good at selling my horses so end up racing quite a few. It was great that Duellista won on the same day as Soriano though and that helped make it a very special day."

Denise was not on hand to witness Soriano's win. Indifferent health keeps her away from the races these days and it's fair to say she was not Trackside's biggest fan when they didn't show any of the after race celebrations or presentation, but she remains quite philosophical about the industry she has worked in for nearly forty years and loves with a passion.

"I have been extremely lucky to have been able to work in the industry that I love. I came north all those years ago with a friend. We were on our way to do our 'OE'. She introduced me to Graeme as he was going to get us places on a horse plane to England. She went to England and I stayed and started working in the office.

"In those days Graeme had 15 horses in work and he floated them into Te Rapa. I have been here to see Tuhikaramea develop with its own training track and incredible facilities. I have been involved in setting up the stables in Sydney and Dubai and been part of the team when we have won a Golden Slipper, a Melbourne Cup and a Cox Plate. Who could ask for more than that in a career in this game?" she enthused.

Denise has had plenty of opportunity to travel in the interim years and often visits her sister Christine who is currently managing a resort near Bodrum in Turkey. Christine has worked in some incredible places and a lot of Denise's horses have names associated with those places. She was in Italy for a number of years – hence La Bella Dama and Bella Renza, and more recently was in the Philippines where she ran a resort owned by the Soriano family.


- Michelle Saba