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Grass roots origin of NZ Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes

There must be something special in Te Aroha's water, because the region's support for fillies' and mares' racing has been exceptional. The NZTBA's Fillies And Mares Scheme was the brainchild of Te Aroha Jockey Club stalwart Ron Ladd, and it was that club which launched the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes 35 years ago. Like several other successful industry innovations, these were both established outside New Zealand's national racing bodies.

As Brian O'Flaherty recounted in the March 1971 edition of the excellent (and always worth re-reading) New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Bulletin, the Breeders' Stakes was "conceived and executed at grass-roots level."

It began when the Te Aroha Jockey Club secretary Don Hancock came up with the idea for a fillies and mares race over one mile, with a generous stake boosted by free services to 16 leading sires, determined by their performance at the National Yearling Sale.

The Club supported the idea with prizemoney of $9,000 - $102,000 in 2005 dollars – and studmasters from all around New Zealand donated services worth $15,250 (= almost $175,000 today).

At a function two days before the race on 27 February 1971, a draw matched each stallion with one of the 16 starters. The result? Owners happy with their free services and studs happy with the possibility of one of the country's best mares, or a suitable replacement, visiting their stallions.

The stallion service scheme later evolved into an auction, then a tender scheme, and finally a sponsorship arrangement as the race grew steadily more prestigious, being given Group Two status in 1980, and becoming a Group One event four years ago. Today, the Te Aroha club, NZTBA Waikato branch, sponsor New Zealand Bloodstock and Waikato studs work together to present the country's only Group One weight-for-age race for fillies and mares, and a raceday that's famous for its fun and country hospitality.

The field for that first New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes race set a very high standard. It was won by three-year-old filly Breathalyser, bred by Frank Wilson, trained by Alan Kaye for owners Bob Calkin and Trevor de Cleene, and ridden by John Riordan. Arthur Fell's brilliant filly Ajasco was second, ahead of New Zealand Oaks winner Devante, the previous season's champion juvenile Rich Return and the very good mare Topsy, who won the race in 1972. The also-rans included Susan Jane, Artifice , Brookby Hill and Beatnik.
As it turned out, none of the 16 runners used the services awarded them, although at least three became distinguished broodmares. Ajasco founded her own line of wonderful fillies: G1 Silver Liner, G1 Petrava, G1 Hoeberg, G3 Concert, G3 Touch of Silver and SW Superjet. Devante became the dam of G1 Trappings and SW Record Breaker. And Artifice left two fine stakes-winning daughters, Myra May, and Joyarty, herself the dam of 1989 Melbourne Cup winner Tawriffic.

The 2006 renewal of the $120,000 New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Stakes 1600m G1, sponsored by New Zealand Bloodstock, will be run at Te Aroha this Saturday, 8 April.

- Susan Archer