MAROOFITY, 2003 NZTBA Waikato Cathay Pacific Horse of the Year
No-one seems to remember when the NZTBA Waikato's first Group One dinner was held but former branch committee member David Benjamin thinks it was probably 1979 or 1980.
I remember attending my first one in 1983 or 1984 and, like many other people, thinking "One day I want to be up there getting a Group One breeder's award." There's no doubt the event inspires people to breed thoroughbreds, investing millions of dollars in the Waikato region in their pursuit of a dream.
Of course, it's also a highly enjoyable social occasion at which the strong bonds of friendship within the Waikato thoroughbred community are always very evident. This year's Group One dinner, held on Friday evening at the Quality Inn, Hamilton, was one of the best, with a good-humoured, festive atmosphere, despite the lower-than-usual number of Group One wins on the branch tally for the season. Masters of ceremonies Adrian Clark & Mike Kneebone exerted just the right amount of control over proceedings, balancing the belly laughs with appropriate acknowledgement of the award winners.
The NZTBA Waikato branch committee is a group of energetic and talented people whose lives are busy enough without voluntary service to their industry. New president Vicki Pascoe and her team deserve warm congratulations for this year's effort, on the back of more than two decades of hard work by dozens of former committee members. Branch secretary Justine Sclater received the MCs' award of a toy telephone to replace the one she joked was worn out through over-use.
Credit must also go to the two major sponsors of the evening, Mills Reef Winery and Restaurant and Cathay Pacific, supported by forty other sponsors, many of whom provided items for the popular Silent Auction. Ford New Zealand, unable to be part of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing awards dinner while it's sponsored by a rival car maker, now presents the Ford Champion Two-Year-Old award at the NZTBA Waikato evening.
I'm one of those odd people who really enjoy speeches at award presentations and there were some memorable moments from both formal and informal award recipients at this year's Waikato dinner. John Todd caught his wife Jacqui completely by surprise by saying that after their well-fed holiday in Ireland she looked much better popping out of her dress than he did bursting out of his suit. The Todds were honoured as the breeders of Maroofity.
John Goodman quietly recounted the ups and downs of the 31 years of work he and his wife Shirley have put into a single female family that has produced several very fine performers, including Group One winner The Filbert and now the New Zealand Oaks G1 winner Bramble Rose.
Justine Sclater accepted the Group One award for ARC Second Stakes Cup winner Deebee Belle on behalf of breeders Don and Noelene Bell who also bred and raced G1 winner Eva Grace from the same family. And if you're wondering what the Second Century Stakes Cup is, it's the registered race name for the event run at Ellerslie in March this year as the Asian Racing Federation Stakes.
Yet another distinguished private breeder Bill Punch accepted a Group One award for Wellington Cup winner Oarsman, and modestly failed to mention that almost 20 years ago he'd collected ten of them for a horse called Bonecrusher.
Chequers Stud's Jim Campin mused on the mysteries of genetics as he described how completely different G1 winner Zirna is from her older full-sister Ruby Turner. However, Jim's sustained success as a breeder must involve more than a few lucky falls of the genetic dice: he's the breeder of 12 Australasian Group One winners over the past 22 years.
Just-retired NZTBA councillor and general manager of The Oaks, Rick Williams picked up a toy hard hat for his sometimes frustrated efforts to advance New Zealand racing and quoted a Chinese proverb: "If you don't change direction you'll end up where you're going."
Most emotional recipient was David Benjamin who accepted one of Fayette Park's three Group One awards (for Bodie, Elevenses and Hail) and dedicated it to his wife Masey before tears got the better of him.
Fayette Park is one of two Waikato-based finalists for this year's Mercedes Breeder of the Year award, to be announced on 8 August. The other is Garry Chittick who paid a generous tribute to the Benjamins and also accepted an award for Critic, noting that she'd started in Group One company against the advice of trainers Colin Jillings and Richard Yuill.
Fayette Park is also the home of one of the two stallions represented by two Waikato-bred Group One winners this season. Stark South is the sire of Bodie and Hail, and Cambridge Stud's Zabeel claims St Reims and Shower of Roses.
Thankfully, dirty jokes aren't as frequent as they used to be at industry dinners which may account for the impact that trainer Mark Walker's deadpan delivery of a tale featuring an ostrich and a miserly cat had on the audience. Mark was reportedly a little worried that he'd stepped over the mark until Maroofity's 87-year-old part-owner Mrs Boyd assured him she'd laughed along with everyone else.
The joke was at the expense of trainer Andrew Scott, winner of the inaugural Media Appreciation award made by Trackside.
Two significant long-term contributors to the well-being of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry were recognised with special awards. The founder of the NZTBA's Fillies And Mares Incentive Scheme and passionate supporter of Racing Te Aroha Ron Ladd received the Quiet Achiever Award sponsored by FLAIR (For Ladies Advancing the Interests of Racing) and was greeted by the evening's only standing ovation.
Former NZTBA national and Waikato branch president John Aubrey was named Mills Reef Winery Personality of the Year – a title that doesn't convey the extent of John's three decades of dedicated service to the industry, especially in the area of bloodstock taxation.
By the high standards of the Waikato region it was a relatively modest year of 14 Group One winners, only three of them in Australia. By way of comparison, members of the NSW division of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia (with about the same number of members as NZTBA Waikato) have bred 21 Group One winners in 2002-03.
However, there's every reason to be confident that among Friday evening's 256 guests were people whose dreams of breeding Group One winners have been given fresh encouragement. Enough, perhaps, to buy the mares or pay the service fees that will make the dreams come true.
Believe me, it does happen.
2002-03 Group One winners bred by members of the NZTBA Waikato branch:
ARC Auckland Cup
Fayette Park Stud Ltd, Tirau
WRC New Zealand Oaks
John & Shirley Goodman, Hamilton
Levin RC Bayer Classic
Garry Chittick, Waikato Stud
ARC Second Century S.
Don & Noeline Bell, Matamata
WRC Marlboro Mile
Fayette Park Stud Ltd, Tirau
ARC Galaxy S.
Fayette Park Stud Ltd, Tirau
MRC Manawatu Sires Produce S.
ARC Ellerslie Sires' Produce S.
John & Jacqui Todd, Darley Park, Cambridge
WRC Wellington Cup
Bill Punch, Te Kuiti
MRC Invitation S.
Trelawney Stud Ltd, Cambridge
SHOWER OF ROSES
STC Storm Queen S.
Malcolm Glenn, Matthew & Elizabeth Oram
ARC New Zealand Derby
Sir Patrick & Lady Hogan, Cambridge Stud, Cambridge
AJC The Metropolitan
Grande Vue Lodge Syndicate, Matamata
Racing Te Aroha NZ Thoroughbred Breeders' S.
Jim Campin, Chequers Stud, Cambridge
- Susan Archer