Sunline celebrated at NZTBA Tribute Dinner

"Why don't we do this more often?" was the general verdict at the end of the Sunline Tribute Dinner at Sky City, Auckland on Saturday evening. Traditional Kiwi reticence about celebration was firmly set aside for a night as three hundred people gathered to toast New Zealand's queen of the turf.

The evening was presented by the innovative and hard-working Auckland branch of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. Branch president Michelle Saba, says "It was an absolutely fantastic night, it was so heart-warming to have three hundred people all wanting to celebrate and honour Sunline. The atmosphere was amazing, the audience really contributed to the event and I thank them for that."

Master of Ceremonies Des Coppins, aided by George Simon, interviewed the members of "Sunline's team", all of whom had stories to tell about her and the impact she's had on their lives. Co-breeder Michael Martin told how it took three phone calls before Trevor agreed to lease the Desert Sun filly, sight unseen. Susan Archer described Sunline's descent from the taproot mare Miss Kate and her father's dream that they would breed another great racehorse from the family that had produced Phar Lap. Ngaire Fraser, who reared Sunline at her property near Cambridge, remembered the mare's third dam Honey Carlyle grazing with her own famous broodmare Kind Regards, the "KR" of the brand Sunline carries.

Colin Curnow recounted Sunline's early days in the stable and her first serious track gallop. Strapper Claire Bird listed the injuries the mare has inflicted on her (a broken hand and nose, two black eyes and a badly bitten finger), and the pressures of constant public attention during Sunline's campaigns.

Part-owner Helen Lusty conveyed the national pride inspired by Sunline's international performances, especially her gallant third in Dubai, and Thayne Green named his most memorable races as her second Cox Plate, the Hong Kong Mile and the 2002 Doncaster Handicap. Co-trainer Stephen McKee agreed with Susan Archer's choice of the Hong Kong Mile as Sunline's most memorable performance, while senior part-owner and co-trainer Trevor said simply "All of them" when asked for his pick.

Fellow Cox Plate trainers Frank Ritchie (Bonecrusher, 1st 1986, 3rd 1988) and Colin Jillings (The Phantom Chance, 1st 1993; McGinty, 3rd 1983; Tycoon Lil, 3rd 1998) paid generous tributes to Sunline but understandably ducked the matter of comparisons. Bonecrusher and Sunline over 2000 metres would have been a fascinating contest, the great front-runner against the great finisher, and McGinty would surely have tested the mare over a mile!

A video presentation of many of Sunline's major performances highlighted the length and consistency of her career at the highest level. The sight of the big mare, out in front or on the pace, time after time defying outstanding opponents to catch her, drew cheers of fresh admiration and delight from those attending the dinner. A video interview with jockey Greg Childs and high praise from Melbourne racecallers Bryan Martin (Radio Sport 927) and Greg Miles (Sky Television) completed an uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable occasion.

An auction of Sunline memorabilia and seven stallion nominations raised funds for the NZTBA Auckland International Management Scholarship. Michelle Saba comments "The support from the studs and New Zealand Bloodstock Insurance was overwhelming. To be able to offer such prestigious nominations was a pleasure and I am delighted with the prices they fetched. We now have a good capital base of around $80,000 to fund our scholarship in the years ahead."

And although champions are, by definition, few and far between, the New Zealand thoroughbred industry isn't short of wonderful horses and performances to celebrate. What about a dinner to honour New Zealand-bred winners of the Cox Plate or the Melbourne Cup?
- Susan Archer