As a young man back in 2005 while still in his twenties, the first horse Daniel Nakhle selected on his own was a Shinko King weanling filly that he named Irish Colleen.
She went on to win seven races including the Gr. 2 Avondale JC Concorde Handicap, as a broodmare she acquitted herself just as well, and she is now the granddam of unbeaten three-year-old Crocetti.
On Saturday at Ruakaka, the son of the recently deceased stallion Zacinto made an emphatic statement with a runaway win in the Gr. 3 Cambridge Stud Northland Breeders’ Stakes, taking his record to three from three. The TAB reacted by elevating Crocetti to equal $4 favouritism for the Gr. 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas alongside Tokyo Tycoon, who is not expected to start in the Riccarton classic.
“I am still getting goosebumps thinking about his win last Saturday,” owner-breeder Daniel Nakhle told RaceForm on Monday, and explained how it all began with that life-changing weanling purchase.
“Irish Colleen was the first horse I ever bought on my own. I wandered down to the weanling sales when Fayette Park were having their dispersal sale.
“I still remember seeing her for the first time. She was basically this little weanling that I took a liking to, and I thought ‘I am going to back myself here’, and fortunately I backed the right horse.”
Nakhle certainly did, besides being a stakes winner herself she produced two Group Three winners in Crosshaven and Killarney and all five foals to race were successful, including Crocetti’s dam Gracehill.
While Irish Colleen may have been the first horse that Nakhle bought off his own bat, she wasn’t the first he owned. His father Elias, who emigrated to New Zealand from Lebanon in the late 1960s, was a keen punter and racing follower, a passion he passed on to his son even though he had had nothing to do with a horse.
When the younger Nakhle was 11 years old, the family moved to a property in Mill Road, Manurewa, which at the time was very much a rural location. His equine interest was piqued by a mare and foal in a neighbouring paddock and before he knew it, he had fallen in love with them.
“In the school holidays I would climb through the fence and scratch and play with them,” he recalled, “so when I was asked what I wanted for my 12th birthday, I asked for the foal.
“I got my first letter from NZTR then advising me I couldn’t be the registered owner of a horse at 12. My official start with NZTR didn’t start so well but she ended up being a winner, so it was a good result.”
Fast forward more than three decades and Nakhle, now a successful businessman, is fully entrenched in the industry. As well as being a punter, owner and breeder, he served as a director on the Auckland Racing Club board before it morphed into Auckland Thoroughbred Racing. He also established the Karaka training centre Byerley Park, and more recently the New Zealand Equine Academy.
When asked about his racing industry involvement and contributions, Nakhle said it was the people in the industry that make it special and compelled you to be part of it.
“A lot of my close friends have been made through racing,” he said. “It’s a game that certainly gives you a few knocks now and again, and you’ve got to have fortitude to hang in there, but it’s the people around you that help.
“That’s part of the philosophy of the Equine Academy as well. If there is one thing that we breed better than horses it’s our people, and we want to help a little bit on that pathway.”
Crocetti is trained at Byerley Park by Danny Walker and Arron Tata, while adjacent to the training facility is the Chesterfields property where Nakhle keeps his 20-odd broodmares and young stock.
“I enjoy the racing side but certainly enjoy breeding as well,” he said. “I bought a couple of shares in Proisir when he arrived, and I bred a horse called Destination who won a couple here before being sold to Hong Kong. I went a bit crazy and bought a few more shares, so Irish Colleen, Gracehill and her daughter Rionach are all visiting Proisir this year.
“Chesterfields is managed by Kenny Best, and before him it was Carol Walker, who was really instrumental in my breeding successes. She kept telling me I needed to keep upgrading my mares and a lot of the recent success is testament to her earlier advice.”
And it was Walker’s advice that made Nakhle persevere with Crocetti after he had returned from the breakers with unfavourable reports.
“Carol always liked him,” he recalled, “she suggested we get Arron to ride him and see what he felt as he always has a good feel for a horse. Danny said he would take him if Arron liked what he felt. So Arron rode him, the rest is history and now he’s not for sale.”
Nahkle believes that what Entain’s new-found involvement has done for the industry is a real adrenaline shot. Now there is less need to on-sell good horses, they can be retained and compete for good money, which in turn improves domestic racing and gets more people enthused in the game.
“I was really appreciative of the fact that NZTR actually passed on the funding increases and that it was done in one season,” he enthused.
“Stakes are up 30 per cent, so in effect everyone has had a pay rise of 30 per cent – as long as you are winning. That’s a big step in the right direction.”
And where can we next see Crocetti on his path to Riccarton for the 2000 Guineas?
“Danny knows best what to do with the horse, I wouldn’t profess to interfere,” says Nakhle. “We are meeting later this week and Danny will throw his plans at me.
“The horse tells Arron, Arron tells Danny, Danny tells me and I just nod. It’s a very good system.”