A very humble Chris Rutten was recently awarded the John A Higgs Award at the Annual General Meeting of the Wellington Branch of the NZTBA.
“It was completely unexpected, but awesome to win,” according to a delighted Rutten when discussing the award a few days after the announcement.
“It was great to get recognised for the work we do here at Cavallo. A lot of my clients have won the award over the years, and there were a few of them to help us celebrate. It was a nice surprise.”
Rutten is probably best known as the part-owner of Vespa the winner of the 2012 Karaka Million and now standing at Wellfield Lodge in the Manawatu, and this year’s dual group one winning two-year-old Yourdeel.
But he has a history in the industry that dates back 30 years when he and his wife Donna established Cavallo Agistment Centre in Te Horo, which has provided the grounding for dozens of racehorses.
Along with the John A Higgs Award the Wellington branch also presented awards to their Horse of The Year, Broodmare of The Year and Breeding Excellence Awards. There was a tie for Horse of The Year with the award being shared by Yourdeel part-owned by Chris Rutten, and Danzdanzdance part-owned by Laurie Wooton.
The Broodmare of the Year title went to Kumari, the dam of the group three winner Semari, owned by Lib Petanga’s JML Bloodstock, and he also received a Breeding Excellence Award for Semari, Kaonic and Frosted Gold. Breeding Excellence Awards were also presented to Luigi Muollo for Vin de Dance, and Graeme Hunt for He Kin Fly.
The John A Higgs Award is given in recognition of an overall contribution to thoroughbred breeding and racing in the Wellington region.
According to the citation prepared by the Wellington branch, Rutten was given the award to recognise his remarkable horsemanship and his ability as an outstanding judge of a thoroughbred. Rutten doesn’t purchase huge amounts of yearlings compared to some of the larger buyers at Karaka yet he has consistently featured as an owner of either winners or place getters in the Karaka million dollar races.
Along with his business partner and good friend John Norwood, his first runner was Touche who ran third to Ruud Awakening in the 2013 Karaka Million 2YO. A year later they improved on that winning Karaka Million 2YO with Vespa.
His next success was in 2016 when Kingsman ran third in the Karaka Million 2YO and the following year Scott Base took out the Karaka Million 3YO. This year Yourdeel ran third equal in the Karaka Million 2YO before going on to take out the two prestigious group one two-year-old events the Sistema Stakes and the Sires’ Produce. He is now with new owners in Hong Kong.
Rutten a Kapiti Coast local grew up with horses and competed as an equestrian from a very young age, he was a very accomplished horseman competing at the highest level. He was involved in breaking in and preparing young equestrian horses for sale before he drifted into thoroughbreds.
“It was John Norwood who helped me make that transition and he suggested we buy land set up Cavallo Agistment Centre, around 30 years ago,” said Rutten.
“I have worked with horses every day of my life and I guess you get an eye for it. My wife Donna works with me as well we are all hands on and have three staff members the award is a great acknowledgement for them as well.”
Unlike a lot of agistment centres Cavallo caters for thoroughbreds at all levels. They have mares and foals, yearlings, breakers, racehorse agistment and pre-training, re-education programmes everything associated with thoroughbreds. And it was Rutten’s fine reputation with horses that resulted in his involvement with the Lord of The Rings Triology.
“I got rung up out of the blue,” he recalled, “they were looking for someone to train the horses that was close enough to their studio in Wellington and set locations around the Hutt Valley and Wellington region.
“There were a lot of horses required which had to be trained, and as well as the horses I had to train the actors, clean the costumes, source the riders and wranglers. It was a pretty full on operation.”
Rutten even rode himself as a dark rider in the movies, and with the production taking over three years thoroughbreds were put aside.
“After Lord of the Rings I was able to buy John out, and it was about the time he moved to Taupo so it worked in well,” he said.
“That was about the time John said let’s race a few and he persuaded me we should buy horses to target for the Karaka Million races and I guess our record speaks for itself.
“It’s such an exciting time, and we love going up there with friends and family we have a ball and we know how to celebrate even if we don’t win. Until that time, I used to buy horses and get them up to trail stage and sell them on, I don’t have to do that so much now.
“I bought two colts at Karaka this year and we hope to back at the races in January again next year. The Bull Point (ex Dollhouse) has already won a trial, he is with Jamie Richards, and we also have a Contributer colt (ex Speeding) which is working along nicely here.”
With Vespa standing at stud the Rutten’s have ventured into the breeding game and purchased a few mares to support him. Rutten is impressed with his foals and is looking forward to his two-year-olds hitting the tracks this season. - Michelle Saba