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Xcellent wins second Horse of the Year title

The 16th New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards, sponsored for the sixth time by Mercedes, attracted around 450 guests to the Ellerslie Convention Centre, Auckland on Friday evening.

2006 Mercedes Horse of the Year XCELLENT (Pentire-Excelo), bred in Hawke's Bay by the Graeme Gimblett Family Trust
PHOTO: NZ Thoroughbred Marketing
It was an enjoyable, if not spectacular night, culminating in the announcement of Xcellent as Horse of the Year for the second consecutive time. He joins Show Gate, Rough Habit and Sunline as the only multiple winners of the award since its establishment in 1974.

Xcellent is the highest-rated New Zealand-based horse in the Older Horses category of the 2005-06 ANZ Classifications, with 116, sixth-equal with El Segundo, Fields Of Omagh and Railings. However, for the fourth year running, and only the sixth time in 20 years, New Zealand's Horse of the Year has not won at Group One level in Australia.

Xcellent's brilliant performances at Hastings last spring and his third placing in the Melbourne Cup were also enough to win him the Weight-For-Age & Stayer titles.

The most talked-about award of the night was for Champion Three-Year-Old, won by Darci Brahma (Danehill-Grand Echezeaux) whose 2000 Guineas win, weight-for-age form and Australian Guineas placing behind Apache Cat headed off Wahid's New Zealand Derby & Levin Classic victories and Seachange's unbeaten season. The result was in agreement with the New Zealand Three-Year-Old Free Handicap which gave Darci Brahma 61 kg, 2.5 kg above Wahid, and 4 kg above Seachange up to 1600 metres, and 1 kg above the 60 kg Wahid received beyond that distance. The ANZ Classifications supported these rankings, placing Darci Brahma on 108, Wahid on 103 and Seachange on 98. Darci Brahma was bred and is part-owned by Peter & Philip Vela.

Winners' speeches are always a feature of the Mercedes Awards or, as Garry Chittick put it, "It's my night, so listen to me." Many of this year's recipients expressed an entertaining mix of heartfelt emotion, candour and humour as they accepted the 2006 awards:

Mark Chittick thought the prospect of Waikato Stud's Flying Floozie taking out her third consecutive New Zealand Broodmare of the Year title improved after his wife Lisa was caught speeding on Friday morning. Flying Floozie (Pompeii Court-Lucky Heiress), dam of champion milerStarcraft, joined Eight Carat and Songline as three-time winners of the NZTBA's oldest award.

Sir Patrick Hogan of Cambridge Stud proudly accepted Zabeel's eleventh consecutive Dewar Stallion Trophy award, noting that he, his sire Sir Tristram and Danehill are the southern hemisphere's three leading sires of Group One winners. Sir Patrick also paid tribute to Winston Peters as "the first genuine Minister for Racing we've had."

Windsor Park Stud's Nelson Schick accepted Volksraad's fifth consecutive Grosvenor Award as champion New Zealand sire, a remarkable achievement for a horse that began his stud career at a fee of $2500. Five titles places him alongside the famous Koatanui Stud sire Absurd, who also won five premierships between 1922 and 1927.

Dunstan Trainer of the Year Mark Walker took a little prodding by MC Andre Neill to come up with a personal highlight to match Darci Brahma's 2000 Guineas victory last season, but eventually mentioned the birth of his first child in July, which meant he now had "one broodmare and one foal at foot."

Owner Micaela Murray said that racing New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year Shikoba, bred by her parents Suzanne & Stuart Murray, had been like "having Christmas Day for eight months".

Popular Media award winner Dennis Ryan acknowledged the influence of his mentor Frank Wilson and the value of his grass-roots experience as an owner and trainer.

Lance O'Sullivan, in his second year as a trainer after a stellar career in the saddle, was humble about accepting the Dunstan Newcomer to Training award, noting that he'd stepped into the shoes previously filled by his brother Paul and father David. "I started with a big advantage and a lot of very nice people to train for." Garry Chittick accepted his third Breeder of the Year award and gave a brief insight into his method. "At the start of the season I write down where all the mares are going, and fifty per cent of them are changed but I won't tell you which fifty per cent!"

He later received the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Racing, and gave the longest speech of the evening. He reviewed his career as a breeder, beginning with a tax situation that encouraged him to keep an extra piece of land, and an hour-long conversation with Wrightson Bloodstock's Michael Floyd who told him not to get involved. Undeterred, Garry and his wife Mary bought half of the old Santa Rosa property and established Thornton Park Stud. Quoted subsequent stud success Whiskey Road, he bought the "forgettable" Super Gray instead, but kept going to until fortune found him. "Our ounce of luck was Centaine and without him we wouldn't be anywhere." Garry has also been president of the Manawatu Racing Club, and was chairman of the New Zealand Racing Industry Board during a period when it attempted major industry reform.

Ann Browne
accepted the Owner of the Year award for herself and her late husband Ken. She said, "This is the surprise of my life. I try to support the jumping but I like winning any race, to be honest. Racing is based on hope and I always hope. And I've got runners in four races tomorrow!" (Ann won the Stolichnaya Steeples with Fair King.)

Davina Waddell, trainer of Champion Jumper Just The Man, thanked his breeder Merv Blood who had given her the horse as a foal with his dam. (There had been media comment about the absence of Oakbank and Warrnambool victor Real Tonic from the finalists for this title. The addition of Australian race record data to the information package sent to voters would be a sensible improvement to the voting procedure. Real Tonic's response came on the racetrack next day, when he won a stirring battle in the ARC Great Northern Steeplechase.)

Trainer Mike Moroney said how lucky Champion Two-Year-Old Jokers Wild is to still be a colt. "We had a round table discussion without [brother and buyer of the horse] Paul after he failed at Te Rapa, and he won next up at Matamata." Jokers Wild (Black Minnaloushe-Miss Rory) was bred at Te Mania Thoroughbreds, Canterbury by Jo Wilding, in partnership with Messrs C. W. Wong & B.T. Hoong.

David Ellis, syndicate manager for Darci Brahma, said it was a "dream come true" to race a horse that has been named champion at two and three, and acknowledged the contribution of breeders Peter & Philip Vela, and Pencarrow Stud manager Leon Casey.

The full list of Mercedes NZ Thoroughbred Racing Award winners for 2006 is:

Dewar Stallion Trophy ZABEEL
Dunstan Newcomer to Training LANCE O'SULLIVAN
Dunstan Trainer MARK WALKER
New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year SHIKOBA
Apprentice Jockey KELLY MYERS
Grosvenor Stallion VOLKSRAAD
Champion Jumper JUST THE MAN
Champion Sprinter-Miler GEE I JANE
Champion Two-Year-Old JOKERS WILD
Champion Three-Year-Old DARCI BRAHMA
Champion WFA Performer XCELLENT
Champion Stayer XCELLENT
Outstanding Contribution to Racing GARRY CHITTICK

- Susan Archer


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