Horse of the Year caps big season
The 2015-16 season ended more than a week ago, but one final act sealed it for Stephen Autridge and Jamie Richards.
The occasion was the New Zealand Thoroughbred Horse of the Year Awards at the Langham Hotel in Auckland on Sunday, when the Te Akau Racing partners and horses in their care were nominated for three awards. They were up against defending champions Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman and fellow Cambridge trainer Tony Pike for the Dunstan Trainer of the Year trophy, while stable members Xtravagant and Heroic Valour were nominees for the respective two and three-year- old categories.
Stephen and Jamie claimed the trainers’ trophy in a tight vote over the Baker-Forsman combination and Xtravagant was a more clear-cut winner of his age-group title, but a stable hat-trick was foiled when Sacred Elixir beat Heroic Valour for the two-yearold award.
Still, as the saying goes, two out of three ain’t bad after a highly competitive season by New Zealand-trained horses on both sides of the Tasman. As the winners of the most races in New Zealand headed by four Group One wins, Stephen and Jamie can look back with pride on a huge season so soon after taking over at the helm of Matamata’s biggest training operation. Stephen describes his return to Te Akau as the salvation of his training career when he was looking seriously at his options.
‘‘There was a time when I was thinking about doing something else – I was going to be a freezing worker,’’ he said after accepting his trophy. ‘‘But racing is my passion and I’m grateful to David Ellis for giving me the opportunity.’’
The Te Akau principal’s input was also recognised by Jamie, who was handed a golden opportunity when promoted from his racing manager’s role to training partner and at age 26 has now set a benchmark for achievement in the demanding profession.
Sunday evening was an enjoyable experience, but it was straight back to business Monday morning, Jamie attending to the Matamata stable and Stephen boarding a flight for Melbourne to oversee the opening stages of Xtravagant’s spring campaign.
The dual Group One winner’s first significant step towards the Cox Plate in late October will come in a trial at Flemington on Friday, when he will be ridden by leading Victorian jockey Damien Oliver. Progress from that hitout will determine whether Xtravagant makes his four-yearold debut on the last weekend of this month or a week later. The Te Akau contingent weren’t alone in bringing some booty from Sunday’s awards function back to Matamata. Shaun McKay collected the impressive trophy that goes with his champion apprentice title marking a season when he was clearly dominant in junior ranks and completed his first cen- tury in his final win of the season.
This page’s contributor of the past two decades was also recognised for his work in racing journalism when he collected the media award to go with his first in 2006. The Matamata Chronicle is an important but comparatively small part of my weekly output, which is centred on the weekly newspaper The Informant, its online platform and other publications in the Racing Media stable.
unstan Trainers of the Year Jamie Richards and Stephen Autridge flank award sponsor David Smith.