Horse of the Year caps big sea­son

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - DEN­NIS RYAN

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.

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