HOTY in virtual mode recognises excellence

By Dennis Ryan

2 Dec 2021

HOTY in virtual mode recognises excellenceSENZ Horse of the Year Probabeel, pictured in her Epsom Handicap win at Randwick

“Probabeel is the best by a country mile. She’s just like a Christmas tree that keeps giving.”
Brendan Lindsay summed it up when he referred to the honour of owning the horse awarded New Zealand racing’s most sought-after accolade in a virtual Trackside TV presentation earlier this week.
“An award like this, no matter what, they can’t take it away from her, it’s there for life,” said Lindsay, co-owner with his wife Jo of iconic nursery Cambridge Stud and a racehorse string headed by Probabeel, whose 2020-21 achievements earned her the SENZ Horse of the Year title as well as the Champion Sprinter-Miler trophy.
“We live in strange times being so isolated and I’ll be honest, to begin with it was hard to take. But at the end of the day this is the new norm and we’re still able to enjoy it, share it with family and friends.
“The way the awards were run, with Andrew Bensley in the middle of it doing the interviews, was as good as it could be in the circumstances.”
Like all others in a similar position, the Lindsays’ view has been through a long-distance lens from home, which in their case meant observing Probabeel’s four-year-old season of eight Australian starts for wins in the Gr. 1 Epsom Handicap, Gr. 1 Futurity Stakes, Gr. 3 Bill Ritchie Handicap and Gr. 3 Geoffrey Bellmaine Stakes.
Those performances made her a clear-cut winner of both titles and the voting panel’s decision in the closing weeks of the old season has been franked by spring wins in the Gr. 1 Caulfield (Might And Power) Stakes and Gr. 3 Cockram Stakes.
“Of all the horses Jo and I have raced, Probabeel is the best by a country mile,” said Lindsay in reference to the daughter of Savabeel who cost them $380,000 from breeders Waikato Stud and now has four Group Ones on her 12-win record. “She’s just like a Christmas tree that keeps giving.”
On top of their huge investment based around Cambridge Stud, the Lindsays’ racehorse portfolio is impressive, comprising full or part-ownership of no less than 42 horses that raced in the 2020-21 season. It also includes Sword Of State, whose wins in the Gr. 1 Sistema Stakes and Gr. 3 Waikato Stud Slipper earned the Champion Two-Year-Old title, and NZ 1000 Guineas winner Kahma Lass.
Brendan Lindsay admits that sheer weight of numbers swings the odds in their favour, but no-one could fairly deny them their right to the Champion Owners’ titles they have added to their trophy cabinet.
Apart from their own huge personal investment, an obvious thread in the Lindsays’ momentous season is the duo of Te Akau Racing founder David Ellis and trainer Jamie Richards. Ellis selected and bought Probabeel, Sword Of State and Kahma Lass from the auction ring, and it should be said, he’s also responsible for previous dual Horse of the Year Melody Belle and her stablemate Avantage amongst a raft of quality Te Akau stable members.
After a Covid-truncated 2019-20 season in which he topped the premiership with 101 New Zealand winners and 12 Group Ones in total, Richards proceeded to blow those figures out of the water. His record 2020-21 season encompassed 160 wins headed by 13 Group Ones and 36 black-type races on the local scene, plus another two Group One wins in Australia.
Melody Belle surpassed the mighty Sunline to become the most prolific New Zealand-trained winner of Group One races with a tally of 14, and Avantage enjoyed an extraordinary season of Group One wins at 1200m (twice), 1400m, 1600m (twice) and 2000m to complete a career set of nine elite victories. The combined depth of the Ellis-Richards factor collected three of the five equine category titles as well a top three in Horse of the Year and Sprinter-Miler voting, and top two in the Two-Year-Old category.
Richards, the sole nominee for Trainer of the Year, was joined on the virtual podium by his partner, champion jockey Danielle Johnson, while Te Akau employee Ashley Handley, who has become an almost permanent Australian resident overseeing Probabeel and other team members on the road, was a popular winner of the Stablehand of the Year trophy.
“The success of any business is having the right people in key roles,” Brendan Lindsay offered as to why the Te Akau model is so potent. “Jamie’s attention to detail, his meticulous planning and work ethic is the secret to his success, but it all gets back to what David Ellis has built.
“He has this incredible knack of identifying people and moulding them, finding the right position for them in his organisation, plus of course he knows what he’s looking at when it comes to buying horses too.”
There’s also a correlation between Ellis and another major player in this year’s NZTR awards, Outstanding Contribution to Racing recipient David Smith. Ellis was Smith’s predecessor as chairman of the Waikato Racing Club, a role the latter held for all of 11 years, but their ties encompass much more.
The Smith family home bordered Te Rapa racecourse, back in the days when some of the country’s best trainers were based at the track north of Hamilton City, and one way or another the keen-eyed youngster gravitated towards racing.
“Back then there were a couple of hundred horses in work at Te Rapa, trainers like Ray Cotter, Harry Long, Bruce Priscott, Bill Winder,” Smith said as he reflected on his initiation to the Sport of Kings. “As a kid swinging on the gate where the trainers, horses and everybody else came by, sometimes all you’d get from them was a grunt, but other times one of them would throw me a bob to buy an ice-cream.
“What I came to realise was how many characters there were with a story to tell, it was entertaining and educational and I decided somehow I wanted to be part of that world.”
Smith’s big break into the world of racing came 35 years ago when he played a pivotal role in founding the equine nutrition company Dunstan Horse Feeds. The Dunstan brand established an international footprint across the full range of equine pursuits, earning its principal the sobriquet Dunstan Dave.
Alongside that involvement, Smith has bred and raced numerous horses over the years, Dunstan Feeds has been a significant contributor to racing as a sponsor – the Dunstan Stayers’ Championship Series is in its 23rd year – and he has participated in industry administration up to New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing board level.
His amalgam of industry involvement made a compelling case for the accolade he received earlier this week, and unsurprisingly met with broad approval amongst his fellows.
“This (award) was never on the radar – that’s not why you do these things – but I’d have to say I’m grateful to be recognised by the industry in such a way,” Smith told RaceForm. “And it’s been wonderful to hear from so many people, literally from Kaitaia in the Far North to Bluff in the Deep South, and from places like New Caledonia and the Sunshine Coast.”
A highlight of Smith’s racing life over recent years has been his involvement in the syndicate behind the star Te Akau racemare Avantage, who took her Group One tally to nine when winning the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes – sponsored by Dunstan Feeds subsidiary Fiber Fresh – at Te Rapa last autumn.
“That was fantastic winning a race on what I consider my home track sponsored by Fiber Fresh with a horse I part-owned, it can’t get any better than that,” he said. “DC (Ellis) and I go back a long way and we’ve had a lot of fun over the years, so that was another chapter.
“I’ve had a lot of wins and what Avantage achieved has been an absolute highlight. Apart from that I’ve always had a will to win the Dunstan Stayers’ Final, but so far I’ve only managed to win a few qualifying races. Like any good stayer though, I won’t stop trying.”
Avantage had just one further start before injury forced her retirement in September and in a flurry of activity and savvy business, she was sold on the online platform to Coolmore for a world record $4.1 million.
“We always knew that she would go on the market at the end of her racing career,” Smith added, “so it was a great result for her to sell like that through the New Zealand Bloodstock system to another of the world’s leading operations.
“The syndicate is in for a bit more fun hopefully with a Savabeel colt out of a Fastnet Rock mare that DC bought for us at the Ready to Run Sale. We figure that’s not a bad way to go.”