Nakhle’s absence no dampener to Byerley Park’s big day out

By Dennis Ryan

22 Feb 2023

Nakhle’s absence no dampener to Byerley Park’s big day outDaniel Nakhle and Donovan Mansour have led the way in establishing the New Zealand Equine Academy at

Daniel Nakhle missed the big day out by Byerley Park-trained horses at Pukekohe Park on Saturday, but that did nothing to lessen the thrill he got in abstentia.
Co-founder more than 20 years ago with his father Elias of the private South Auckland training facility, Nakhle was high above the Pacific on the way to Los Angeles when first Crocetti, then Mascarinto, Volare and Desert Lightning flew the Byerley Park flag on Avondale Cup day.
He bred debut two-year-old winner Crocetti and races him from the Danny Walker/Arron Tata stable, while he also bred and part-owns the Peter and Dawn Williams-trained Volare. The Williams duo also prepare Gr. 2 Avondale Guineas winner Desert Lightning, while the youngest Byerley Park incumbent, Steven Cole, trains Mascarinto.
“My flight to LA left a couple of hours before Crocetti’s race and even though we had wi-fi on-board, it wasn’t strong enough to stream it,” Nakhle told RaceForm as he strolled down Hollywood Boulevard on Monday evening local time. “When all the messages started coming in I soon knew what had happened, and again when Volare won – it was a great, and what’s more I had them in an all-upper.
“What a day it turned out to be for everyone! I was thrilled for Peter and Dawn, not just for my sake but for their main clients Sarah and Chris Green and Ger Beemsterboer. They’ve invested a lot over the years and it was fantastic to see Desert Lighting win another big race in their colours.
“Danny and Arron are a great team too. They’ve been based at Byerley Park for a couple of years now and it’s working out really well for them. Steven has been there longer and he’s also having a good season.”
Four Byerley Park-trained winners wasn’t the only aspect of Saturday’s race meeting that Nakhle took delight in. Volare was one of three winners ridden by South African jockey Warren Kennedy, who Nakhle played a key role in attracting to New Zealand. Along with compatriot Craig Zackey, Kennedy has taken no time to make his mark in local ranks and his weekend treble took his tally since arriving in mid-October to 41 wins.
Eight of those have been in black-type races, headed by the Gr. 1 Zabeel Classic on Defibrillate at Pukekohe on Boxing Day and the latest of them the Gr. 2 Avondale Cup on Aquacade. Kennedy has formed a particularly rewarding association with Lindsay Racing trainer Lance Noble and with Aquacade and Saturday’s feature sprint winner Funny Girl added to the equation, his record on Noble-trained runners carrying the gold and black Cambridge Stud colours stands at 10 wins from 41 rides.
“Lance trains just up the road from Byerley Park, so we consider him a local,” says Nakhle. “I think it’s great the results he’s getting for Brendan and Jo (Lindsay) and the bonus is that Warren is now part of their success.
“He and Craig have brought so much to the New Zealand racing scene. It’s not that we haven’t got some very good riders in New Zealand – we just don’t have enough of them.
“It hasn’t taken our leading stables to realise what these two guys have brought to the table. Their professionalism and the results they’ve achieved in such a short time says so much about them – they’re not only world class riders but they’re also world class people.”
Nakhle’s appreciation of what a country like South Africa has to offer New Zealand in jockey talent hasn’t happened overnight. His keen observation of global racing told him that jockeys from that part of the world could hold their own anywhere.
The catalyst was the friendship he developed with South African expat Donovan Mansour, who emigrated with his family to New Zealand in 2018. In his first full season Mansour rode 28 winners and was on a similar trajectory in the 2019-20 season with an increasing number of quality mounts coming his way when tragedy struck at a late October race meeting at Te Aroha.
It was one of those unwelcome incidents that most times has an uneventful outcome, but when Donovan’s mount reared backwards and landed on top of him, he suffered serious pelvic and internal injuries. After being attended by on-site paramedics, he was flown by helicopter to hospital and over following months was to undergo a series of operations, all the while knowing his jockey career was most likely over.
Amongst those Mansour had ridden for was Daniel Nakhle, who reached out initially to assist in his recovery but then extending that to plans for utilising his skills in an ambitious plan.
“From the time I first met him, Donovan was a very likeable guy, he had so many qualities that I admire in a person and I just felt we had to direct those in a productive way,” Nakhle said.
That eventually led to Nakhle offering Mansour the opportunity to manage a riding academy at Byerley Park. The outcome has exceeded expectations after Byerley Park joined forces with the NZQA-accredited Skill NZ to establish the New Zealand Equine Academy.
In a short time the NZEA has established itself as a provider to young people with ambitions to work in the equine industry through on-site courses that lead to NZQA certification. Further developments as an educational provider that also covers apprentice jockey training include the instillation of a modern riding simulator for fine-tuning jockey skills.
“It’s a simulator we sourced for the world-leading supplier Racewood in the UK,” Nakhle said. “It cost well into six figures, but it’s the absolute best with a full virtual screen and you can more or less ride a race in it. It’s a valuable tool for developing young riders alongside the right practical instructions.”
In the short time that the Byerley Park academy has been operational, Nakhle has seen tangible outcomes. “We managed to get a 100 per cent strike-rate with employment placement of our first draft from the academy and we’ve got another 13 in the second draft working through their qualifications now.
“New Zealand breeds not only great horses but fantastic horse-people too, and what we have to do is provide career pathways and not lose them.”
Mansour’s contacts with South Africa led to Warren Kennedy and Craig Zackey settling in New Zealand with their families, and he has also sourced younger jockey prospects in apprentices Tristan Moodley and Donovan Copper.
“Donovan has been such a worthwhile asset for the academy, he was a very good jockey himself and as well as the obvious riding skills he brings, he’s also very adept in passing his knowledge on to our students.
“The South African model for developing jockeys is world-renowned and we’re so lucky to have someone like Donovan who came through that system now leading what we see as the New Zealand equivalent.”
From both the wider Byerley Park perspective and with a view to his personal racing stocks, Nakhle took so much out of last weekend’s Pukekohe events.
“I enjoy nothing more than seeing trainers based at Byerley Park winning races. Peter and Dawn Williams are industry icons and it’s great to see them continue to get results after moving north more than 10 years ago.
“We’ve got a great bunch of trainers based on-site as well as others such as Shaun and Emma Clotworthy and Jenna Mahoney right next door. Then there are younger developing trainers like Kylie Grass, who is in one of the seven barns on-site and is leading the Newcomer to Training table.
“It’s just good to know that what we established north of 20 years ago is continuing to serve its purpose.”
Saturday’s debut winner Crocetti, whose name replicates the family name of former American entertainer Dean Martin, is closely related to big Nakhle-bred and owned performers Crosshaven and Killarney.
“His granddam is Irish Colleen, the first horse I bought, so it means a lot to see another decent one come along. Danny (Walker) knew this guy had something, so it was a good result when he paid $250,000 for the (Pride of Dubai) half-brother at the Karaka sales.
“It was great to see Volare back in form too; she’s had problems along the way and not much luck in her races either. I’ve got a bunch of friends in her, including Sir John Key, who was looking sideways at me for a while wondering what else could go wrong.”
For now, Nakhle is looking forward to a weekend in Las Vegas celebrating as friend’s birthday, with thoughts still very much centred on events back home.
“Yes, these are thew times you really savour, but it’s not just about someone like me, it’s actually a cast of thousands that makes it happen, and that’s what I really like about this racing game, we’re all in this together.”