Hall of Fame honours past and present luminaries

By Dennis Ryan

17 May 2023

Hall of Fame honours past and present luminariesHall of Fame quadrella: Paul, Dave and Lance O’Sullivan with fellow Hall of Fame inductee Mike Mor

Past and present came together in a tradition that began in 2006 as the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame honoured its luminaries at the ninth Inductee Dinner in Hamilton last week.
The 2023 celebration transcended generations as Beau Vite, a champion from more than 80 years ago, joined modern-day stars Melody Belle and Verry Elleegant in the equine pantheon. Likewise, champion 1930s jockey Keith Voitre was inducted along with the very best of the current crop, Opie Bosson.
New Zealand’s training ranks were honoured by the induction of George Price, who took his conditioning skills offshore nearly a century ago to excel in Sydney, along with Mike Moroney and Paul O’Sullivan whose careers flourished over the past 20 years in their respective Melbourne and Hong Kong domains.
Complementing those who proved their mettle on the racetrack, the Hall of Fame also welcomed Michael Floyd, the maestro of bloodstock sale operations who instigated benefits the breeding industry still thrives off, and Australian-born Ken Austin, who excelled as a horseman, auctioneer, administrator and breeder.
Austin, born in the 1880s in New South Wales, first gained renown as the leading amateur in his home state before putting his innate skills to work in the bloodstock auction field. That led to him securing for New Zealand interests the Australian-bred colt Gloaming, who became the champion of his generation and ultimately led to his induction to the NZ Racing Hall of Fame.
Austin also played a hand in another Hall of Fame racehorse, the immortal Phar Lap, having been the auctioneer when he was knocked down at the 1928 National Yearling Sale at Trentham. By then Austin was well-involved in this country’s thoroughbred industry, leading him to settle in the South Island in the early 1930s and ultimately to establishing Inglewood Stud in North Canterbury.
In 1948 he was a founding father of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association as its inaugural chairman, laying a platform that provided vital strength which exists to this day, as does Inglewood Stud under the guidance of Austin’s great-grandson Gus Wigley.
Michael Floyd fits a similar profile to Austin’s early days as a hands-on horseman, but it took little time for him to become involved in the operational side of thoroughbred sales.
“I attended my first National Yearling Sale as a 16-year-old groom, which led to a job with the sales company, and even though I had no education, 12 years later I was running the sale,” Floyd told the Hall of Fame audience.
“As time went on and the industry drifted north, the discussion grew about relocation of the sale out of Trentham. There was resistance, but it seemed logical and in the end with the support of many of the breeders it would have an impact on, the decision was made.”
Ellerslie racecourse was mooted as a suitable site, but Floyd pushed back, identifying a bare block of land at Papakura, adjacent to the Southern Motorway.
“No way, they said, that’s miles from Auckland! But the Karaka site was eventually agreed to and after visiting sale grounds at Tattersall’s, Goffs and Keeneland to gather ideas for the proposed sales venue, we added Deauville, where we got more ideas than all the rest.
“So we got to work with less than 12 months to the first proposed Karaka sale, and for $20 million, the complex was completed in less than a year. It’s interesting that on the way down here today, we stopped for a coffee at Karaka and it took exactly an hour to drive down to Hamilton!”
The induction of champion racemares Verry Elleegant and Melody Belle provided the opportunity to recap on careers that were still fresh in mind. After racing in the Fortuna Syndication colours, Melody Belle was sold at auction to new Victorian powerhouse Yulong Stud, while Verry Elleegant is now retired in Ireland, where part-owner Mark Carter announced that she is 10 weeks in foal to Sea The Stars.
Trainers Paul O’Sullivan and Mike Moroney have much in common, the former growing up under the wing of his Hall of Fam father Dave O’Sullivan, while Moroney also got his start at Wexford Stables before branching out on his own account.
“I was taught by the best people in the world,” Moroney said. “I didn’t have to go anywhere to learn about horses. DJ taught me how to think about horses, and when I decided to set up my own stable, he went guarantor and supported me with pre-trainers.”
As well as identifying a family background that encouraged him to pursue a career in racing, Moroney made special mention of his younger brother Paul, who has been instrumental in identifying so many of Ballymore Stables’ major winners.
“Paul’s eye for buying a horse is second to none anywhere in the world,” he said. “We’ve had some fantastic wins together, here and in Australia. Having been based over there for so many years, I’m now accepted as Australasian – so that’s pretty good.”
After taking his training premiership tally to 11, in 2004 Paul O’Sullivan became the first New Zealander to be granted a licence by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. He made the most of that opportunity, producing more than 500 winners from his Sha Tin stable, almost inevitably the best of them, star sprinter Aerovelocity and Hong Kong Derby winner Vital King, being NZ-bred.
“Hong Kong is a place where you adapt or die,” O’Sullivan said in his matter-of-fact way. “Aerovelocity was a wonderful sprinter – he saved my bacon on a number of occasions.”
A highlight of the 10 inductions was Opie Bosson, or more specifically the interaction between him and his wife Emily, who shared MC duties with Steve Davis and was tasked with interviewing the champion jockey.
The emotions both displayed before they were able to compose themselves was a moment to treasure, for them as well as the audience, and an insight to the success that Bosson has enjoyed over recent years.
Among those who Bosson paid tribute to were his godfather Stephen Autridge, with whom he served his apprenticeship, fellow trainers Mark Walker, Murray Baker, Andrew Forsman and Jamie Richards, and Te Akau Racing principal David Ellis.
“Dave has supported me no matter what, I owe so much to him,” he said. “Murray and Andrew had Mongolian Khan peaking at the right time to give me my best ever win, the Caulfield Cup.
“Melody Belle – or Valerie as we called her – was my absolute favourite horse, I love her to bits. Whenever I got on her you just knew she would give you 100 per cent.”