And the winner is...

With racing at Ellerslie coming to an end for the season this weekend just been, those that achieved greatness oncourse over the past 12 months were recognised at the annual Ellerslie Awards on Saturday as a part of the Business Partners Raceday.

The awards were dominated by the pin-up girl of New Zealand racing Melody Belle (favourite to be crowned New Zealand Horse of the Year) who had a stellar season at the headquarters of racing.

Melody Belle was crowned Ellerslie Horse of the Year as selected by Auckland Racing Club officials & racing media. Horses that have competed in black-type features at Ellerslie were considered for the award with voters drawn to Melody Belle’s achievements.

Te Akau’s resident trainer Jamie Richards prepared Melody Belle for John Galvin’s Fortuna Melody Belle Syndicate. She was selected by David Ellis at the Karaka Premier Sale for Fortuna.

“She obviously started the season off really well in the spring and not only did she run very well in the Bonecrusher, she went really good all season,” said Richards.

“The Bonecrusher was the end of a long campaign and up to 2000m on a pretty testing track so to stick it out like she did and beat Danzdanzdance was a really tough effort.

“She did really well at Ellerslie in the Railway Stakes as well, she was just beaten by a bad barrier. Had she drawn a gate that day I would have been pretty confident she would have given them a good shake.”

Melody Belle battles it out with Danzdanzdance in the Group 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes

Along with the Horse of the Year title, Melody Belle’s efforts in the Group 1 Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes was recognised as the Outstanding Performance of the Year. The fifth Group 1 win of her brilliant season was voted by ARC Members and through social media from four finalists selected by ARC Executive General Manager - Racing & Operations, Craig Baker.

“There was spirited voting for the award of Outstanding Performance between Melody Belle and Glory Days and the big syndicate of owners through Fortuna no doubt helped get Melody Belle over the line,” commented Baker. “She is a very deserving winner and what she accomplished this season was incredible.”

The Group 1 victory was the highlight for the Fortuna Syndicate raced mare, but she was also gallant in finishing third in the Group 1 Sistema Railway Stakes, carrying topweight and enduring a tough run to flash home for a placing.

While Melody Belle stole the show for the four-legged athletes, the humans behind the horses were also recognised.

The man on top of Melody Belle in her Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes win, Opie Bosson, was a winner in his own right, taking out Ellerslie Jockey of the Year – an award based on strike rate at the course.

Bosson piloted 14 winners around Ellerslie at a strike rate of 20%, leading the field of jockeys. Along with Melody Belle, the champion jockey also won the Group 1 Cambridge Stud Zabeel Classic on Danzdanzdance, the Group 1 Sistema Stakes aboard Yourdeel and the $1m Karaka Million above Probabeel.

“I love riding winners at Ellerslie, it is the best track in New Zealand,” stated Bosson. “They put on great racing throughout the year and it’s the best racing in the country.

“Highlights for the season were winning the Karaka Million on Probabeel and then getting the two Group 1 wins on the same day on Yourdeel and Melody Belle for Te Akau.”

The next generation of riders were also decorated with Taiki Yanagida crowned Ellerslie’s Apprentice of the Year.

The up and coming rider from Japan is under the tutelage of former champion rider Lance O’Sullivan, who dominated Ellerslie as a jockey himself, and his training partner Andrew Scott. Yanagida won 7 races at Ellerslie with a strike rate of 17% to beat home a competitive field of young riders.

Taiki Yanagida receiving his award from Paul Wilcox, CEO of Auckland Racing Club

Tony Pike took home the award of Ellerslie Trainer of the Year. This award is given to the trainer with the best strike rate at Ellerslie with the Cambridge-based horseman enjoying a fruitful season. Batting at a rate of 17% winners to runners, Pike had 15 winners from at Ellerslie this season.

The highlight of Pike’s season at Ellerslie included five stakes wins with Surely Sacred (x2), Indecision, Whiskey Neat & Endless Drama.

“I have always had a pretty decent run at Ellerslie, and it is the best course in New Zealand – it is our premier racetrack,” commented Pike. “Usually you get a pretty good surface and the renovations seemed to have worked well.

“It is a course that I enjoy racing horses at the most and I am happy to have had a good season there. It is great to win the big races and we were able to get five stakes victories at Ellerslie which is an outstanding result for owners.”

Award winners were not the only thing unveiled at Ellerslie on Saturday with a portrait of Vodafone New Zealand Derby winner Crown Prosecutor on display for the first time. The painting was crafted by renowned artist Katherine White.

Painting of Crown Prosecutor, by Katherine White

Racing in the colours of Lib Patenga’s JML Bloodstock, Crown Prosecutor was a long-shot winner of the Vodafone New Zealand Derby for jockey Craig Grylls and trainer Stephen Marsh, winning at odds in excess of 100-1.