Turning it up to 11: Melody Belle retains NZ Horse of the Year title

Horse Racing Melody Belle
Second time around: Melody Belle has been voted NZ Horse of the Year for the second successive season. Photo: Bruno Cannatelli

By NZ Racing Desk

New Zealand: With 11-time G1-winning racemare Melody Belle leading the charge, there was a tangerine glow to the 2020 New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards, with the silks of Te Akau Racing the dominant element at the virtual event on Sunday night.

Te Akau stable star Melody Belle retained her Horse of the Year title and also headed the voting in the sprinter-miler and middle-distance categories.

Her stablemate Cool Aza Beel was a unanimous choice as Two-Year-Old of the Year, Te Akau trainer Jamie Richards was the sole contender for Trainer of the Year and stable rider Opie Bosson was named Jockey of the Year, beating Lisa Allpress, who won the NZ premiership. Richards and Bosson were the leading G1 performers in Australasia for the season.

Te Akau Shark was runner-up to stablemate Melody Belle in the sprinter-miler category and Probabeel was runner-up to Catalyst in the three-year-old category. Te Akau also secured the media award.

Melody Belle shared the limelight on Sunday night with veteran Palmerston North trainer Kevin Gray, who received the prestigious Outstanding Contribution to Racing Award.

Gray, 83, still runs a successful stable and finished 12th on the New Zealand premiership last season and was the second leading trainer in the central districts in terms of wins.

Gray did not take up training until he was 43 but has won more than 1,000 races and had G1 victories on both sides of the Tasman. He has also been a prominent owner, breeder and administrator.

“I’m very thrilled and grateful to get this award,” Gray said. “I’ve been with dogs, sheep, cattle and horses since I could walk and have had contact with many people, good tutors and great owners right from when I first started in Taranaki.

Horse Racing Kevin Gray NZ trainer
Outstanding contribution to racing: veteran NZ trainer Kevin Gray. Photo: Race Images

“I’ve always said to my staff that hard work will never hurt you and I’ve had so many good people and staff work for me.”

Five horses received votes for Horse of the Year, but Melody Belle was a runaway winner, receiving 54 of the 60 votes cast.

The five-year-old mare had an outstanding season, with four wins – all at G1 level – and five placings from 10 attempts and earning almost NZ$2 million (£1m) in stakes.

She was a G1 winner at the Melbourne spring carnival and became the first horse to win all three legs of the Hawke’s Bay Triple Crown.

Melody Belle recorded her 10th Group 1 victory when successful in the Empire Rose Stakes in Melbourne and has already added another in the new season. She has now matched Rough Habit in terms of G1 wins and needs two more to equal Sunline’s tally.

The Horse of the Year award was introduced in 1971 and Melody Belle is the ninth horse to win the title more than once. Sunline took the title four times with Show Gate, Rough Habit, Xcellent, Seachange, Mufhasa, Mongolian Khan and Bonneval the other dual winners.

Champion trainer Jamie Richards, in just his second season in sole charge at Te Akau’s Matamata stable, had an extraordinary season. He won a record 11 G1 races, including three in Australia.

“It’s a big thrill to have your name up there with some of the other legends of the training ranks,” Richards said.

“To do it in your own right when you are leading a big team of horses and people is very gratifying.”

Opie Bosson, who also had 11 G1 victories, was voted Jockey of the Year ahead of premiership winner Lisa Allpress.

• More NZ news at racingnews.co.nz

World top 20 racehorses | World top jockeys and trainers

Visit the Horse Racing Planet home page for more great horse racing stuff