The New Zealand Spring Carnival, first major event of the new season, is just three weeks away, and the build-up has already started, but before then the industry takes time to celebrate a memorable 2015-2016 campaign with Sunday’s Thoroughbred Horse of the Year Awards in Auckland.
Jockey of the Year is almost certainly Lisa Allpress, whose total of 170 wins last season was 16 more than that of the next most successful finalist, Matthew Cameron.
Xtravagant, so impressive when winning the New Zealand 2000 Guineas last November and comfortable winner of the Cambridge Breeders’ Stakes in May, is fancied to emerge as a big winner. He is nominated for both the Champion Three-Year-Old and Champion Sprinter awards.
Other potential award-winners include the 5-year-old Savabeel gelding Kawi, nominated for the Champion Middle Distance Horse award, who won the 2015 Makfi Challenge Stakes at the Spring Carnival last year.
Xtravagant is likely to miss the action-packed Bostock New Zealand Spring Carnival, which kicks off the new season on Saturday, August 27, and to spend the spring in Melbourne instead. But expect to see Kawi very much in action at the carnival at Hawkes Bay.
First big event is the Makfi Challenge Stakes, which Kawi won last year and may go for again on August 27. It is considered the first leg of what has been dubbed New Zealand’s Triple Crown. The 1,400-meter weight-for-age race has held G1 status since 2003 and boasts a purse of NZ $200,000 ($143,000).
In its 32 years, some big names have used the Makfi as a stepping stone to the spring racing season across the Tasman Sea in Australia, including the New Zealand-bred mare Seachange, who also won the Windsor Park Plate later at the New Zealand carnival, and Xcellent, who claimed his third G1 win with the 2005 edition of the Makfi.
Seachange (2006-07) is the only horse to have won the Windsor Park Plate (over 1,600 meters, again for a prize of NZ$200,000) twice since it was upgraded to G1. The race, on Saturday, September 17, had to be rescheduled last year, when it was won by Julinsky Prince, who was initially being withdrawn but then re-entered. It was his first race in more than five months.
The carnival is brought to a climax on Saturday, October 1, with the NZ$250,000 Livamol Classic (2,040 metres), which dates back to 1955 and had become the country’s richest weight-for-age race by the turn of the millennium.
Two horses - Picaroon and Game - have won the race three times, but perhaps the most famous Livamol graduate is Starcraft, winner of five G1 races in four countries and the 2005 World Champion Older Turf Miler.
Six G1 winners have already been submitted in the first nominations for the Makfi Challenge Stakes, Windsor Park Plate and Livamol Classic, with some familiar names among the entries, including Kawi, who missed out on last year’s re-scheduled Windsor Park Plate, and Julinsky Prince (entered in all three races), who also gathered G2 honors in 2015-16 with the Tauranga Stakes and the Japan NZ International Trophy.
Other names to note include Stolen Dance, What’s The Story, Celebrity Miss, Hasselhoof, Rasa Lila, Capella and Humidor.
In the countdown to the big spring meets at Sydney and Melbourne, the New Zealand Spring Carnival takes centre stage for race fans in both New Zealand and Australia. U.S. punters can check it out live at advance deposit wagering sites tvg.com, twinspires.com, xpressbet.com, betamerica.com, watchandwager.com and nyrabets.com. They can also get free form guides and betting tips at Sky Racing World’s site australianracing.com.