ANNOUNCEMENT | For the love of the horse

8 Dec 2023
Auckland Thoroughbred Racing

At the very heart of our industry is a raft of participants whose main motivation is simply the love of the horse. The ‘unsung heroes’ of the track, the caregivers and the faces behind the scenes – the passion these individuals show is to be admired.

The heartwarming stories of the dedication individuals within our industry show to our thoroughbred athletes are worth telling and more importantly, worth celebrating. So, we here at Auckland Thoroughbred Racing lined up a competition up to do just that.

After months of gathering submissions from the wider racing industry who had the opportunity to nominate those who were going above and beyond, we then presented these to our esteemed judging panel.

They created our top 12, and today, we are thrilled to unveil this special group of industry participants.  We look forward to announcing our overall winner in the coming week or so. 

Our judging panel consisted of:

Daniel Nakhle

Daniel is founder and principal of Byerley Park, founder of the New Zealand Equine Academy and is a former director of the Auckland Racing Club

Dennis Ryan

Founding editor and co-director of RaceForm, Dennis is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent racing journalists. He has also held various administrative roles, most recently as the former chair and current director of the Matamata Racing Club.

Michelle Saba

Michelle is a respected racing journalist with over 40 years’ experience in the industry. An Auckland Thoroughbred Racing life member, Michelle is also a member of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association council.

Gina Schick

Founder and director of EventStars, one of New Zealand’s most prominent thoroughbred rehoming facilities. Gina is also co-owner of Windsor Park Stud.

John Thompson

Part owner and managing director of Rich Hill Stud, John is also the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association president.

Russell (Rusty) Williss

New Zealand Country Director for Hawaiian Airlines and keen racing fan and supporter. Rusty has ownership in several thoroughbreds in New Zealand and Australia.


Each of our finalists will receive:

  • A $200 Prezzy Card
  • An exclusive unreleased ATR cap
  • 2x Ascot Stand tickets to the TAB Karaka Millions

One of these lucky 12 will also be announced in the coming weeks as our overall winner, taking home the trip of a lifetime thanks to our wonderful partners, Hawaiian Airlines and the Japan Racing Association. Flying Hawaiian Airlines, the chosen industry participant (and a friend) will head to Tokyo, Japan for 4 nights with the chance to experience a Group 1 raceday at Tokyo Racecourse in Feb 2024. Then, they’ll fly to Waikiki, Hawaii for 4 nights of sun, sand and relaxation.


So, without further ado, our finalists are:

(In alphabetical order)

  • Anna Miles
    • “I particularly think her unpaid work running the free foster foal service for the South Island deserves recognition. This is such an important behind the scenes job which helps save the lives of many foals.” – Lisa Patterson
  • Candice Gollan
    • “Candice was always not only willing to do the long days and nights to and from races but she always did it with a smile. She was always the one who came in on her days off to cover other staff leave or when we were short. Sacrificing her time off for the love of the horse. And as I said, always with a smile.” – Anna Baigent
  • Kaitlin Fairbairn
    • “I am in awe of her determination to defy what teachers said when she spoke of her employment plan (horses are a hobby, not a job).  She does what she loves and is so passionate about it. Now almost 20, she doesn’t moan about the early morning starts or missing friends weekend events because her work is what she loves more.” – Angela Hansen
  • Kelsey Franks
    • “She is the most dedicated person to her job, and cares for every horse that comes through quarantine as if it was her own, ensuring that no stone is left unturned when it comes to their well-being. She is super passionate about her job, and is one of the best teachers in the industry you will find when it comes to animal care and welfare.” – Alyssa Harrison
  • Kirsty Lawrence
    • “Kirsty has gone above and beyond in her commitment to the love of TB’s and the racing industry in the past year.  From being a part of the response to Cyclone Gabrielle with many many volunteer hours uplifting deceased horses and distributing feed resources over many months following, I couldn’t be prouder of what she has achieved for the TB industry.” – Steve Lawrence
  • Mark Hills
    • “Mark is the “go to guy” for a number of people when you need help, or an extra set of hands, for anything, but particularly anything horsey. He will always come to your rescue and expects nothing in return. He is the most competent and generous person I (& many others) know.” – Robyn Rogers
  • Peter Dickie
    • “Dad manages the gap at Hawkes Bay Racing and has done so for over 30 years. He starts at 5am each day and works every second Saturday to ensure the trainers are able to work their horses safely. He even works on Christmas Day to ensure trainers can get their horses ready for big races in the summer. After the racecourse at 4pm, he then does a few hours at night and on Saturday’s and Sunday’s as a farrier. The role he does is pretty thankless, however he shows up daily as loves horses and racing.” – Gemma Dickie
  • Pratap Singh
    • “His way with horses is second to none – his patience, kindness and affinity with the horse is unmatched. Pratap is often paired with our most difficult horses. Watching these horses transform into confident and content animals with Pratap’s patience, empathy, and an unparalleled intuition is something quite remarkable.” – Lance O’Sullivan
  • Rachel Murray
    • “She puts her team before herself to make sure they are looked after so they can care for the horses to the best of their abilities.  She is always there to make sure that not only do the horses have everything they need but also the staff have what they need as well.” – Grace McMillan
  • Shelley Hale
    • “It is Shelley’s personal qualities which makes her a perfect recipient of this prize. Humble, determined, generous and loyal. I am proud to not only know Shelley Hale , but to call her a close friend.” – George Simon
  • Stephanie Hyde-Richards
    • “Stephanie is a rare jewel. Her heart, soul, mind and passion is totally focussed on our horses. She lives and breathes for them. Possessing the Midas touch, Stephanie is so deserving of recognition.” – Karyn Fenton-Ellis
  • Trina Riddell
    • “She cares about other people too much to take days off for herself. Work {at the stables} always comes first to her because of the big passion she has for horses.” – Holly Riddell


A heartfelt congratulations goes out to all the finalists, and our thanks to our judges, sponsors, and everyone who submitted nominations. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for the exciting announcement of who will be heading for the trip of a lifetime!

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