Michael House’s decision to add a thoroughbred arm to his training operation has reaped rich rewards, earning the gavelhouse.com Newcomer to Training Award for the 2021-22 New Zealand racing season.
Among trainers who operate a stable in their own right and have held a thoroughbred licence for fewer than five seasons, the award honours the trainer who saddles the most winners during the New Zealand racing season. It was won by Peter Didham in 2020-21, and Jamie Richards and Andrew Carston in the two previous seasons.
House is no newcomer to training racehorses, having been credited with more than 600 winners in a long and highly successful career in harness racing.
But he first took out his thoroughbred training licence towards the end of the 2019-20 season, and his two full seasons of training have netted nine winners – seven of them in 2021-22.
“This award is a lovely recognition for myself and for my team,” House said. “I have a great crew around me, and the success that we’ve had is something that we can all take a lot of satisfaction from.
“Our results last season were pleasing. We’ve really only got Industry-day horses at the moment, rather than Feature or Premier ones, so it’s been about trying to stay away from those better days and pick out the right races. It’s always satisfying when that plan comes off.”
House also paid tribute to gavelhouse.com, not only for its sponsorship of the award but also the boost it has provided to South Island racing.
“To me, gavelhouse.com and the Riccarton Park synthetic track are two of the biggest things to happen in South Island thoroughbred racing in recent years, and also two of the biggest things for our future,” the Prebbleton-based horseman said.
“I’ve already bought a number of horses off gavelhouse.com, and I’m also an outstanding underbidder.
“It’s been obvious in recent times that a significant proportion of our horse population in the South Island is made up of horses bought through gavelhouse.com. It gives stables like ours an opportunity to access a much wider range of horses than we would have ever had before, and in price ranges that are affordable. It’s been a game-changer for us. Every Monday night sale on gavelhouse.com is an unmissable event for me, and I’m very grateful for it.”
Although he is a relatively new name among thoroughbred training ranks, House has a long-standing connection with the code.
“I’ve always been a thoroughbred man,” he said. “Back when I was 13, I started riding work in Reefton for Dennis Cutbush. Through the years that followed, I made a number of road trips all around the South Island, towing his float. This would be 40-odd years ago now, but I had a wonderful time with him.
“There was no such thing as professional sport in those days, so when the time came to choose a career, I decided that I was going to be a racing man. But I ended up turning my back on the thoroughbreds on that stage, because I knew I was too big to be a jockey.
“I went into the standardbreds instead. Peter Jones was the legendary junior driver on the scene at that time, and I thought I could follow in his footsteps and change the world.
“But it was very hard to establish yourself in those days. The reality in harness racing was that if you weren’t related to someone, it was a very, very difficult scene to break into at that time. It may well have been a similar story with thoroughbreds at that stage too.
“But I was determined that I wasn’t going to fail, and I started training some standardbreds and enjoyed a bit of early success.
“Around the same time as each other, both Cran Dalgety and I both went out and started advertising for horses, which I think might have shaken up the establishment a little bit. We both ended up building up big teams of horses and winning a lot of races.
“I also had some great success on the breeding side of things with Roydon Lodge, standing stallions such as the multiple premiership winner Sundon. In terms of Group One winners, he actually sired more than Sir Tristram and Zabeel combined. He never stood for the sort of service fee they did of course, it was more about just getting the bulk numbers. But it was very special to be involved with a champion sire like him.
“Throughout all of this, though, I always continued my involvement on the thoroughbred side of things. I’ve had ownership interests in a number of horses – one of the most memorable was the outstanding jumper Jackfrost, who we had a fantastic time racing along with a great syndicate of owners.
“There was also a mare that I bought in partnership with Sheldon Murtha, called Lady Chanele. She won a couple of races and then became a lovely broodmare that we bred from, particularly with her best daughter Ombre Rose.
“We won multiple stakes races with Ombre Rose and then bred from her as well, and one of the catalysts for me getting into training thoroughbreds was that I really wanted to train some of Ombre Rose’s progeny.
“I’ve now got her daughters by Zacinto and Zed, so I have one from a more speed-oriented sire and one with a bit more stamina. It’s very exciting to have them.
“I’m hopeful now that my future will be along those sorts of lines. But the other factor in moving me into the thoroughbred side of things came from my other business, which is a vet business.
“My partner in that business has done a lot of work for John Street over a long period of time. I happened to suggest to John that if he ever had thoroughbreds that he thought would be suited to racing in the South Island, he should give me a call. That’s what he did one day, and that’s what really got us underway.
“I’ve got 12 thoroughbreds now, and a number of great people around me – including Nicci Brown and a bloke called Chris Johnson. He’s been a great jockey over a long period of time, and he’s probably reached the stage of his career now where he benefits from the loyalty and the riding fees that I can offer him. In exchange for that, I really appreciate the experience that he brings. We make a good team.
“My thoroughbred stable is growing at a rate that I probably hadn’t really planned on, but at the same time, I’m open to that. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds.”
Currently live on gavelhouse.com is a 61 Lot mixed bloodstock auction featuring youngstock, racing propositions, broodmares and stallion nominations and shares. Bidding is set to close from 7pm (NZT) Monday.