"Aunty" Ayumi's shot at Harness Million glory

By Brigette Solomon

Ayumi Shibuya has her flights booked, and can't wait for the Harness Million race night at Addington on Friday.

That's because "Aunty" Ayumi, as she's known, is a co-owner in the very promising Le Major, a top contender for the NZB Standardbred Harness Million No 4 for the 2YO Colts and Geldings.

Trained by Arna Donnelly at Cambridge, Le Major has been impressive winning his last three starts, including two heats of the Woodlands Stud 2YO Sires' Stakes. So it’s fair to say Shibuya has good reason to be excited.

“He is a super horse and has a good future,” she says.

Shibuya, a Japanese ex-pat, has led an interesting life.

“I first started riding in Japan when I was 20 doing some show jumping and dressage as I loved horses” says Shibuya.

“I then became a member of the Japan Defence Forces Riding Team competing in the Modern Pentathlon which includes show jumping and had a 19 year career with the Defence Force as a Combat Medic before coming to New Zealand in 2008.”

On arrival to New Zealand Shibuya worked in the thoroughbred code.

“I first worked for thoroughbred trainer Murray Baker but lived next door to Arna Donnelly and used to help her on my days off,” says Shibuya.

“Aunty used to have Mondays and Tuesdays off so she would come along to my stables and help out and drive the galloping pace maker,” says Donnelly.

Sibuya is now a much valued, full time employee at Arna Donnelly Harness Racing and this was how she came to have a share in Le Major.

The Art Major gelding was purchased by Donnelly at the 2022 NZB Standardbred Sale in Christchurch for $28,000 and after bringing him home to the stables there was a small share remaining.

“It’s nice for the staff to be involved with a horse and I knew Aunty was keen to take a share in something, so I asked if she’d be interested in the last share in Le Major,” says Donnelly.

Shibuya went away and thought about this for a few days.

“I had previously only had a share in one horse about 12 years ago which wasn’t much good, but I had worked with Le Major at the stables and seen him out at the farm and liked him so decided I would take the share!”

“He also has a nice pedigree page – I am very interested in pedigrees and the yearling sales and spend a lot of time looking at the catalogue and messaging Arna with yearlings to look at when she is at sales.”

So far it's turned to be a very good decision with Le Major having three wins from just six starts and $33,925 in stakes.

Friday will be his biggest test to date, with the Listed race worth a total $200,000.

"It's going to be an exciting time and hopefully he will go well."

Alongside Shibuya, Le Major will be cheered home on Friday night by co-owners Gregory Sweeney, Mary Walker, Brian Hedger, Heather Hedger, Green Machine Racing Syndicate, Dave Branch, Raewyn Inglis, Janice Good and the Daydream Believers Syndicate.

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