Norwood Sports Awards Nominations

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk

Harness Racing New Zealand has made five nominations for what is billed as “New Zealand’s premier celebration of our rural sporting athletes”.

The Norwood New Zealand Rural Sports awards will be held at Awapuni, Palmerston North on March 12, 2021.

The five nominees put forward by HRNZ are:

Blair Orange (Sportsman of the Year)
Natalie Rasmussen (Sportswoman of the Year)
John Morrison (Young Rural Sportsperson)
Mark Purdon (Lifetime Legacy)
Deneece and Murray Goldsworthy (Outstanding Contribution)

They will be vying to follow on from last year’s successes by the country’s top junior driver Sarah O’Reilly (Young New Zealand Rural Sportsperson of the Year) and seven-time New Zealand Cup-winning driver Ricky May who won the Lifetime Legacy award.

Sportsman of the Year nominee: Blair Orange   

Blair Orange has been nominated on the back of a record-breaking season that finished on July 31 2020.  No one has ever made more money in one season of race driving in this country, despite losing two months of the season because of COVID-19.  

In winning his third drivers’ premiership in a row he amassed a record $2,445,987 in stakes earnings.   

He had less wins than his record-breaking season in 2018 (219 wins compared to 232) but earned $45,000 more.  

Included in his season was an incredible week when he won his first New Zealand Cup with Cruz Bromac, only to win the country’s premier trotting race, the Dominion Handicap just three days later with Habibi Inta.  With 10-time champion Dexter Dunn now based in the USA, Orange has cemented his place as the country’s foremost driver, with more records in his sights.   


Sportswoman of the Year nominee: Natalie Rasmussen   

Natalie Rasmussen is the most influential and successful woman in New Zealand harness racing.    

As a driver in the 2020 season that finished on July 31 she had 30 wins from 68 starts, with an incredibly high strike-rate of .6111.  Her winnings totalled $1,231,288.  

She was the co-trainer and regular driver of 2020 Harness Horse of the Year, Ultimate Sniper and was the co-trainer of Trotter of the Year, Winterfell.   

As a part of the all-conquering All Stars stables with partner Mark Purdon in 2020 they earned more than $3m ($3,075,860) with 81 wins. That was $1.7m more than their closest rival.   


Lifetime Legacy Award: Mark Purdon    

With the  All Stars stables being disbanded from December 31 2020 Mark Purdon’s being nominated for the Lifetime Legacy award after a massively successful training and driving career stemming back to the mid 1990s.  

Simply put, no-one has dominated harness racing in this country in recent decades like Mark Purdon has. His All Stars stables won the trainers’ premiership six years in a row from 2014.    

Purdon was born to be a horse trainer.  The 1970s and 1980s were golden years for the Purdon family with Mark’s father Roy taking out training premierships in his own name in 1970/1 and 1974/5-1976/7, before the father-son team of Roy and Barry (Mark’s brother) won every premiership from 1977/8 until 1988/9, plus 1990/91-1994/95. 

After first training in 1996, Purdon has starred on both sides of the Tasman as a trainer and driver, winning Inter-dominions, Miracle Miles and the last five New Zealand Cups, including the trifecta in the 2020 edition when Self Assured beat home Spankem and Ashley Locaz.  

Associated with some of this country’s best ever horses, such as Lazarus, I Can Doosit,  Pride of Petite, Adore Me, Il Vicolo, and Auckland Reactor, Purdon has had  2362 wins (as of Dec 14, 2020), either training on his own (1996-2013), with Grant Payne (2008-12) or his current partner Natalie Rasmussen (2014-2021).    

He’s also driven 1624 wins (as of December 2020) and won nearly $35m ($34,838,178) in stakes.  

His impact and influence on harness racing cannot be overstated. His work ethic,  professional approach , attention to detail and ability to assess  horseflesh, especially at the yearling sales, make him an individual deserving of such a prestigious award.     


Young Rural Sportsperson: John Morrison   

John Morrison was the country’s top Junior Driver in the 2019-2020 season for the second year running.  After a neck and neck battle with closest rival Dylan Ferguson he took out the 2020 premiership with 35 wins, to Ferguson’s 33.   

Articulate and popular, Morrison has the potential to be one of the sport’s highest achievers. 

He comes from well-established racing stock, with his family’s business being the Ashburton-based Morrisons Saddlery and Feed.  

A cool head under pressure, Morrison is in demand and just this year made his New Zealand Cup debut with Di Caprio, which finished fifth in the great race.  

He has been race-day driving since 2016. He also won the junior premiership in 2019 season. Also making his mark as a trainer, Morrison is set to be a key part of the sport in the decades to come.  By mid December 2020 he had had eight training successes from 65 starters.  He is someone the industry will hear a lot more about in the years to come.   


Outstanding Contribution: Deneece and Murray Goldsworthy  

Deneece and Murray Goldsworthy are being nominated for "Outstanding Contribution" because of the years of service they have given to Kidz Kartz.  

As well respected harness racing identity Anne Phillips says “Without them Kidz Kartz would never have started”.  

Deneece established the country’s first Kidz Kartz club in Kumeu north west of Auckland in 2003 after hearing about similar ventures in Australia, North America and Europe.  The initiative is all about introducing and encouraging  youngsters aged between 6 and 16 into harness racing and educating them about horses and ponies.   

“They sourced the ponies, 5 or 6 of them, so they were ready to go, they found the gear and set up the Kidz Kartz, they got the money and supported it themselves.” 

It’s grown to a point where there are eight clubs and an estimated 300 youngsters now involved in the sport  around New Zealand.  It's played a critical role in developing the likes of top drivers Zachary Butcher, Josh Dickie and Alicia Harrison. 

Key races include the Kidz Kartz New Zealand Cup which is run at Addington on Show Day during Cup week.  

And it's all because of the dedication shown by Deneece and Murray Goldsmith.  

“Deneece was actually looking forward to a new kitchen and saved up for it but they decided to buy a truck to get the ponies to the races instead,” says Anne Phillips.  


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