Franco Santino Southland Horse Of The Year
By Jonny Turner
In what must be a New Zealand first, Franco Santino has been crowned the Southland Horse Of The Year for the 2019-20 season in the gear shed at his trainer’s stable.
The unusual scene came after the Southland Harness Racing Awards committee moved to present this year’s ceremony over Facebook due to the logistical impacts of COVID19.
The organisers were forced to cancel the traditional awards evening as the South Island was in Alert Level 2 leading in to the event.
That meant Franco Santino’s owner, Neville Cleaver, received the award at Williamson’s stable in a pre-recorded video, which formed part of the presentation.
The pacer performed well in a season badly hampered by COVID19 , winning three races and placing three times including a second in the group 3 Invercargill Cup.
Franco Santino beat out fellow finalists Robyns Playboy, See Ya Write, Vintage Cheddar and his stablemate Pembrook Playboy to take the title.
Williamson took out more titles in last season’s awards when crowned both Southland’s leading trainer and driver for 2019-20.
The Ryal Bush horseman was also connected the Southland Trotter Of The Year.
Williamson drove Crusher Collins, who was rewarded with the title for her consistent form throughout last season for trainer Lyndon Bond, in two of her three wins last term.
Williamson could even take some credit for Delcola’s win in the Southland Broodmare Of The Year category.
The horseman has started the careers of all of the mare’s winning progeny – Splash Cola, Delson and Andy Hall.
Few achievements in the 2019-20 harness racing season could match the efforts produced by Ellie Barron at Omakau on January 2, this year.
The junior driver gave Ricky May lifesaving CPR after the reinsman suffered a major medical event during the running of the Central Otago Cup.
Barron’s actions, that helped revive May and started his path towards making a full recovery, were part of why she took out the Achievement Of The Year award.
The man who called the Central Otago Cup and held his poise while broadcasting on national television during May’s shocking incident was also recognised during by the Southland Harness Awards.
Dave McDonald, the voice of Southland harness racing for more than four decades before he was forced in to retirement by TAB cut backs, was presented with the Contribution To Southland Harness Racing award.
A number of other categories wins were also announced on Saturday night, including leading stakes performers and other category awards run under a points system.