Chris Luoni, the driving force behind the establishment of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, is stepping down as Chairman after serving seven years in the post but will continue as a director.
“Chris was the catalyst behind establishing the Racing Hall of Fame,” past Chairman and director Gerald Fell said.
“I was the first Chairman of the Hall of Fame and between us we drove the development of it.
“I retired and Chris took over, and it has just got stronger and stronger.”
Luoni, an accountant by profession, has been an avid racing fan since his teenage years following the fortunes of his father’s high-class racehorse of the 1970s, Happy Union. He has experienced success as a breeder and owner with horses such as Listed stakes winners Ma Danseuse and Oliverdance, and he also raced Group Two winner Balrani.
The inspiration for developing the Racing Hall of Fame evolved after a trip to Australia in 2003.
“Chris had been in Adelaide and attended the Australian Racing Hall of Fame dinner,” Fell said.
“He recognised there was a need to do something similar in New Zealand.
“I happened to be there at the same time and had lunch with Chris the next day at the Races.”
Fell was equally enthusiastic about the concept and shared Luoni’s concern that New Zealand’s rich history of racing could be lost over time.
“It was Chris’ idea, he sowed the seed and then we went about doing it,” Fell said.
“I had been on the NZ Thoroughbred Racing Board so I had a lot of contacts, and Chris and his family were also heavily involved in racing. Between us we knew enough people to get together and form the NZ Racing Hall of Fame.”
“Chris has had a big influence all the way through.”
The inaugural awards dinner took place in 2006 with 14 inductees admitted to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.
The awards are held every two years with Fell crediting a great deal of the success to the variety of inductees.
“A big part of the success of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame and the event is that from day one we have divided it between horses and people, and old and new,” he said.
“It is a mixture of those categories.
We could have, in that first year, just put all those past champion horses in there but we didn’t. We looked at trainers, administrators, jockeys and so on.”
The next induction, the eighth since the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame’s establishment, will take place in Hamilton in May 2020 with the selection process well underway.
“We have a selection committee that is made up of independent people and board members, some are not directly involved in racing,” Fell said.
“They are independent of our board which is part of the reason for its success. Steve Davis is the Chairman and Allan Fenwick is also heavily involved.
“There is a list of potential inductees that we keep adding to.”
Each inductee is celebrated with a short film on the night that is then available to view on the website following the awards.
“We are fortunate that between us we came up with the idea of producing the videos to preserve the history for prosperity and future generations,” Fell said.
“We stuck to that idea and it has been very successful.
“As it is every second year we have plenty of time to develop those videos.”
As well as organising the 2020 induction event, plans are underway for a new website design. Fell also said the board were looking to create a museum to preserve and display the racing memorabilia that is an important part of the New Zealand thoroughbred industry.
Stepping into the Chairperson role is Cherry Taylor, co-owner of Trelawney Stud and manager of her insurance company C N Taylor Consulting. Taylor brings a wealth of knowledge of the thoroughbred industry and has extensive experience as a member of several other boards and committees.
“We are very happy obviously that Cherry is coming on board,” Fell said. “We are very pleased to have someone as enthusiastic as she is.”
Another recent appointment is that of Mare Leicester being named as patron. Leicester, a successful owner-breeder, stepped down as a director of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year and was invited to become the patron to recognize her massive contribution over the last 12 years.
With Taylor’s reputation for making things happen and a board passionate about the preservation of New Zealand’s racing history there can be no doubt the Racing Hall of Fame will ensure New Zealand’s racing heroes, equine and human, will be celebrated for years to come. -NZ Racing Hall of Fame