Baker one of the stars of the evening

Murray Baker once again showed his dry humour when being interviewed by MC Steve Davis as an inductee into the NZ Racing Hall Of Fame in Hamilton last night.

Cambridge trainer Murray Baker was at his witty best when he was first cab off the rank of the nine inductees into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame dinner at Skycity Hamilton last night.

Baker, along with his trainer partner, Andrew Forsman, has been dominant over recent seasons on both sides of the Tasman and Baker puts a lot of it down to the class and number of well-bred horses he has been given to train since shifting from Woodville to Cambridge in 2000.

And when interviewed on the stage and asked why he had decided to make the move north, despite many major wins from his Woodville base, Baker came up with a side-splitting answer to the battle he was facing in the central districts.

“I knew I had to make the move otherwise I might have ended up working for the Pahiatua Rabbit Board or something,” he quipped with the audience of around 300 racing enthusiasts erupting into laughter.

Baker, who is nearing 1500 wins in New Zealand, enjoyed success with such stars as Sir Vigilant, Kates Myth, The Phantom, Miss Stanima, Let’s Sgor, Staring and Eagle Eye during his days in Woodville and his strike rate in major races on both sides of the Tasman has lifted to a new height since shifting to Cambridge.

He was quickly off the mark with Prized Gem winning a couple of Group Ones, the Brisbane Cup and Kelt Capital Stakes in 2002, and a flood of Group One winners emerged from his stable within the next 10 years, including Lion Tamer, Nom du Jour, Dowry, Emerald Dream, Dowry, Ambitious Owner, Fully Fledged, We Can Say It Now and The Heckler.

As if those stars weren’t enough, he has come up with such headliners as Dundeel, Turn Me Loose, Mongolian Khan, Lizzie L’Amour, Stolen Dance, Luna Rosa, Diademe, Sakhee’s Soldier, Dal Cielo, Atlante, Charmont, Jon Snow and his current super star, Bonneval.

Baker has the record for the most Group One wins in Australia for a New Zealand-based trainer. Bonneval took his tally to 21 when adding to her NZ Oaks – ATC Oaks double with victory in the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield last October.

Surrounded by his family, including son Bjorn and his wife, Andrea, who both made a fleeting trip from Sydney, Baker was a popular and deserved inductee into the NZ Racing Hall of Fame.

Long-time friend, John Wheeler, a Hall of Famer, was unable to be on hand for the function, but he wasn’t about to let the special occasion go without an input.

A letter written by Wheeler was read out by fellow trainer Jeff Lynds, a friend from the Woodville training days, and it captured his delight in having not only Baker, but also former great jockey Noel Harris, and Sydney champion trainer Chris Waller, join him as inductees into the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame.

“Not bad for two from Woodville (Baker and Harris) and one from Foxton (Waller) in one year,” wrote Wheeler, who, like Baker, celebrated many great wins with Harris as the jockey.

Waller, who was his usual humble and emotional self when accepting his honour, has also paid tribute to Baker.

“When I went to Australia I asked Murray Baker whether I should do it and he told me I would be mad if I didn’t go,” said Waller.

Harris, who rode many top horses and celebrated much major success for Baker, also paid tribute to the achievements of Baker and Waller.

Harris recalled the letter he received from Waller when riding Waller’s first winner and ended the evening with one of the standout quips.

“Chris, if you’re stuck for a rider for Winx, give me a call and I’ll make a comeback, “said Harris, who was praised for not only his marvellous success as a jockey but also his current role as apprentice jockey mentor.

Cambridge’s Windsor Park Stud played its part in the inductees list as the breeder of the champion stayer Might And Power, while other inductees on the night were the great jumper Brookby Song, Australasian superstar Veandercross, Ra Ora Stud’s founder and influential racing administrator and industrialist Sir Woolf Fisher, internationally successful jockey Tod Hewitt, and champion sire O’Reilly.