THE Upper Hunter reaped the benefits of recognition at the 2019 Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards (GSSSA) in front of a full house at Royal Randwick on Friday night. The awards - an initiative of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia and Racing Australia and sponsored by global racing and breeding operation Godolphin - recognise some of the unsung heroes of the Australian racing and breeding industry. Unparalleled experience, unique skills and an unquestionable willingness to share them are among the many qualities that led to the selection of David Merrick as the overall winner of the Thoroughbred Excellence category. Merrick, the stud manager at Widden Stud, also collected the Dedication to Breeding Award announced at the GSSSA presentations at Royal Randwick Racecourse on September 6 attended by leading trainers Tony McEvoy and James Cummings, iconic breeders Antony Thompson and Peter Orton and Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen. The naming of Merrick as the supreme award winner acknowledges a lifetime in the thoroughbred industry, the past 26 years of which have been spent at Widden. For Merrick, his latest recognition follows his naming in 2018 as winner of the Hunter Thoroughbred Breeders' coveted Murray Bain Award that honours "the outstanding achievements of those in our industry who champion exceptional service and hands on practice". "I've worked in the industry for 40 years and to achieve some recognition for the work you have put in is a great result," Merrick said. "I'm in absolute shock. There are such incredible people who work in this industry and to get recognition is a real boost. "It has been amazing. It's a great feeling and I encourage everyone to get behind the Awards next year." Merrick's nominator, Widden manager Derek Field, praised him for his leadership, dedication and "a total involvement in every aspect of the business at any time of the night or day, year-after-year". "David's passion and time and his selfless attitude of forever giving is something he should be proud of," Field said. "His one-on-one relationships with our clients are testimony to the regard in which he is held and the utmost trust and respect of all who work with him. "David has devoted his life to the breeding industry." Merrick is one of seven award winners who were chosen from a record 150 nominations from every Australian state and territory representing every area of the industry. Each of the winners received a trophy and a cash prize of $10,000 with $3,000 to share among fellow workers. Each runner-up received $1,000, aside from The Newcomer Award, who received $5,000 plus $3,000 to fellow workers, plus an all-expenses paid trip to Dubai. The runner-up received $1,000. Mr Johnsen said he was extremely proud of the skill and dedication of staff in the industry and was honoured to be in attendance to celebrate their recognition. "Upper Hunter, being the Horse Capital of Australia, reaped the benefits of recognition of excellence at the awards, judged by industry peers and legends," he said. Dedication to Breeding: David Merrick (Widden Stud). Runner-up: Stephanie Mitchell (Mungrup Stud). Dedication to Racing: Steve Adams (Anthony Freedman Racing). Runner-Up: Michael Shepherdson (McEvoy Mitchell Racing) Leadership: David White (Vinery Stud). Runner-up: Simon Johnson (Godolphin) Horsemanship: Warren Sutton (McEvoy Mitchell Racing). Runner-up: Nigel Bentley (Arrowfield Stud) Administration: Cecelia O'Gorman (Thoroughbred Breeders Australia). Runner-up: Susan Willis (Yulong Investments) Thoroughbred Care and Welfare: Lindy Thewlis (self-employed). Runner-up: Fiona McIntrye (self-employed) Newcomer: Talia Cranfield (Godolphin). Runner-Up: Alyssa Pickels (Kitchwin Hills Stud). The GSSSA, sponsored by Godolphin and partners throughout the industry and convened by Racing Australia and Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, aims to recognise and reward those who work in all areas of the thoroughbred racing and breeding industry. The GSSSA were devised by Godolphin's founder Sheikh Mohammed to recognise that stud and stable staff who are the backbone of the horseracing industry. Godolphin sponsors the GSSSA in five countries in the belief that hard work and dedication of grooms, exercise riders, office workers and foaling crews - the list of unsung heroes within the industry goes on and on - should be celebrated.