Racing: Phelan rides high after brilliant win

By James Graham

Shaun Phelan makes the most of his pickup ride on Tom's Myth in the Wellington Steeplechase on Saturday. Photo / SNPA
Shaun Phelan makes the most of his pickup ride on Tom's Myth in the Wellington Steeplechase on Saturday. Photo / SNPA

In-form maiden hurdler Goosebumps always shaped as the one to beat in the opening event at Te Aroha today.

After his rider Shaun Phelan's breakthrough feature win on Tom's Myth in the $50,000 Wellington Steeplechase at Trentham on Saturday it may pay to double the bet.

Phelan's confidence went to a new high with a masterly display on the Ann Browne-trained 8-year-old around the testing figure-eight.

Until then, the Rotorua-based 20-year-old's biggest win was on Vivaldi's Gone in a $14,000 home track open hurdle, the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty Hunt Cup, in September 2010.

He had teamed with Browne before, most notably on her proven feature race performer Havana City for fifth in the 2010 Pakuranga Hunt Cup and a second in a memorial race for her legendary husband Ken the same year at Trentham.

But until Tom's Myth's regular rider Shelley Houston gave him the leg-up of his short career by opting to partner rival Penstar instead on Saturday, Phelan had yet to even ride a winner for Browne.

Houston and Penstar just battled into fourth on Saturday, 32 lengths adrift of Phelan and Tom's Myth.

The latter pair had more than nine lengths to spare at the line on the brave runner-up, Brushman, who had ironically given unsung rider Cody Singer his career highlight in the same race two years earlier.

"This is by far my biggest win and a huge thrill," said Phelan yesterday.

The day started as a shocker too for Phelan; in his only two other rides he finished a 37-length last in the special hurdles and even lonelier tail-end Charlie in the Wellington Hurdles on Bally Heights.

From the moment he jumped on Tom's Myth for the first time he was determined to make amends.

"I just thought I'd ride him a bit more positively than it looked like he had been," said Phelan, the son of Rotorua-based hobby trainer Craig Phelan. "It looked like he'd been getting a bit too far back in his races than he needed to be."

Phelan said he'd been warned before the race that the one-win chaser might "be a bit careless" and jump "a bit awkwardly".

But at no stage did the 8-year-old give Phelan any cause for concern, even when the better-fancied Better On Top streaked to his huge lead.

"I knew he'd have something left at the end of it," said Phelan.

Phelan broke a 15-year drought for Browne in the feature - her last success was with Flash Hunter in 1997 - but he said yesterday he'd yet to get the nod for the horse's next feature assignments, the Pakuranga Hunt Cup-Great Northern double.

Meanwhile, Phelan has a score to settle with the next stop-off on the feature-race calendar, Riccarton's Grand National next month.

It was at that meeting last year when a crash on maiden hurdler Power Pack on the middle day sidelined his jumps season with a broken pelvis. Phelan is hoping The Fox will help him make amends this year.

The Dean Cunningham-trained 7-year-old was scratched on Saturday from the opening chase, the Norm Bevan Memorial, won by Solid Steal and Jonathan Riddell in a rare jumps appearance.

But he is expected to reappear with Phelan aboard in the Inter-Island event at Paeroa on July 25, a race his rider hopes will confirm a Grand National trip. The pair looked suited to the 4000m feature, judging by their latest outing for fifth from on the pace in the Hawkes Bay Steeplechase on June 30.

Phelan also rates the Tony Cole-trained Treasure Hunter as a jumper to follow for the rest of the season.

"You don't have to be associated to a big stable - you end up being committed to them sometimes - and if they want you they'll ring you," said Phelan.

"Being based in Rotorua suits me for now and I'm happy to ride work in Matamata, Cambridge, wherever.

"But sometimes getting on that good horse is just luck at the end of the day."

- NZ Herald

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