Racing: Gillies seeks to double up

By Mike Dillon

Southern Countess (left) had few problems winning the lead-up to the Great Northern Hurdles at Ellerslie a fortnight ago. Picture / Sarah Ivey
Southern Countess (left) had few problems winning the lead-up to the Great Northern Hurdles at Ellerslie a fortnight ago. Picture / Sarah Ivey

There is a lot on the line for Matt Gillies at Ellerslie tomorrow and he hasn't taken any chances.

It was a big call to stand down from riding after the Pakuranga Hunt Meeting at Ellerslie two weeks ago to keep himself safe to ride the two favourites in the Great Northerns tomorrow.

Ima Heroine will go around as favourite in the Rodd & Gunn Great Northern Steeplechase and Southern Countess will fill the same position in the $100,000 Meadow Fresh Great Northern Hurdles.

All of which adds up to the biggest payday a jumps jockey can have in New Zealand.

Gillies won the two northerns on the same pair 12 months ago and goes for a record to complete that double in successive years, something that has not been achieved in the 128-year history of jumping at Ellerslie.

The 26-year-old is relatively new in the ranks of top-end jumps' jockeys, but he has an abundance of the three elements required: confidence, toughness and superb horsemanship.

Gillies says he goes into tomorrow as confident as he was last year.

It helps that standing himself down for two weeks didn't cost him a win.

On Southern Countess, he says: "There are a couple more dangers this time in Wotabuzz and Waitaha Toa, but I believe that riding tactics will help overcome those factors."

Southern Countess really impressed in winning on the Pakuranga card, ploughing through the last hurdle and ignoring the interruption and continuing on to win easily.

"She's a really big, strong girl. She makes her own rules."

Southern Countess goes up from 68kg to 69.5kg, a tough assignment for a mare, but her strength and stickability will go a long way to overcoming it.

Ima Heroine confirmed her favouritism for the Steeplechase with her dominant finish into the minor money in the shorter Pakuranga Hunt Cup.

Winning that last year and again in the Great Northern, Ima Heroine flashed home from an impossible position late in the race to score stylishly.

"The extra distance this time is what she's looking for.

"If nothing falls in front of her and I can keep her out of trouble, we should be right."

Ann Browne has Ima Heroine and Tom's Myth in the race and the likelihood is that they will start the first two favourites.

"I don't have to worry about which one will win, as long as one of them does," she says.

PLACE IN HISTORY

- Matt Gillies has stood down for two weeks to keep himself safe for tomorrow at Ellerslie.

- He rides the two favourites in New Zealand's toughest jumping tests.

- Ima Heroine and Southern Countess could provide Gillies with a record-breaking double.

- NZ Herald

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