Racing: Lupton is chief of Great Northern

By Mike Dillon

One of the great sights of spring racing: the Great Northern Steeplechase field splash their way through the water jump at Ellerslie on Saturday. Photo / Brett Phibbs
One of the great sights of spring racing: the Great Northern Steeplechase field splash their way through the water jump at Ellerslie on Saturday. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Halfway through Saturday's remarkable $100,000 Rodd & Gunn Great Northern Steeplechase win by Rangatira there were plenty of us calling "those tactics look flawed".

Those "tactics" - Isaac Lupton allowing Rangatira out to a 150m lead - weren't tactics at all.

It was horsemanship.

What looked to be a debilitating plan in the Southern Hemisphere's toughest horse race - some would say the world's - is actually what allowed the moderately fancied Stratford visitor to succeed.

Through decades we've seen riders trying to steal the Great Northern with speed in front and generally they have failed miserably.

Isaac Lupton wasn't given any instructions when he landed the Rangatira ride two hours before the race - he actually gave some. The only words that passed between trainer Steve Gulliver and Lupton were the latter saying: "We'll be leading."

Talk about understatements.

For practically the entire race Lupton was not aware he was so far in front.

But neither did he care.

"I rode this horse for the first time two starts back at Manawatu and for the first round I restrained him and he jumped poorly.

"On the second lap I let him go and he met his fences much better and won.

"As soon as I was told I had the ride I knew I was going to just let him be wherever he was comfortable."

That takes guts when the whole world is watching.

But you wouldn't expect any lesser degree of horsemanship from the grand nephew of one of the great horsemen,, Snow Lupton, who prepared the mighty Kiwi to win the 1983 Melbourne Cup.

It was that level of relaxation for Rangatira through three tough trips over the Ellerslie Hill that allowed him the slight residual energy to fight back when headed by 12-year-old veteran Kidunot.

The neck-and-neck battle from the last fence created excitement normally reserved for Melbourne Cups.

Rangatira gave a dashing display to win the feature. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rangatira gave a dashing display to win the feature. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Isaac Lupton became the first modern jockey to win a fourth Great Northern Steeplechases after his winning treble on the remarkably dour back-running Hypnotize.

This is a race that exhausts riders as much as horses.

"It can be a very tough race physically, but I was actually more mentally spent after Hypnotize won because each time he was favourite and you had all the public expectation resting on your shoulders.

"That's very tough mentally.

"As far as physically goes I was more tired after riding Sea King [into fourth] in the Hurdles. I was so bad I had thoughts that I might not be able to ride in the Steeplechase.

"It wasn't too bad because all I had to do was sit on him [Rangatira] and steer him over the fences."

Ross Doherty looked more exhausted than Lupton when pulling up.

Winning in racing is all about celebration, but for the participants of Saturday's dramatic nose/nose finish it was back to work straight

away. Lupton drove the six hours straight back to Waverley, was up at 4.30am yesterday and milking close to 300 cows.

The 28-year-old Dubliner Doherty jumped on a flight and as it became dark on Saturday night was helping his girlfriend with calving on a Timaru farm.

There is nothing quite like the Great Northern Steeplechase. You don't have to be in love with the jumping game to be intrigued by the race's rich history and drama.

"Getting beaten a nose in that race at my first ride over the Ellerslie Hill is disappointing for sure, but also kind of exciting," said Doherty. "The ones I feel sorry for are the connections of an old horse like Kidunot, who has gone so close in what might well be his last race.

"That's heartbreaking for them."

Doherty agrees that such an exciting race as Saturday's cannot help but promote jumps racing.

"There are a lot sitting on the fence over jumping - this will help.

"There are probably a lot of good jumpers out there that never get tried because their owners are not interested."

It certainly stirred Doherty. "I'm going to keep trying [to win the Northern] until my body gives up."

Leap of faith

*Rangatira defied history in going out to a long lead before winning.
*The Stratford visitor showed remarkable heart to come back to win after being headed.
*He provided rider Isaac Lupton with a modern day record of four Great Northern Steeplechase wins.

- NZ Herald

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