Equestrian: Heavy track worries Houston

By Mike Dillon

Spirit of Alaton has a sound record over hurdles and is a place hope at Trentham tomorrow. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Spirit of Alaton has a sound record over hurdles and is a place hope at Trentham tomorrow. Photo / Paul Estcourt

clear of the opposition on Climbing High when she approaches the fence near the 600m in tomorrow's $50,000 Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase at Trentham.

Then, she would know that she had a royal chance of holding the others off when she gets to the bottomless heavy ground as the field joins the course proper for the run to the winning post.

That's not going to happen.

So Houston and Climbing High will just have to take their chance with Trentham's notoriously heavy course proper which, in 400m, will do as much as the previous 5100m in deciding the winner of the Wellington Steeplechase.

All but the final 400m of the famous race will be run through the figure-eight configuration in the centre of Trentham, which is always in reasonable condition compared with the course proper.

"Last year, the course proper was extremely heavy, but the footing was pretty good through the centre," said Houston yesterday.

Climbing High is a free-running, big-jumping type, who prefers reasonable footing.

While Houston competed at Trentham last year, Climbing High did not and, in fact, has yet to race on the course, but Houston is confident the classy 'chaser will cope well with the turning track, which requires horses to jump off both legs.

It's the deep mud she's worried about.

As much as the Hastings track - officially rated slow - looked in reasonable condition for the Hawkes Bay Steeplechase last start, Houston said the footing didn't suit Climbing High.

He finished strongly for a good second to Yourtheman, but Houston believes being uncomfortable most of the way cost them dearly.

"He'd missed a little work, too, which didn't help. There'd been heavy rain and they backed off his gallops to protect his legs and it probably counted.

"If he'd been 100 [per cent] he'd probably have coped better."

Yourtheman again looks the danger, but this time meets Climbing High 1.5kg worse off - a significant amount of weight at the end of 5500m.

Yourtheman, a top-class hurdler, and rider Daniel Stackhouse make an interesting pairing.

The veteran has had only two steeplechases and has won them both and Stackhouse has similar sparse experience in the 'chasing field.

Logan James only battled when fifth in the Hawkes Bay Steeplechase, but looked very good winning the Manawatu Steeples the start before.

Houston rates him the horse to beat after Yourtheman.

"He's showing a lot of fight."

Solid Steal gets a chance to get back on side with punters in the $50,000 Stella Artois Wellington Hurdles.

He never flattered when favourite for the Hawkes Bay Hurdles after stable jockey Jonathan Riddell rode him in preference to stablemate and eventual winner Ho Down.

Much was made of the fact he fluffed the last fence, but that made no difference - he was a beaten horse well before then.

He finished seventh and might not have been much closer with a clean jump at the last. One point of difference this time though is the conditions - Solid Steal loves the heavy stuff and he's certainly going to get that.

Some of his rivals don't like it as much - High Season and Spirit Of Alaton among them - so the field tends to narrow down.

Big Brownie made a real impression winning the KS Browne Hurdles at Ellerslie last month and he could be the upsetter.

He is improving steadily and showed he was on track by making ground over 2000m on the flat at his only start since Ellerslie.

- NZ Herald

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