Racing: Browne joins Bart as trainer of stayers

By Mike Dillon

Photo / APN
Photo / APN

Yes, Bart Cummings would have been proud.

Auckland Racing Club chief executive Chris Weaver got it right when he asked winning trainer Ann Browne how to train a horse to win the gruelling Great Northern Steeplechase.

On the dais minutes after Ima Heroine outstayed the opposition in the $85,000 Rodd & Gunn Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie on Saturday, Weaver asked the Cambridge horsewoman how the stable managed to win the great race 11 times.

"Find a horse that is a good stayer and work it over a long time."

If Bart Cummings had been at Ellerslie he would have applauded.

It's very significant Cummings has won 11 Melbourne Cups with the same tactics.

"Good stayer, work it hard," sounds simple, but where the Great Northern Steeplechase is concerned nothing is simple.

This is a race that has mana. Visiting champion Australian jumps jockey Steven Pateman, who pulled Climbing High out of the race with 400m to run, couldn't wait to declare his excitement around the race.

"This is one of the best races in the world. I can't believe it doesn't get more publicity around the world."

Well, yes, but it does outside Australia.

Increasingly, Australia, like the United States, is starting to ignore what goes on beyond its shores.

"I'm coming back to ride in it every year," said a delighted Patemen.

The approach of Ann Browne and rider Matthew Gillies was completely different.

Ima Heroine produced a miraculous final 350m sprint to win the Pakuranga Hunt Cup two weeks ago.

"I didn't think she could sprint the same at the end of the Northern distance," said a frank Browne.

Rider Gillies did - until he was on the Hill the last of three times.

"I gave her no chance on the Hill," he said, even in the excitement of winning both Great Northerns.

"She went from fourth to seventh on the Hill and didn't feel like she was going to win."

The sprint Ima Heroine found from the last fence was no less dramatic than 14 days earlier.

Stunningly, yet again, a 6400m race was decided in the final 300m after the last fence had been cleared. If they had opened the TAB on the trifecta at the 500m you couldn't possibly have got it.

The winner's stablemate Fair King, not for the first time, had the race well won coming over the last fence. His price at that point to win was $1.50 and to run 1, 2 or 3 around $1.01.

He finished fourth.

The odds on Hypnotize finishing in the first three at the 400m was $10 and you would probably have got $20 had you asked.

The final sprint the old bloke turned on to flash into third was nothing short of phenomenal and although he didn't retire with a fourth Great Northern to his credit, his final effort was barely short of the three that gained him victory in the great race. Gillies earlier won the $85,000 Meadow Fresh (milk) Great Northern Hurdles on Southern Countess.

The most improved jumps rider in the country got the "yeah, right" call when he said in his victory speech that he has two glasses of milk most days.

"No, absolutely I do," he said after shedding 3kg on Saturday to ride Southern Countess.

"Milk settles your thirst better than anything when you're wasting."

The Cambridge-based horseman who was riding for a sack of carrots at central picnic meetings in Australia four years ago, was as staggered as anyone that Ima Heroine sprinted as well as she did. "I can't explain how she managed to do what she did."

It was the first time a mare had won the race in the 42 years since little Falada and the hard-case Freddy Blackburn managed it in 1969.

The fact a mare could win the hurdles the same year was spectacular.

Southern Countess led throughout and had the big race won 1600m out, despite being taken on throughout the race by Maythehorsebemagic.

"I was a bit worried about that other horse early in the race, but I think, overall, it helped her," said Gillies.

"Each time in the back straight she relaxed, but wanted to race and compete each time she was in the finishing straight. Even in that run down the straight the first time she thought it was the finish of a very short race and wanted to go hard."

The Brosnan family, racing's most humble participants, savoured the victory.

Forty year-old Peter Brosnan was happy to admit it was his finest moment in a lifetime in the industry.

Apart from Seeking The Silver's plucky second in the hurdles and Hypnotize's third and the second placing by Myths And Legends, little could be said for the beaten brigade.

Well-backed Honey, who at one stage was the favourite, was disappointing in the hurdle after a brief challenge, but Solid Steal plugged on gamely for third.

- NZ Herald

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