Racing: Phelan wakes up in time

By Mike Dillon

Ann Browne was thrilled after rowing gold medallist Mahe Drysdale presented her with the Great Northern Steeplechase trophy on Saturday. Picture / Dean Purcell
Ann Browne was thrilled after rowing gold medallist Mahe Drysdale presented her with the Great Northern Steeplechase trophy on Saturday. Picture / Dean Purcell

Temperament in jockeys is every bit as important as in the thoroughbreds they ride.

Twenty-year-old Shaun Phelan knew his big moment in racing could be about to happen aboard Tom's Myth in Saturday's $100,000 Rodd & Gunn Great Northern Steeples at Ellerslie.

He was so not stressed by the thought he had to be woken up on the back seat of the car on arriving at Ellerslie from Rotorua.

Similarly, Shelley Houston gave herself a realistic chance of beating the favourite Southern Countess on Waitoki Ahi in the $100,000 Meadow Fresh Great Northern Hurdles.

But she refused to fizz up on the car trip from Cambridge.

"I whacked up the music and burned on up the road," was how she recalled Saturday morning.

"I'm pretty laid back on raceday."

Houston saves her emotional energy for the celebrations.

After a few drinks at Ellerslie she hit the centre of Auckland city at 11pm, but while the rest of the party celebrated on she returned to her hotel at 1am. "I was just so tired all I wanted to do was go to sleep."

The adrenaline deprivation was caused by Waitoki Ahi being caught three wide in mid-field for much of the hurdles.

"A couple of runners came back on us and popped us out at the second fence in the race and there were few opportunities to get back in after that.

"The time I really started to worry was when he was posted out three deep without cover coming down the straight with a round to go.

"I thought: 'will I go up and sit outside the leader [Wotabuzz]?', but just then Matt [Gillies] came out of the trail on Southern Countess and went up to put pressure on Wotabuzz.

"I knew that would open up a few gaps so I eased back on my bloke."

It's quite remarkable that races like the Great Northerns and Grand Nationals make their own special brand of drama.

With just the two fences in the home straight remaining everyone knew the scenario - could the gallant leader Southern Countess lump her 69.5kg topweight and keep out Waitoki Ahi with 4kg less on his back? She couldn't, she missed by a narrow margin, but it wasn't for the lack of trying.

It was one of the gamest finishes you would see and Shelley Houston admits to as much admiration for the courage of the horse she beat as for her own mount. "Man she tried hard to beat us - she wanted to win as much as Matt [Gillies] did."

Kevin Cullen, who is the trainer of Waitoki Ahi, is largely unknown to many of the current racegoers.

Partly because the 70-year-old is semi-retired and has just the one horse in work and partly because of a reticent nature.

It took a while to pluck him from the Ellerslie crowd for the post-race presentation.

Those who went racing through the 1960s and 1970s would remember Cullen as a topflight jockey and No 1 for many years for the premiership-winning Bill Sanders stable.

Someone once wrote that find a job that is your passion and you'll never work again.

That shows on Ann Browne's face.

It was there for us all to see after the 73-year-old made it 12 Great Northern Steeplechases with Tom's Myth.

On raceday Ann Browne is polite and businesslike, but rarely does she beam in public because of an often-hidden sunny disposition.

"You can never win this race too many times," said Browne as she positively exploded her personality as probably never before as she watched Shaun Phelan bring Tom's Myth back.

Ann Browne has much to be proud of, not the least of which is the "Browne Hill" on her Cambridge property.

She 'loans' it to anyone who wants to condition their jumpers and runner up in Saturday's Great Northern, Myths and Legends, is raced by her next door neighbour Roger Brooks and trained by his son Mark.

Myths and Legends trains up the Hill.

"That's actually four times I've had a horse run second to one of the Browne horses in this race," said Roger Brooks with clear admiration and not a trace of envy.

Brooks' truck even brought Ann Browne's horses to Ellerslie.

Most thought the 69kg anchored Tom's Myth's stablemate Ima Heroine, but rider Matt Gillies said the better track conditions at Ellerslie did not suit the little mare.

"She was never really travelling and on the Hill the last time I knew we weren't going to be in it."

- NZ Herald

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