The deadly Kevin Myers and Shaun Fannin pairing combined once again to win a premier jumping contest as Kick Back prevailed in a thrilling finish to the Tractor Centre Pakuranga Hunt Cup at Ellerslie yesterday.
Fannin rode a perfectly judged race to come from near last with a lap to run in the 4900m contest as he guided Kick Back to victory by a head over last year's winner Jack Romanov as the pair staged an all-out battle over the final 100m of the contest.
Kick Back's stablemate and race favourite Crash Bandicoot finished close up in third, just ahead of gallant outsider Nells Belle who had made a bold bid to steal the race when taking control with 2000m left to run.
Despite her smallish stature Fannin was quick to praise his mount's fighting spirit.
"She's really only a tiny mare but she has a huge heart and a real never-say-die attitude," he remarked.
"She is just so tough and when it got a bit close as we squeezed between them over the last fence she just put her head down and went for it."
Fannin was delighted with the way the mare handled her first look at the famed Ellerslie steeplechase circuit and is looking forward to bigger things in a fortnight.
"She loved those fences and jumped beautifully all the way," he said.
"The plan was to stay back early and follow Crash Bandicoot into the race but he jumped up to the leaders a little earlier than I wanted so I just bided my time until the top of the hill.
"I did get caught up a little behind a couple and when she got to the outside coming down the hill I thought I might be a little too far back.
"She seemed to appreciate the good ground, though, and really made up lengths from that point so I knew I was a big chance with a good jump at the last and she flew it.
"Hopefully, she comes through this one well as I think on that performance she has to be a big chance in the Great Northern now."
Although beaten, runner-up Jack Romanov showed he is right on target to defend his Great Northern Steeplechase crown with a gritty effort that will top off his preparation nicely for the gruelling 6400m event on September 3.
- NZ Racing Desk