Racing: Top trainers chase honours

By Mike Dillon

There is kudos aplenty in winning the Great Northern Steeplechase, one of the toughest races in the world.
Kick Back gave a great display of jumping and stamina in winning the Pakuranga Hunt Cup last month. Picture / Race Images
Kick Back gave a great display of jumping and stamina in winning the Pakuranga Hunt Cup last month. Picture / Race Images

This is a contest between Mr Invisible, Mr Nice Guy and Mr Quiet One.

Tomorrow's $125,000 Meadow Fresh Great Northern Steeplechase has all the drama ingredients of 100-plus runnings of one of the world's most famous steeplechases through the years.

Mr Invisible is, of course, Kevin Myers, a master horseman who sensationally conditions his horses at home and prefers not to go to the races.

Myers has a magic hand of cards with Crash Bandicoot, Snodroptwinkletoes and Pakuranga Hunt Cup winner Kick Back engaged in the 6400m marathon with its brutal three tips over the Ellerslie Hill.

Mr Nice Guy is the gentlemanly Brian Anderton, in his 80th year and one of the most revered characters of New Zealand racing and who will be represented by topweight High Forty.

And Mr Quiet One is the silent achiever, Mark Oulaghan, yet another master conditioner of horses for the tough road and there is no tougher road than the Great Northern Steeplechase.

Oulaghan won't create history if he can win the Northern with his Grand National victor Upper Cut, but it will be a remarkable achievement.

And he thinks that's not only a realistic goal, he sees it as potential payback.

"He was in this race two years ago and was just coming into the race on top of the Hill the last time when he fell."

Upper Cut knuckled on landing over the first fence on the Hill and spilled Isaac Lupton over his head. Oulaghan does not have a definitive type of track he would like so see for Upper Cut, who won in very testing conditions in the National at Riccarton.

"If the track is heavy it would probably put a few of the others further out of contention, but Upper Cut can handle most types of track."

With three horses Kevin Myers holds the high ground in terms of winning chance and he will be loving the fact punters have a real puzzle on their hands deciding which of the trio is the most likely.

That's a line ball call.

The timing might be just about right for Crash Bandicoot. He came into the fray like a potential winner 600m out in the Hunt Cup and although his handy third was a smart effort, it also looked like a run from a horse that would improve with just that one race.

That was his first jumping race for five weeks and although he had a maiden flat race between, which he won, nothing prepares a horse for these races like trips over the Ellerslie Hill.

Snodroptwinkletoes went just okay when fifth in the Grand National last start. He was 15 lengths behind Upper Cut and will need to pull a few more firecrackers from the box just to turn the result around on that horse alone.

Brian Anderton has not enjoyed the best of health in the past 18 months. He has been a giant of the jumping game practically all his life and this would be a magical moment if High Forty could lift the big one for him and wife Lorraine.

Weight can be critical in Great Northerns and remarkably, or perhaps not, the race can be won in the run from the final fence because the pain barrier kicks in late. The 70kg clear topweight is a formidable barrier, but High Forty has class.

Son Shane Anderton, just back from a Vietnam-Singapore holiday, says High Forty has recovered well from his Grand National effort. High Forty finished six lengths from winner Upper Cut despite not being happy in the heavy conditions.

"The better the footing, the better he'll go on Saturday," says Anderton. The Ellerslie official rating yesterday was a heavy 10 yesterday, but many parts of the steeplechase course will be much better than that.

"He was only a nose from third in the National and didn't stop trying," says Anderton. "He hasn't previously been over the Hill and you never know how they'll handle it until they face it. I don't imagine he'll have many problems because we work him up the hills here at home."

Crash Bandicoot and Upper Cut as the top picks with Kick Back in with a strong hope.

Raisafuasho remains the pick for the $125,000 Schweppes Great Northern Hurdle, despite his uncharacteristic flip at the second fence on the course two weeks back.

He had a run in the 3100m hurdle at Te Aroha last Sunday and flashed home late after getting too far back early. The additional 1000m this time is what he's looking for.

Punting pointers

• Forget that fall: Raisafuasho (R4 Ellerslie). He's normally a safe jumper, so forget he fell here two weeks ago. He looks the Northern
winner.

• Mr Consistent: Platinum Command (R2 Ellerslie): Two super efforts at
Riccarton and narrowly beaten both times. Super competitive here particularly with a 3kg claim.

• Game as: Katie McKeen (R5 Ellerslie). Meets a so-so field of stayers here and her consistent winter form deserves favouritism, even with 58.5kg.

- NZ Herald

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