Racing: The race of many great memories

By Mike Dillon

Today’s running of Ellerslie jumping feature sure to provide its own tale of drama and horsemanship.
No one  who saw the 1967 Great Northern Steeplechase will ever forget the incredible win of Eiffel Tower over Ringlock at Ellerslie.
No one who saw the 1967 Great Northern Steeplechase will ever forget the incredible win of Eiffel Tower over Ringlock at Ellerslie.

The scene is Ellerslie Racecourse, two weeks ago today, the men's toilet in the members' grandstand.

It's 30 minutes before the first and Lex Nichols, 20-something years out of New Zealand racing journalism and living mainly overseas, spies one other occupant.

"Think there'll be a big crowd here today?" says the other bloke.

Recognising him, Lex says: "Nah, not like those magical years when they had jockeys like Jim Hely riding."

Jim Hely snapped his head around and flashed that wide smile that is so permanent it could almost be painted on.

Hely, remarkably sprite as he approaches his 80s, spent 30 minutes reminiscing in the Press Room. Modest as ever, Hely wanted to talk about others who have ridden on today's Great Northern day, but not about himself.

Quite simply Jim Hely and his long-time colleague Jock Harris were legends, not just over jumps, but also on the flat.

Hely won the 1961 Great Northern Steeplechase on Patrick Molloy and three years later on Johnny Dee. Hely and Harris were a different type of rider than what we see today.

Graeme Walters, who eventually stamped a large footprint on the Northerns, was the first of the new brigade to appear. Brash and over-confident, Walters upset a few and could not have cared less.

You ask if Hely rode against Walters at the tail of his career. "Yes, he came along and started this ..." pushing his hips sideways, indicating argy-bargy.

"And you clearly indicated that wasn't a good idea?"

"Yes", and the hips went in the other direction in retaliation.

You didn't mess with the likes of Jim Hely and Jock Harris in those days - not unless your death wish was well established.

"Mind you,"threw in Hely with an even wider smile, "we had an advantage back then - no video cameras."

The Great Northern is the stuff of legends, The race has a mystical quality, even for those who are not necessarily dedicated jumps fans.

Jim Hely will be at Ellerslie this afternoon absorbing the race he adores. So will many others, recalling some magical moments as Hunterville winning three consecutive Northerns in 1983-84-85, strapped by a tiny schoolgirl named Lisa Cropp.

Like Brian "Baggy" Hillis winning on Brockton in the early '70s carrying a broken forearm.

Like Eiffel Tower being run off at the water jump in 1967 and coming from one full fence behind the field to win.

Like Smart Hunter and the then Michelle Hopkins dead-heating with Sir Avion and Wayne Hillis after racing together in front throughout.

Today another chapter of the legend will play out mid afternoon.

Appropriately, Kevin Myers holds the trumps in the big one. Crash Bandicoot (No 11, R6), Kick Back (No 5) and Snodroptwinkletoes (No 6) is better than a a decent trifecta of winning chances.

Crash Bandicoot looked a real chance in this race with his close third in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup, which looked as though it would clean him up beautifully for today. And Kick Back, not greatly bigger than a large greyhound, showed the size of her heart would be deceptive in winning the Pakuranga Hunt Cup.

Just about everyone would cheer home topweight High Forty (No 1) if only for the thrill it would give his part owner and co-trainer Brian Anderton, BJ to his mates andone of racing's nicest participants to all.

"We've won seven Grand Nationals," said Dunedin-based Anderton, "and to top it off by winning this one would be a lifetime highlight."

With only the two jumping races on the card it is difficult to say the best of the day is in one of them, but Raisafuasho (No 7, R4) looks a great hope in the $125,000 Schweppes Great Northern Hurdles.

As we said in yesterday's column, completely forget Raisafuasho fell at the second fence here two weeks ago. He is usually safe and the last 800m of the too-short hurdle race at Te Aroha last Sunday, in which he powered late into third, was a great trial for today. Shamal (No 9), Mahanadi (No 4) and Thenamesbond (No 3) are logical dangers.

Trainer Glen Old wasn't sure which race he will start Eletist in races one 1 or two, but felt the former was more likely. Despite the 60kg topweight

and an awkward barrier, Eletist (No 1) should be difficult to beat. He is at the height of his form and finds the line well.

El Duque (No 7) was unhappy in the track conditions when well beaten last start and will do better this time.

If Eletist is withdrawn from the second it will make the job that much easier for the favourite Platinum Command (No 3). Lisa Latta took him to the National meeting at Riccarton and he has narrowly beaten in both starts. This race looks within his capability.

Irish Heartbeat (No 2) is under-rated and her fresh-up New Plymouth win was no fluke.

Difficult to separate the two O'Sullivan/Scott runners in Race 3.

There was only a narrow margin between Persuasive (No 5) and Secret Spirit (No 8) here two weeks and a similar result is a real possibility. The weights favour Secret Spirit slightly more this time so perhaps that's the tip. Mr Knowitall (No 2) should be included in all multiple bets.

Katie McKeen (No 3, R5) has had a busy time this winter, but when tough, mature mares strike form they generally hold it. She is a bit better than the stayers she meets here.

Her Choice (No 12, R8) looks a decent get-out bet in the last at useful odds. Rebecca Scott's 4kg claim will bring the weight down to 52kg and that will be important on a track that should be cut out and testing late on the day. Gumboots (No 2) is a progressive type.

- NZ Herald

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