Racing: GN victor to soon kick back

By Mike Dillon

Kick Back beats Amanood Lad and Zed Case in the Great Northern Steeplechase on Saturday. Photo / Trish Dunell
Kick Back beats Amanood Lad and Zed Case in the Great Northern Steeplechase on Saturday. Photo / Trish Dunell

We may have seen the last of Kick Back. Her moment of glory in winning Saturday's jumping holy grail, the $125,000 Meadowfresh Great Northern Steeplechase, probably also declared her retirement.

"I don't think we could possibly run her again," said the little mare's breeder, Tom Trotter, father of owner Sam Trotter.

No, Kick Back pulled up sound - at least immediately - but her size almost certainly precludes her running similar races with much bigger weights.

Tom Trotter was probably a more reliable witness to that moments after winning the Southern Hemisphere's greatest jumping race.

"She's so small that if she got up to 69kg or 70kg, and she probably will, I'd hate to see her busting her guts to finish third or fourth in a race like this. She's too good for that."

For all that, you don't make such plans on the day of a race.

Sam Trotter was delighted simply to swim in his good fortune. "I admit I was the biggest doubter of this horse from day one. I thought she was too small to do anything. The greatest thing that happened was when I got busy on the farm and sent her to Dummy [Kevin Myers].

"When he called me to say he was going to make her into a jumper I thought he'd gone mad."

A phone call at all was significant. So, Sam, how often does Kevin call you?

"About as much as he calls you [press] guys, pretty much never. You never know how the horses are going, but the good part is when they go to the races, you know they're ready."

Tom Trotter: "Eighteen months ago Kevin said, 'this is my Northern horse'. That's the genius of the guy."

Kick Back is only the third mare in 50 years to win the Great Northern. Interestingly, one of the other pair, Falada in 1969, was of similar size.

The field of 14 was the largest of recent times, suggesting increasing strength in jumps racing.

Want a long-range tip? Third-placed Zed Case is trainer John Wheeler's tip for next year.

"Realistically, we don't have a winning chance this time, but wait until next year," said Wheeler after legging Aaron Kuru aboard the horse.

Wheeler's prediction looked off the mark as Zed Case made a line of three with Kick Back and Amanood Lad over the last fence. Third was a stunning effort for a horse who Wheeler found in an obscure paddock still suckling its mother as a 5-year-old and who had only two steeplechases without winning going into Saturday.

The winner's stablemate Crash Bandicoot finished mid-field after never looking a winning chance.

"He raced too fiercely," said rider Matthew Gillies. "You can't charge up the Hill, but he did each time. I was doing everything I could to settle him, but he refused."

In 2003 Victorian Brad McLean had his introduction to New Zealand racing when he rode two horses at the jumps-only meeting they used to run at Paeroa. On the way back to central Auckland he and a couple of mates stopped off to have a look around Ellerslie and its fences.

He loved what he saw and told his mates: "One day I'd love to come back here and ride."

It took 13 years, but on Saturday, in his first time in a saddle around Ellerslie, he won one of our greatest races, the $125,000 Schweppes Great Northern Hurdles on outsider D'Llaro.

McLean met D'Llaro's trainer, Graeme Lord, at last month's Grand National meeting at Riccarton.

"Graeme said if the ride came available he would give me a call. Matt Gillies had another ride so Graeme called me Monday and I couldn't wait to get here."

This was not an easy assignment. Ten-year-old D'Llaro is not an easy ride and McLean said he was pleased he had watched the veteran's past two races from his home base in Warrnambool.

He was under pressure when he mounted the horse at Ellerslie - D'Llaro is owned by Graeme Lord, who had ridden the winner of the Northern twice, and two further ex-jumps jockeys, John McGifford and Kim Hughes.

The only instruction was not to fight D'Llaro, who likes to roll along at his own solid cruising speed.

In a superb exhibition of pace judgment, McLean set about taking the sprint out of the opposition by setting a decent pace in front.

"When he skipped that third-last fence at the 700m I sneaked a look behind and judged by the way they were going I could be confident we would win."

D'Llaro jumped the final two in the home straight and won comfortably.

McLean, 31, was too tall to ride on the flat and has been jumps riding for 11 years. The future?

"Well, I've got my weight under control and I'm not carrying too much pain, so I will see how we go."

To jumps jockeys, "not much pain" is relative. "No, all I've had is four shoulder reconstructions and trouble with my back, but I'm lucky."

The favourite Raisafuasho got well back and mounted a sustained finish to get up for second, giving the impression a wetter track might have helped.

What the jockeys said:

Kick Back Jockey Shaun Fannin: It was an unreal finish. I dropped my whip and she was still too good for them - it was fantastic.

Amanood Lad Steve Pateman: He was awesome today - so brave. It's been a great training performance to get him back to form. Hopefully, they will push on and try again next year.

Zed Case Aaron Kuru: He was the maiden chaser in the race and he certainly jumped better than that, it looks promising for him next year.

Upper Cut Jockey Martin Kelly: He has run a great race, he did everything right. We were just a little unlucky to come across those three on the day.

Stagehand Richard Cully: He ran on really well for a young chaser - it's promising for the future.

Old Redfeather Jockey Will Gordon: He has run a cracker. He defied his odds and stayed the trip. It was a good run.

Gargamel Jockey Alan Browne: He got a bit close to the water jump which knocked his confidence. After that he picked himself up and ran okay.

Crash Bandicoot Mathew Gillies: He just has too much brilliance for such a long race. He is better suited to 4000m.

Big Brownie Jockey Gary Walsh: He just travelled too well the whole way, especially for a 13-year-old. He started to hang a little on top of the hill the last time as well.

High Forty Michael Mitchell: He just hit the water jump on the first round and we were forever chasing them from there.

Eric The Viking Brad McLean: He just couldn't keep going today.

Mr Mor Mathew Cropp: We were nice and relaxed out the back, I was going to make a move after the double and unfortunately he just didn't put his landing gear down.

Snowdroptwinkletoes Jockey Charlie Studd: He jumped indifferently. He was coming into it nicely but put another bad one in and came unstuck.

Wise Men Say Isaac Lupton: Unfortunately he just hit the horse in front of him and came down.

- NZ Herald

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