Jumping gem The Big Opal completed a top day at Te Rapa for Shaun Fannin and Kevin Myers when he turned in a sparkling display to win the Waikato Steeplechase.
The eight-year-old showed he is going to be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming winter features when he led all of the way to win yesterday's PJR Warren Storm Lifebrokers-sponsored event.
It was the second success on the card for defending jumps jockeys' premiership champion Fannin after he had guided the Myers-prepared Highly Likely to his maiden jumping win in the Neil Treweek Steeplechase.
The Big Opal has now triumphed in five of his seven starts over the big fences and showed his quality last term with a runaway victory in the Koral Steeplechase at Riccarton before he was the beaten favourite in the Grand National Steeplechase.
"Things went wrong there when the saddle slipped," Fannin said. "He can go on with it now though, he's top class."
The Big Opal had his rivals stretched out after a circuit yesterday before Joking, who subsequently fell at the last fence, closed the gap 800 metres from home.
"He's the sort of horse that you don't realise how far in front you are," Fannin said.
"I had a look over my shoulder down the back and they were a long way away. When he heard that other horse coming he got his second wind and he was strong to the line, he's done a tremendous job."
The Big Opal had three and a half lengths on Mr Mor at the line with Fair Script third and the winner's stablemate and 2014 winner Palemo a distant fourth.
Meanwhile, the Te Rapa game plan for Thenamesbond was executed to perfection by jockey Will Gordon for the pair to earn major honours in the Waikato Hurdles.
The hardy jumper was urged to put the pressure on his rivals a long way from home in yesterday's PJR Porritt Sand-sponsored feature by the gelding's rider and that proved the winning of the race.
"I wanted to get the others off the bit a long way out and turn it into a real staying test," part-owner and trainer Stephen Ralph said, explaining the tactics.
"Will managed that perfectly, full credit to him. When he started riding pretty hard down the back I thought good on you, the horse can stay."
Although Thenamesbond was headed three flight from home, his reserves of stamina came into play and he came back strongly to defeat the longshot Yardarm and Ooee.
"He's a really tough horse and very much a one-pacer so the plan was [to] put the pressure on the others early," Gordon said. "He's quick and economical over the jumps and he fought back really well."
Twice successful on the flat, Thenamesbond has now won seven times over hurdles and last winter he was successful in his debut over the big fences at Te Aroha.
- NZ Racing Desk