Prominent Hawke's Bay thoroughbred owner/breeder Peter Grieve celebrated one of the most special wins from his long career in racing when The Cossack took out last Saturday's $125,000 Great Northern Hurdle at Ellerslie.
Grieve has won other big races on the famous Ellerslie track but the fact that he spent 18 years as a committeeman of the Auckland Racing Club made last Saturday's victory even more satisfying and he also got to lead the horse back at the head of the field after the 4190m feature.
"It was a big thrill and rates right up with the best wins I've had," a happy Grieve said this week.
Grieve and his late father Doug bred and raced the high class mare Braless, who was an outstanding performer back in the late 1970s. Peter Grieve was based in Te Awamutu then and trained the daughter of Showoff II himself.
She was runner-up behind Mun Lee in the 1977-78 Three-year-old Filly of the Year series, when her wins included the New Zealand 1000 Guineas at Riccarton.
Braless also defeated top class weight-for-age fields in both the Owens Stakes (1600m) and New Zealand Stakes (1600m) at Ellerslie and was runner-up to Mun Lee in the Great Northern Oaks (2400m) and Orchidra in the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes (1600m).
The tough little mare was also second behind two of New Zealand's champions of the turf in La Mer (Auckland Thoroughbred Breeders Stakes) and Uncle Remus (New Zealand 2000 Guineas).
Grieve's previous biggest win in a jumping race was when Captain Jingle, trained by Bob Autridge, took out the 2008 running of the Hawke's Bay Steeplechase.
"I had my first winner in 1969 when a horse called Donny Boy won a maiden steeplechase at New Plymouth and I spent the entire winning stake shouting for the rest of the night," Grieve recalled.
He shared last Saturday's success with his son Doug and close friend John Frizzell, as well as The Cossack's Hastings co-trainer Paul Nelson.
The quartet own the 7-year-old Mastercraftsman gelding after purchasing him in a private sale from the horse's original Hastings trainer John Bary.
Grieve's brother Ivan had bred The Cossack and originally raced him in partnership with Bary, who prepared him to win two races on the flat and also trained him for his first three hurdle starts last year for two seconds and a fourth.
"I heard last year that John Bary was looking to sell The Cossack to Australia so I said to Paul (Nelson) that he should have a look at the horse and that started the wheels in motion for us to buy him," Grieve recalled.
He and Frizzell, another prominent figure in Hawke's Bay thoroughbred circles, had raced other horses in the past including Kipling. He won a maiden steeplechase at Wanganui in 2009 when prepared by Corrina McDougal, who now trains in partnership with Nelson.
The Cossack had his first start from the Nelson/McDougal stable in July this year, finishing second in a maiden hurdle race at Te Rapa. He followed that up with two runaway wins over hurdles at Te Aroha, the first by 20 lengths and the second by 19-1/2 lengths.
His win last Saturday was preceded by a good third in the Pakuranga Hunt Hurdle (3350m) at Ellerslie on October 4 where he had to have a late change of jockey after regular rider Aaron Kuru was injured in a fall the previous race.
"The young guy that rode him that day did a good job but he's not an easy horse to ride and Aaron knows him so well," Grieve said.
Kuru not only knows the horse well but also rates him so highly that he defied medical odds by returning to race-riding, under sufferance, to steer the horse to victory last Saturday.
Speaking after the win, Kuru said he damaged the nerve connection from the spine to two vertebrae in his back in the Ellerslie fall on October 4 and could hardly walk, let alone ride a horse, for the next two days.
But he said things started to improve quickly after that and, with the help of his partner, he was able to return to something close to resembling full fitness by last week.
Hastings-born Kuru took only the one mount at Ellerslie last Saturday and, significantly, the win aboard The Cossack came at his 500th jumps ride in New Zealand.
A former member of the New Zealand Black Socks softball team, Kuru first learnt to ride when attached to the Hastings stable of Patrick Campbell before transferring to John Bary.
The 29-year-old was initially an amateur jockey but then took out a professional license and made a move to Cambridge. He has never looked back, kicking home 111 winners to date and was crowned champion jumps jockey in the country for the 2018-19 season.
The Cossack tends to over-race and sky his head in the air but Kuru's great hands got the horse to settle back off the pace in the early stages before improving to fourth starting the last 900 metres.
They moved to third with two fences to jump and then joined Aigne, ridden by Shaun Fannin, in the lead approaching the final obstacle.
Aigne crashed through the last fence, almost unseating Fannin, and that left The Cossack clear in front and he then staved off a late charge from Lake Superior to win by a neck.
The Cossack races in the colours made famous by Peter Grieve's late grandfather Jack Hennah, who owned and trained numerous top horses including the 1937 Hawke's Bay Cup winner Padishah.
The training partnership of Nelson and McDougal experienced the highs and lows of jumps racing at Ellerslie last Saturday.
They produced The Cossack to win the Great Northern Hurdle but their other star jumper, Perry Mason, unfortunately had to be euthanised after breaking his shoulder during the running of the Great Northern Steeplechase two races later.
Perry Mason, who was raced by the I See Red Syndicate, recorded nine wins, 10 seconds and three thirds from 69 starts. He completed back-to-back wins in the Hawke's Bay Steeplechase earlier this month.
MacKinnon next for Melody Belle
Star mare Melody Belle, who brought up her 12th Group 1 victory when completing back-to-back wins in last Saturday's Livamol Classic at Hastings, will now make a hit-and-run raid to Melbourne for the Group 1 A$2 million Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) at Flemington on November 7.
The 6-year-old has been in imperious form since returning to her homeland following two inconclusive runs in Sydney earlier this preparation, and trainer Jamie Richards, in consultation with her owners, is keen to have another tilt at the Mackinnon.
The old mare won last year's Group 1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) at Flemington before a luckless second in the Mackinnon behind Magic Wand a week later.
John Galvin, who manages the Melody Belle Fortuna Syndicate that owns the multiple New Zealand Horse of the Year, confirmed that, on the strength of her dominant Livamol Classic (2040m) success on the final day of this year's Bostock New Zealand Spring carnival, it was all systems go for Melbourne.
Melody Belle won the last two legs of this year's Hawke's Bay Group 1 Triple Crown, the other being the Windsor Park Plate (1600m), and her connections believe the mare is going as well as ever.
Given that trainer Jamie Richards already has a travelling foreperson, Ashley Handley, domiciled in Melbourne with stablemate Probabeel, the logistics of the campaign are now much smoother than they were looking earlier in spring.
"She has had a vaccination for piroplasmosis, and Plan A is to take her over on Wednesday, November 4," Galvin said.
"If we can get her on the flight the previous week, we would do that to take the risk out of anything happening to that flight on the fourth.
Initially, the plan was for Melody Belle to contest the Group 1 Captain Cook Stakes (1600m) at Trentham next month and then the Group 1 Zabeel Classic (2000m) at Ellerslie at Christmas but Galvin said it was important to showcase the mare internationally.
"If she was to win both of those New Zealand Group Ones she would sail past Sunline's Group 1 record of 13," Galvin said.
"There are a few that said that is what we should do, but to my mind Sunline's record is not the be all and end all. As a syndicate manager I want to create a legacy for this mare and win another Group 1 in Australia, ideally in open company rather than just fillies' and mares' grade."
Galvin said his 34-strong syndicate, of which Waipukurau couple Trevor and Debbie Walters own a 10 per cent share, had thoroughly enjoyed being on hand to watch their pride and joy win back-to-back Group Ones at Hastings in the past month.
Deserved success for Bellesgirl
Hastings-trained Bellesgirl broke through for a well-deserved win in the $40,000 Special Conditions race over 1400m on her home track last Saturday.
The Niagara 4-year-old had recorded two seconds, a third and a sixth from her previous four starts and had been unlucky on at least two occasions.
The mare is prepared by Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen and owned by her Taradale breeder Bruce Lumsden.
Bellesgirl indicated she was close to a win when charging home late for second over 1300m on the second day of the Bostock New Zealand Spring Carnival and she appreciated the extra 100 metres last Saturday.
Jockey Sam Weatherley settled her back beyond midfield and up against the inside rail in the early stages before improving his position coming to the home turn and then picked a path between horses early in the hone straight.
Bellesgirl got to the front inside the last 200 metres and kept up a strong run to the line to win by three-quarters of a length.
Co-trainer Lowry said Bellesgirl has come through her win in good order and she will now contest a 1600m Rating 65 race at Awapuni next Saturday.
Lumsden has been a long-time client of the Lowry/Cullen stable and also owns Tuigirl, that has won two races.
Yossarian looks a promising stayer
Hawke's Bay owned and trained Yossarian is now starting to live up to his excellent breeding.
The Rip Van Winkle 5-year-old has been a slow maturer but recorded his second win from his last three starts when taking out a $40,000 Rating 65 race over 2100m at Hastings last Saturday.
The gelding is out of the Kaapstad mare Kapsjoy, making him a half-brother to Fleur de Lune, whose six wins included the 2013 Group 1 Railway Stakes (1200m) at Ellerslie.
He is also a half-brother to the good sprinter Stradivarius (four wins), Kapsboy (six wins), Saragarhi (four wins) and Anna Kaye (one win).
Hawke's Bay couple John and Colleen Duncan were the co-breeders of Yossarian and his siblings and they initially raced the horse from the Hastings stable of Lee Somervell, who prepared him to win two races.
However, the Duncans decided to reduce their racing interests earlier this year and have leased Yossarian out to Waipukurau couple Penny and Tony Ebbett, who now train the horse.
He was having his sixth start for the Ebbetts last Saturday for a record of two wins, two fourths and a fifth.
Although most of the stock out of Kapsjoy have been sprinters, Yossarian looks a good stayer in the making.
He had to produce a strong staying performance last Saturday as he settled back in the early stages from a wide draw and then travelled three-wide with cover down the back straight.
Apprentice jockey Hazel Schofer sent the horse forward from the 800m and he was one of the widest turning into the straight.
He burst to the front half-way down the straight and maintained a strong run to the line to win by three-quarters of a length.