Another superb ride by top jumps jockey Aaron Kuru paved the way for a third Wellington Hurdle success for Hastings trainer Paul Nelson at Trentham last Saturday.
Nelson, who is nowadays training in partnership with Corrina McDougal, had won the 3400-metre race previously with Solid Steel (2010) and The Shackler (2017) and the stable lined up the talented but inexperienced jumper No Tip in the $75,000 event.
The seven-year-old Mettre En Jeu gelding was having his just third start as a jumper, finishing fourth in his debut at Te Aroha, in September, last year before a maiden hurdle victory at Trentham last month.
Hastings-born Kuru, who has built up an outstanding record on Nelson-trained horses in recent years, has ridden No Tip in each of his two jumping wins and Saturday's victory credited him with his second Wellington Hurdle success after he also saluted aboard The Shackler two years ago.
Kuru is patience personified when it comes to riding over fences. He immediately dropped No Tip back to the rear in today's race and got him to settle perfectly, while those horses up front were going reasonably hard in the very testing track conditions.
No Tip was still giving the leaders a big start entering the last 1000m but Kuru then started to improve his position, sticking to the inside and saving every inch of ground, as he stalked the leaders coming to the turn.
Kuru hugged the inside rail with No Tip rounding the home turn and they went up to challenge race favourite Laekeeper for the lead at the second to last fence. The two horses jumped that obstacle practically on terms, but No Tip took over soon and, with another good leap at the last, he surged clear to win by 2-1/4 lengths.
Bad Boy Brown got up to take second off Laekeeper by a long neck, with El Corby weakening a shade to finish fourth after looking likely when challenging on the home turn.
For Nelson and McDougal, Saturday's win came just a fortnight after they captured both feature jumping races at the Hawke's Bay winter meeting, with No Change in the Te Whangai Romneys Hawke's Bay Hurdle and Perry Mason in the AHD Hawke's Bay Steeplechase. The new partnership has now chalked up six wins since joining forces at the beginning of May.
McDougal, who was struggling to contain her excitement as she waited for her charge to return to the Trentham birdcage, admitted she had some doubts when No Tip was so far off the lead with 1000m to run.
"That was amazing although I was ooh come on Aaron (during the race), but I don't know what to say as I'm just so excited and happy," she said.
"I've worked for Paul (Nelson) for a long time, so I think we both know the ropes, but I'm learning so much and this is just amazing."
The victory eased Kuru further ahead in the race for the Jumps Jockey premiership this season where he now has 15 wins, three clear of his nearest rival Shaun Fannin.
No Tip is owned by Nelson and his wife, Carol, and they bred the gelding out of the Grosvenor mare Grosveness.
Grosveness has now ceased breeding but has been a prolific producer of winners for the Nelsons over many years. Others out of the mare include No Change (11 wins), Ho Down (eight wins), No Cash (seven wins), No Governance (three wins) and No Credit (two wins).
Ride to Time programme a hit
Eight young riders took part in the Hastings edition of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing's special Ride To Time programme last week.
Ride to Time is a joint initiative between NZTR and the New Zealand Pony Club Association and aims to teach Pony Club riders how to ride at a given pace over a given distance, while understanding their horse's natural pace. It also helps young riders to judge how fast they are travelling and what is a safe and balanced speed as well as several aspects of thoroughbred racing.
National Riding Mentor Noel Harris, along with NZTR Central region Licensing, Training & Welfare advisor Bridget Flynn, was on hand to take the young riders through their paces, with successful thoroughbred trainer Kirsty Lawrence and apprentice jockey Hunter Durrant also there to give a hand.
"Of the eight riders we had six of them were returning riders, having attended the first session at Waipukurau so they were at the next level," Lawrence said.
"Noel Harris and Bridget Flynn took them and were amazing.
"They first got to ride the mechanical horse and learn about all aspects of horses and then they had an address from Mike Newall from VetOne, who went through how heart rates are taken from horses etc.
"They then went out onto the racecourse where they all trotted a lap on the plough to get used to the track and then they went singularly and had to do 1000 metres in 1:50. It was all about teaching them about metres to seconds."
Lawrence said they all got to do a second lap and were allowed to sprint up the home straight, something they obviously all enjoyed.
"They were really nice kids and, even if they don't go on to become jockeys, they can always become trackwork riders while they are studying for their future," Lawrence added.
More than 70 school-age children have enjoyed taking part in the Ride To Time programme, with New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing CEO Bernard Saundry saying it has been a huge success.
"Noel Harris, along with NZTR Licensing, Training & Welfare advisor Matthew Barnsley, attended the event at Pukekohe last week and it was so successful that a second session had to be scheduled for this Friday, which indicates the programme is filling a need."
The South Island has also hosted two events, at Cromwell and Wingatui, with South Island Riding Mentor David Walsh and South Island Apprentice Tutor Amy Johnson representing NZTR.
"The feedback from the participants has been extremely enthusiastic and it is a wonderful way for our industry to give a glimpse into some of the requirements needed if considering a career in racing," Saundry said.
"Clubs have been embracing the concept and will be welcoming the Ride to Time attendees back on track to get a behind the scenes look at what happens on a race day."
While Ride to Time will help to give young riders the skills required to become a trackwork rider or a jockey in the future, it also aids them in other disciplines, such as show-jumping or eventing, when riding against the clock.
"It has been pleasing to see how attendance at these events has grown and with a further six to be run in the next school holidays we are looking on target to have around 150 graduates of the Ride to Time programme this year."
Te Akau stars shine in trials
Melody Belle, the front runner for New Zealand Horse of the Year, resumed at the Te Rapa trials on Monday with a close-up third over 900m behind stablemate Ritzy Sparkle.
Ridden by Troy Harris, the performance pleased connections as the six-time Group 1 winner builds back to full fitness ahead of a spring campaign that will commence in the Group 2 U.S. Navy Flag Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on August 17.
"She finished third under no pressure whatsoever," managing owner, John Galvin, of Fortuna Syndications, said.
"Troy was just ecstatic with her effort. This trial is a lead-up to a second trial which will happen here in two weeks' time. She'll be put under a bit more pressure at that time.
"Troy said she's much stronger than she was last year and that's what she's telling us at the stable as well, with her physical presence and the way she eats and the way she works. She's certainly developed into a lovely strong race mare."
Melody Belle won last year's Foxbridge Plate before going on to win both the Group 1 Tarzino Trophy (1400m) and Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) at the Hawke's Bay spring carnival as part of a season that netted five Group 1 victories.
The rising five-year-old, who is part-owned by Waipukurau couple Trevor and Debbie Walters, will embark on the same campaign in the forthcoming season, taking in the first two Group 1 legs at the Bostock Hawke's Bay Spring Carnival, but will also have the third leg of the Hawke's Bay triple crown, the Group 1 Livamol Classic (2040m), on the agenda.
"Our planning at this stage goes as far as the first Saturday in October, which is the Livamol," Galvin said.
"She will tell us what she wants to do after the Livamol and whether an Australian campaign this spring is on the cards."
Meanwhile, boom stablemate Te Akau Shark sent an ominous warning to his spring rivals when closing from the rear to win his heat, also over 900m, in the hands of Michael McNab.
A clash with Melody Belle in the Foxbridge Plate fresh-up is likely for the Rip Van Winkle gelding who has been beaten only once in six starts.
"We're very happy with him," stable representative Mason Stevens said.
"He wasn't asked to do a lot in the wet conditions and he got back and got to the outside and worked home nicely.
"Michael McNab's feedback was very positive.
"He's come back bigger, stronger and mentally he's more mature this season as well.
"We'll see how he pulls up and he'll trial one more time and then head to the Foxbridge."