Loyalty - horse racing is almost certainly its last bastion.

Back in the day, Colin Meads, Waka Nathan, Pat Walsh and Wilson Whineray, among many others, were All Black staples.

Professional sport introduced a lot of factors for players, but one undeniable one is, these days you are only as good as your last game.

Isaac Lupton won his remarkable fifth $125,000 Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase aboard Wise Men Say at Ellerslie on Saturday because of loyalty by that rugged gelding's part owner and trainer Raymond Connors.


Had it been up to Lupton, someone else would have been in the saddle. Lupton broke several bones in a fall at the end of the jumping season two years ago and wasn't sure he wanted to come back, at 35 he had achieved all he could ever have hope for.

"The reason I came back was because the last win I had before I was hurt was a maiden steeples on Wise Men Say. But on returning a few things went wrong and then I fell off Wise Men Say at the second-last fence and I said to Raymond: 'Perhaps you should look for one of the younger riders for your horses'." The reply was just three words: 'No, you're on'. No histrionics. Blind loyalty. "They are great to ride for the Connors family. Wonderful people."

Lupton repaid that devotion on Saturday with a picture perfect ride on the favourite in New Zealand's most gruelling race. But the tactics had a Connors footprint.

The Wanganui trainer was not at Ellerslie, preferring to stay close to home for his local meeting, which unfortunately was abandoned on the day, to be run on Wednesday. His wife is due to give birth in the next few days.

Wise Men Say is normally a drop-out, run-on horse, but on Saturday Lupton surprised most by staying handy, even forcing the pace at points of the last of three laps. "It came from the frustration of chasing Amanood Lad and not being able to run him down. Raymond called me and said to stay handy to make it a lot easier."

In the conditions, as gruelling as anyone can remember at Ellerslie, that was good advice.

"I've never ridden a horse that could stay like him," says Lupton, even though he won the race three times on the Connors-trainer Hypnotize, "but winning the third Great Northern on Hypnotize is probably my biggest thrill." Asked if he had ridden on a tougher track than Saturday's, Lupton was ambivalent. "When it's raining heavily during a race like that it always seems tougher, but you can't argue with times." Lupton was referring to Wise Man Time's official clocking which was the slowest Great Northern on record by some 20 seconds.

Celebrations are not part of the Wanganui dairy farmer's make-up - on Saturday, like in each of his four previous Great Northern victories, he drove home to be part of the Sunday morning milking team.

"We don't employ staff, so if I'm away everyone else has to do more work. Lupton arrived home at 10.30pm. "I was lucky, I just managed to beat the traffic from the rugby [All Blacks]."

Upper Cut fought bravely for second. Shaun Fannin on Mr Mor copped a suspension for the check he caused to well-fancied Amanood Lad after jumping the second fence on the Hill the last time. Aaron Kuru lost a stirrup iron in the incident and fell from Amanood Lad.