Hunterville visitor Shamal capitalised on a perfect trip throughout to take out the 144th running of the Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) at Riccarton on Saturday.
The Ken Duncan-trained eight-year-old hugged the rails throughout as rider Buddy Lammas positioned him behind the steady pace set by stablemates Amanood Lad and Kings Deep.
Shamal never covered an inch of extra ground until Lammas angled him into the clear to make his challenge with two fences left to run in the time-honoured event.
Southern raider Tai Ho joined issue at that point and the pair drew clear to fight out the finish with Shamal proving too tough in the final stages as he eased clear to score the biggest win of his 38-start career.
Lammas, who had partnered Shamal to victory in the Manawatu Steeplechase (4000m) at Trentham last month when having his first ride on the Zabeel gelding, admitted he was confident of a win as his charge travelled comfortably throughout.
"He travelled really good," he said.
"Last time I led on him and this time I took a sit. He was pulling all the way but I just had that much horse underneath me.
"I knew once we got over the last fence all I had to do was keep him going and he fought really well to the line."
Lammas intimated that the decision to bring the horse to Riccarton had been made relatively late in the piece, a fact that was confirmed by Duncan.
"The plans don't go back that long as he is a day-to-day proposition," Duncan said.
"When we lined him up at Wellington he wasn't quite as I would have wanted him, but he still won well.
"The improved track conditions in the middle there were a great help which gave me some confidence.
"I really looked at the weather forecast and the sun gods have come out for me.
"It's a huge thrill as it has been in my family for generations to win this race so it's just fantastic."
Duncan is no stranger to success in New Zealand's prestige jumping events having produced pint-sized mare Wee Biskit to win the 2014 running of the Great Northern Hurdles (4190m) along with consecutive victories in the 2015 & 2016 Wellington Hurdle (3400m).
Race favourite Chocolate Fish put in his usual honest finish to snatch third while sentimental favourite Amanood Lad weakened out to finish sixth.
Whanganui trainer Raymond Connors was to chase a rare treble with this race, but Wise Men Say was scratched, being unable to follow up the Great Northern and Wellington wins.
Meanwhile, top Whanganui jockey Lisa Allpress followed the adage that the shortest way home in any race is hard up on the rails, as she guided the lightly-raced Dez to victory in the Christchurch Casino Winter Classic (1800m) at Riccarton.
Allpress made full use of a brilliant beginning by the seven-year-old to set the early pace before settling into a perfect trail behind the free-going Kings Pal.
Dez gave Allpress a torrid time as he pulled hard for a good portion of the contest before settling into his rhythm with 600m left to run.
As the field fanned wide in search of better footing, Dez scooted through on the fence with Allpress riding hard to establish a break on her rivals.
The Zed gelding responded gamely as he held out a late challenge from last weekend's Group 3 Winter Cup (1600m) winner Platinum Command with local runner Elfee finishing strongly to grab third. – NZ Racing Desk