There was a divining moment when Shaun Phelan made his decision to come out of retirement from jumps riding this winter.

He procrastinated for weeks and weeks before fellow jockey Jonathan Riddell sidled alongside one morning.

The message was short: "Toughen up."

Interestingly, Riddell himself made the decision to give jumps racing away a couple of seasons back, but not because he lacked the bottle: "It's a game for young riders these days," he reasoned.


Phelan had cause to thank Riddell after kicking home Chocolate Fish to win yesterday's $125,000 Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase.

If you've got one of the slowest horses in the country it makes sense to run it in the longest race and there was no horse stronger at the end of yesterday's 6300m Northern.

"He's just got no speed," said delighted trainer Shane Brown. The Woodville horseman is one of racing's most humble participants.

He fully accepts the John Messara report's suggestion that Woodville should close in a rationalisation move. "I have a young family and it's not an easy transition, but it's for the betterment of the game and we're all for it."

Brown says he was about to give racing away two years ago, being saved from that thought by the gaining of two new owners.

"Chocolate Fish was outsprinted at the end of the Grand National [third], but today's race was made to suit."

Chocolate Fish had won only one of his 24 career starts and if you're going to win another it may as well be worth $125,000.

The favourite, Perry Mason, looked the winner when he put three lengths on the opposition nearing the home turn, but he could not repel the patiently ridden Chocolate Fish.

It was a frustrating day for Perry Mason's trainer, Paul Nelson. He looked like winning the Great Northern Hurdles until Second Innings blundered at the second last and he must have thought Perry Mason was the winner at the 500m.

• The bet of the decade is that yesterday Shane Anderton became the first trainer to produce the winner of the Great Northern Hurdle while sitting on a beach in Hawaii.

"I'm pretty excited," said Anderton when we called moments after the inappropriately named Jackfrost turned in an impossible performance to take the $125,000 Schweppes Great Northern at Te Aroha.

Jackfrost parades before his adoring owners after winning the Great Northern Hurdle at Te Aroha yesterday. Photo / Trish Dunell
Jackfrost parades before his adoring owners after winning the Great Northern Hurdle at Te Aroha yesterday. Photo / Trish Dunell

The South Islander was about to apply more sunscreen lotion but flagged that in favour of heading off to find a suitable bar after Jackfrost stormed past almost the entire field in the final 1400m after appearing to be out of the race at the tail.

Laptops and sand are not a match made in heaven, but Anderton's survived. "That was some sort of performance."

Anderton was only just too far away to hear the cheering from the large syndicate of owners and supporters, almost all of whom had made the long trip north to Te Aroha from Canterbury and Otago.

Their green hats, matching the Brian and Shane Anderton stable colours, swamped the Te Aroha grandstand.

One of the syndicate members, South Island harness trainer Michael House, was visibly excited. "I don't think I've ever cheered so loud in a horse race," he said. House paid tribute to Anderton for recommending taking over Jackfrost two years earlier.

"Brian said: 'This horse should make a good jumper' and he wasn't wrong." Jackfrost has now had eight hurdling starts for five wins, the victory before yesterday being in the Grand National Hurdles.

The quarter of a million dollars is not a bad return for a horse once destined to be a hack for the daughter of one of his owners. "He's actually got a terrific family behind him if you go back a bit," says Anderton.

Remarkable for a horse that was 120m behind the leaders early in yesterday big win, Jackfrost won on the flat over 2100m 10 days earlier.

After the two feature victories, Jackfrost is going to quickly find himself in an awkward position in the handicap. "He's not a big horse so that is against him," said Anderton. "If you stand alongside you realise how little there is of him."

Anderton believes the little grey will eventually steeplechase and that Australia could be where his main targets sit, even though Australian jumps races are often run at a hectic pace. "He's got more speed than he showed today - he raced a lot handier in the Grand National."

The fill-in winning rider was relatively new jockey in the jumps ranks Buddy Lammas, replacing Grand National rider Stu Higgins. Lammas is due some credit for refusing to panic when everyone, including co-trainer Anderton, thought Jackfrost was far too far away with 1600m to run.

Without unduly pressuring his mount, Lammas steadily made ground up to fourth approaching the home turn, but did not look to be completely out of jail.

Jackfrost steadily pulled back to be trailing only Second Innings approaching the middle of the three jumps in the home straight.

The job was made easier when Second Innings blundered on landing over the second last, but the winner was travelling so evenly and strongly you can make a case he would have won anyway.