For racing people, winter starts today. Regardless of the temperature outside or the fact daylight savings now seems a distant memory, in the racing world the first real indication that we are transitioning from the glamour of summer racing to the slog of winter comes when the fences come out.

And today at Te Rapa even though the track is likely to be a Dead4, the jumping season starts for real.

Just a week ago some of the country's best mares were contesting the group two Travis Stakes and Guineas winners were clashing in the Breeders Stakes. Summer lingered.

But today three of the first four races are over the jumps, the elite thoroughbreds are mostly in the paddock or enjoying the Queensland sunshine and punters have to start getting their head around jumps racing. As they say, winter is here.


That presents an interesting challenge in New Zealand, where there are plenty of people who love the thrill of jumps racing but a lot less who bet on it seriously, let alone in the $1000-plus range.

Unlike England where there is a flat racing season and a jumps season with plenty of expert analysis and superstar jumps jockeys (one of the best Ruby Walsh retired just days ago), here jumps racing almost always feels like a spectacular and brave novelty sprinkled between flat races.

The good news is the TAB bookies are as in the dark as you probably are.

"A race like the main hurdle and steeple at Te Rapa this week will turn over probably 50 per cent of what a Rating 72 flat race would at the same meeting," explains TAB bookie Thad Taylor.

"That turnover increases later in the winter as the form becomes better known and we get to the biggest races.

"But there are still leads from time to time, with a horse like Duffers Creek ($1.95) in the first [today]. If the stable like it then some serious money might come for it.

"But we don't have a jumps racing expert and when it comes to analysis I don't think there are many around."

Not to say there are aren't plenty of knowledgeable jumps racing people around, they just tend to be the trainers and jockeys involved so without a great deal of recent racing to go on today's early races will be tricky for most punters.


Not that there is any shortage of serious flat trainers with jumpers kicking off their campaigns today, names like Rogerson, Myers and Wheeler.

And Stephen Ralph, for whom that changeover week between last Saturday and today could hardly be more pronounced.

Last Saturday, he provided half the dead heat in the Cambridge Breeders with an exciting three-year-old in Speedy Meady. Today, he brings his jumping warrior Thenamesbond back to the races.

"We have 21 horses on the books and three of them are jumpers, and they are all racing this weekend," explains Ralph.

"We got into the jumpers because we like the challenge but more importantly we had a lot of slow horses because other trainers get the well-bred ones."

With horses like Speedy Meady and Railway winner Santa Monica that is changing but around the Ralph stables Thenamesbond is still the king, a title you earn the hard way with 14 wins, 12 over the jumps.

"It is great to have him back at the races but he is fat, he always is when he starts out," warns Ralph. "He goes well at Te Rapa but needs racing to get the weight off but I am not sure about backing him this week."

With the veteran having opened $4 and carrying 68kg even with James Selvwright's 3kg claim Ralph's opinion sounds like a good reason to wait on Thenamesbond in the steeplechase named in memory of the late king of jumps racing Ken Browne and his son Roger.

Ralph speaks far more confidently about Hesalljazz in the second hurdle (race two) after a run on the flat recently and a big trial win on Tuesday.

"Thenamesbond may be our best jumper but this fella is the one we are hanging our hat on going forward," explains Ralph.

"He has plenty of ability and while he won his trial by 20 lengths on Tuesday he could have won by more.

"So while, like a lot of the jumps horses, he will improve on today, he has to be hard to beat."

And while rider Lemmy Douglas only has one win next to his name he comes with Ralph's stamp of approval.

"He rode this horse to win last campaign and rides well, he just needs some decent horses. We think this is one so we're happy to have him on."