Jumping takes centre stage at Te Rapa today with four races including the running of the Signature Homes Waikato Steeplechase and the Fairview Motors Waikato Hurdles, both prestige jumping races.
The Waikato Steeplechase has drawn a competitive field, which includes last year's winner Max, Shamal, the highly talented The Arabian Duke and evergreen Thenamesbond. The Ken Duncan trained Shamal looks hardest to beat. The son of Zabeel has won three out of his last four steeplechases including last year's Grand National Steeplechase and, a fortnight ago, won the Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase at Te Rapa, the lead up to today's race.
Max, the Raymond Connors trained son of Gallant Guru, who so impressively won last year's edition, is back to defend his crown.
He warmed up for his defence by running a good fourth at Wanganui at the start of the month. He loomed to win but peaked late and that run should have him ready for today.
The Arabian Duke is the new horse in this division and looks capable of being in the finish. His fast finishing second to Shamal two weeks ago is a good pointer for this.
The Waikato Hurdles is stacked full of chances including, No Change, trained by newly formed partnership Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal.
The son of Shinko King finished last year's jumping season in style wining the Rotorua & BOP Hunt Cup Hurdle. He has had two flat runs to get him ready and has leading jumps jockey Aaron Kuru in the saddle.
The chances do not end there with the horse named after the great Irish lock forward of the 1960s, Wilijonmcbride, coming into the race off a last start open hurdle win two weeks ago at Te Rapa. He is an improving type and it would not be a surprise to see him fighting out the finish.
Two quality flat performers add plenty of interest to the Garrards Horse & Hound Hurdles (maiden hurdles). Both Woodsman and Francis Drake have very good flat ability and, while they will learn a lot from their first hurdle start, they should not be underestimated.
The Te Rapa Event Centre Steeplechase (maiden steeplechase) has drawn a field of six. It is an even race with many going steeplechasing for the first time. One of those, Napoleon, trained by Kevin Myers, will be well schooled over the bigger fences and has the talent to be in the finish.
Waikato Steeplechase: Shamal (R6, No.1). Waikato Hurdles: No Change (R3, No.3)