Tough as teak 10-year-old Gagarin proved the best stayer when he came from last in the early running to win the Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) at Trentham.
The Kevin Myers-trained Pentire gelding wasn't at his fluent best when jumping the first few fences in the 5500m contest but slowly warmed to his task as the field completed the first of three laps of the unique figure eight Trentham steeplechase course.
Rider Mathew Gillies allowed his charge to bowl along behind his nine rivals before slowly working his way into contention with just over 1600m to run. Gagarin quickly went from last to first as he put the pressure on with two fences to jump.
With Kipkeino closing quickly at the last fence it looked like Gagarin was in serious trouble. However, he found plenty in the last 200m to hold out Kipkeino's brave challenge with last month's Hawkes Bay Steeplechase winner, Perry Mason, gripping on well for third.
"He's been working pretty well at home during this campaign," said stable representative Luke Myers.
"Matt rode him beautifully, sat back quiet then set him alight.
"He's [Gagarin] come back fresh and ready to go this season and has been performing on the track which is good to see."
Gillies had a beaming smile as he explained how his instructions were to settle off the pace in the early stages. "That was the plan that Kevin set, as when he is amongst the field, he pulls a bit," he said. "It's such a long way and he's that good a jumper he can make his way up. He saved a lot of ground in that final bit so it was a credit to Kevin, who I have to thank for putting me on."
Race favourite Chocolate Fish failed to finish after being pulled up with 1200m to run.
• Fresh from securing a feature jumping double on their home track at Hastings last month, the training partnership of Paul Nelson and Corinna McDougal were at it again at Trentham on Saturday when No Tip took out the Anuka Smoker Wellington Hurdle (3400m).
The lightly raced Mettre En Jeu seven-year-old was having just his ninth career run and only third over fences when he out-stayed his rivals on the brutal Heavy11 track conditions after a beautifully judged ride from Aaron Kuru.
Kuru allowed No Tip time to find his rhythm in the early stages as Pukekohe raider Arite Guru set a farcically slow pace out in front.
The speed went on when topweight Laekeeper went to the front with 1600m to run with No Tip still a dozen lengths from the lead. Rounding the home bend Laekeeper was travelling well but he bungled the last fence which allowed Kuru and No Tip to slip through along the inner to claim victory from Bad Boy Brown and a brave Laekeeper.
McDougal, who was struggling to contain her excitement as she waited for her charge to return to the Trentham birdcage, admitted she had some doubts when No Tip was so far off the lead with 1000m to run.
"That was amazing although I was 'ooh come on Aaron' [during the race], but I don't know what to say as I'm just so excited and happy," she said.
The victory also eased Kuru further ahead in the race for the Jumps Jockey premiership this season where he now has 15 wins, three clear of his nearest rival Shaun Fannin.
- NZ Racing Desk