Lightly raced jumper Eion provided an ominous warning to his potential Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) rivals when he took out an action packed Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4200m) at Te Aroha on Sunday.
The Pakuranga Hunt Cup is the major lead-up race to the Great Northern and the Ken Duncan-trained Eion looked spot on for his upcoming challenge over the famed Ellerslie hill as he chimed in with two fences to clear for rider Emily Farr, before outfinishing Zartan in the run to the post to record his fourth career victory.
The race had a messy start with veteran chaser Kipkeino falling at the first fence before continuing riderless for the duration of the contest.
Despite being niggled at in front by the riderless Kipkeino and Wanganui visitor Mesmerize, Zartan looked to be travelling like a winner with 600m to run, however he couldn't shake off the persistent Eion who proved too strong in the closing stages and had to settle for second, with Te Kahu shading Lacustre for third.
"Emily rode him well and I'm very happy with him," Duncan said. "We've got our eye on the Great Northern and that run will have him spot on for that race in a fortnight.
"He won his maiden chase at Ellerslie and also the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m) there, so he likes the venue and we hope they can run the meeting there if the Covid situation allows.
"I don't think he will have any trouble with the Northern distance, so I'm looking forward to getting there."
Duncan also advised that stablemate Shamal, who didn't complete the race, had pulled up OK and would also contest the Great Northern Steeplechase provided he could strike some wetter track conditions at Ellerslie.
Earlier in the day Waverley trainer Harvey Wilson produced promising hurdler Dr Hank to take out the feature hurdle event on the card, his third win over the smaller fences from just four starts.
Free-goer English Gambler set up a breakneck speed out in front, clear by more than a dozen lengths at times as Dr Hank was allocated the task of chasing him down.
Despite tiring as he entered the home straight, English Gambler looked set for victory, but Dr Hank closed in at the second-last fence and then strode clear as his rival bungled the final obstacle, throwing rider Shaun Fannin and leaving Dr Hank to take the win by just on four lengths from Curious George and the late closing Aigne.
A winner of two races on the flat for former trainer Darrell Hollinshead, Dr Hank hasn't put a foot wrong over jumps since joining Wilson back in May this year.
"He has surprised us a bit, but it has been a nice surprise," Wilson said. "As long as things go well, he will most likely contest the Great Northern Hurdle next up."
The day didn't end well for Wilson with his well-performed chaser It's A Wonder being pulled up by rider Shaun Phelan during the running of the Pakuranga Hunt Cup, with the Grand National and Waikato Steeplechase winner likely to have run his last race.
"It looks like that might be it for him as Shaun said he just didn't really want to be there," Wilson said. "That is not like him at all, so he may be telling us enough is enough.
"He has been a marvellous horse for us and if it is his last race, then a wonderful retirement in a nice paddock awaits him."
- NZ Racing Desk