The dominance of horses from the greater Whanganui region continued in New Zealand's major jumping features when the familiar colours of the Connors family saluted the judge in the Signature Homes Waikato Steeplechase at Te Rapa last weekend.
Rising 12-year-old Mesmerize produced a comprehensive performance to take out the first major jumping feature of the New Zealand winter for Whangaehu owner/trainer Raymond Connors.
Last season's truncated jumping season was completely dominated by Waverley, Rangitikei and Whanganui gallopers.
Mesmerize has proved a revelation of late, winning his last four races over the steeplechase fences after being somewhat of a bridesmaid earlier in his career where he had finished runner-up in 10 of his previous 27 jumping starts.
Settled towards the rear of the seven-horse field on Saturday, Mesmerize and rider Shaun Fannin travelled sweetly throughout before moving into contention down the back straight the last time.
Fannin had plenty of horse under him as he hit the front with one fence to clear in the run home before striding away from gallant pacemaker and last year's winner It's A Wonder from Harvey Wilson's Waverley barn to take out the contest by just over two lengths at the winning post.
It's A Wonder was, in fact, attempting to be the first horse to win the Waikato feature back-to-back in the same season after Covid-19 forced the race to be run later in the year than normal.
While the horse failed in that mission, Fannin achieved the goal after guiding It's A Wonder to victory in August last year and riding Mesmerize this year.
Trainer Raymond Connors, who shares in the ownership of the Yamanin Vital gelding with his father Mark, was at a loss to explain why his charge was finally starting to produce his best as he comes towards the end of his racing career.
"I can't believe it really and I'm not sure what has done it for him as he used to like running second a fair bit," Connors said.
"It does seem he really has gained his confidence since he started winning, which is about time, and you can't beat confidence.
"He travelled superbly throughout and was really strong when he made his challenge for Shaun.
"It was a lovely ride as he saved him up for the last run at them, which worked out perfectly.
"He had beaten Zentangle first up and we knew he would be one of the horses to beat today, although I did have a little bit of concern that it was his first time around the steeplechase course at Te Rapa, but in the end, he coped with that without a problem."
Connors will now look to the next feature jumping event in the north, the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m) at Ellerslie on June 7, as a target for his charge.
"We will give him a crack at the McGregor Grant next as he likes it at Ellerslie," he said.
"He has won his last two over the hill there, so it fits him well.
"After that we will have a look around as I don't think he is a Great Northern Steeplechase-type as three times over the hill might be a bit much for him.
"There are plenty of other good races over the winter and with this likely to be his last campaign, it would nice if he could pick up another big race."
– NZ Racing Desk