Cropp completes Grand National double

Cambridge jockey Matthew Cropp added his name to the select list of riders to win the Grand National double when producing a well-timed ride to win yesterday’s $70,000 Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton.

Cropp experienced the feeling of Grand National success three years ago when successful on Joint Effort in the Grand National Hurdles and had one of his rare rides for Taranaki maestro John Wheeler when winning the Steeples on El Patron.

Cropp had been entrusted with the ride on El Patron a week earlier in the Koral Steeplechase and he was praised by Wheeler when third on the gelding. “He impressed me with the way he rode him the Koral,” said Wheeler. “He’s very kind to horses coming up to fences. He’s very good at getting horses relaxed and that’s a big asset.”

Wheeler lost his first string for the Grand National Steeplechase when Tobouggie Nights suffered a tendon injury after his second in the Koral Steeplechase, but he rated El Patron a good chance.

Wheeler’s instructions to Cropp yesterday were simple: “I told him to smoke his pipe at the back until the 600m mark and that he could use his good speed on the flat to try and pick them up if there was enough petrol in the tank.”

Karlos, the big hope for Cambridge, looked set for victory when leading down the home straight for trainers Roger and Sheryl McGlade and jockey Aaron Kuru, but El Patron came with the last run to give the Cropp family another big-race highlight.

Cropp’s grandfather Ron, who won the Great Northern Steeplechase three times from 1983 as the trainer of the mighty Hunterville., was so proud of the 21-year-old. “We were yelling at the TV,” he said. “It was a tough race with that horse (The Rose) going way out in front like that. We’re so happy for Matthew.”

The talented young rider got confident when El Patron stepped the last fence in pursuit of Karlos.

“That’s when I knew we could win,” said Cropp. “He gave me a fright over the fence across the top but once I got to work on him he really dug in. This is the best feeling ever and all I can say is Mr Wheeler is a genius.”

El Patron is now to be set for the Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie and for Cropp it could be a realistic opportunity to experience the Northern thrill his family had with Hunterville years before he was even born.