From the Commentary Box – Monday, 9 September 2013

Most people know the Great Northern Steeplechase is my favourite race of the year.

The gruelling 6400 metre stamina sapping race is the toughest race on the New Zealand calendar.

Not only does the field have to traverse the famous Ellerslie hill three times, there is the small matter of negotiating 25 fences as well.

Simply put, there is no where for horse and rider to hide in the Great Northern.

Yet the Great Northern continues to enthrall racegoers with some of the most exciting finishes imaginable.

There was the famous dead heat between Smart Hunter and Sir Avion in 2001 that made international headlines.

And the rich history of the race is littered with some of the most amazing stories in racing.

Eiffel Tower ran off at the Stand Double with a lap to go, losing, what seemed at the time, all chance of winning. 

It is now part of the folklore of the race how Eiffel Tower eventually caught the field before going on to score an exciting win.

There is the story of jockey Baggy Hillis winning the race on Brockton.

Hillis was involved in a race fall a few days before the Great Northern and broke his collarbone.

Knowing he wouldnt be allowed to ride in the race if anyone found out, Hillis simply told no one about it.

And then there are the three time winners of the race, Hunterville and Hypnotize ..       

Last Saturday’s edition of the Great Northern Steeplechase etched its own place in to the history of the race too.

Some longtime racegoers claim it was the most exciting Great Northern they had seen.

I don’t know about that.

But gee it was exciting, I ‘ll give you the tip!

There is nothing quite as exciting as a tearaway pacemaker in horse racing.

It is even more exciting in a race like the Great Northern Steeplechase.

Rangatira, trained by Steve Gulliver at Stratford provided all the excitement in this years’ Great Northern.

With pinch hitting rider Isaac Lupton aboard, Rangatira cleared out from his rivals soon after the start, establishing a huge lead.

By mid race, Rangatira had nearly one hundred metres on his seven rivals.

An interesting thing happens when a horse is so far in front.

You can sense the crowd start to “ride” the tearaway leader home.

And that’s what happened at Ellerslie last Saturday.

Everyone on course started to cheer for Rangatira as it became obvious he was going to take some catching as he climbed the Ellerslie Hill for the last time.

Heading to the last of 25 fences, Rangatira still held the advantage over Kidunot and Karlos.

After landing awkwardly, Rangatira looked destined to finish third as both Kidunot and Karlos quickly charged up alongside of him.

Kidunot looked set for victory when taking the lead at the 150m.

Yet somehow, Rangatira rallied again and the two of them hit the line locked in a titanic struggle.

It’s funny what you think of in moments like these.

Over the final stages my mind flashed back to the Smart Hunter – Sir Avion deadheat in 2001.

Will it be another dead heat?

History will show that it wasn’t a dead heat.

But it was the closest thing I’ve seen to one !

Rangatira, spurred on by Isaac Lupton and the Ellerslie crowd, lunged right on the line to pip Kidunot by a nose.

That’s right ….a nose separating the first two horses after 6400m and 25 fences.

For Lupton it was the fourth win in the Great Northern after his famous three victories aboard Hypnotize.

Adding even more intrigue to the win, was the fact that Lupton only gained the ride an hour before the race.

Lupton’s original mount Brushman was scratched from the race and the vastly experienced jockey had resigned himself to watching the race from the grandstand.

However, Rangatira’s declared rider Patrick Ormsby, was unable to make the carded weight for Rangatira, and Lupton replaced him.

And what an inspirational change that was.

Just another chapter in the proud history of the Great Northern Steeplechase.

I’ll catch you next week.

Cheers

George