From the Commentary Box


Last Saturday’s Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton was one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen.

The energy sapping 5600m event provided spectators with a marvellous sight throughout the race.

With tearaway pacemaker The Rose ensuring it was a truly run affair, the field was spread out over nearly 100m in the early to mid stages.

As the field commenced their final lap, the gaps quickly closed, and that was when the excitement factor really kicked in.

Entering the final 500m, with just two fences remaining, eight of the nine horse field were realistic winning chances.

There was only three lengths covering them at that stage.

Race favourite, Cambridge trained Karlos looked the likely winner after jumping the last fence in front, for rider Aaron Kuru.

However, the John Wheeler trained El Patron, with Cambridge based jockey Matt Cropp aboard, eventually wore down Karlos to gain a thrilling one length victory.

Close up in third spot was Kidunot, with Cape Kinaveral in fourth position.

The victory of El Patron was a testament to the skill of master trainer John Wheeler.

The Hall of Fame trainer has long been regarded as one of the best horsemen we’ve ever produced.

After showing so much promise earlier in his career, El Patron suffered an injury which kept him off the race track for nearly four years.

It would have signalled the end of the career of most horses, but Wheeler persisted, and got the ultimate reward last Saturday.

“I told the owner, Jim Martin, if any horse could come back from the injury, it was El Patron and he’s stuck with the ship all this time” said Wheeler afterwards.

Playing a pivotal role in the victory was rider Matt Cropp.

The Cambridge based jockey rode an ice cool race, biding his time near the rear of the field for most of the race.

“I was told to ride him like that, just sit and wait, and it’s paid off over the final stages” said an obviously delighted Cropp.

Cropp joined a select group of jockeys who have won both Grand Nationals, after winning the Grand National Hurdles three seasons ago.

“This is a great thrill and I’m looking forward to the Great Northern Steeplechase with this horse too, because I think he’ll be competitive there too” said Cropp.

Judging by Saturday’s win, Cropp’s confidence is well justified.


A little closer to home at Pukekohe saw the Lisa O’Shea trained Shining Armour bounce back to winning form.

Shining Armour caused a surprise when leading all the way over 1600m for Cambridge apprentice Brendan Hutton.

At odds of nearly 30 to 1, Shining Armour held out a desperate late bid by The Flying Affair.

Close up in third spot was race favourite Cornelius.

The victory gave O’Shea her third training success, and coincidentally, all have been with Shining Armour.

And all three victories have been by the barest of margins.

“He won his first race at Ellerslie with Michael Walker aboard, then won at New Plymouth by a nose, and he’s just held on again today” said O’Shea.

The funny thing is I called all of those three races, and every time I thought Shining Armour had been beaten!

Fortunately for his connections, I’m obviously an ordinary judge!!


Congratulations to the Roger James trained Honeymoon, who bounced back to winning form at Pukekohe.

Aided by a confident Mark Hills ride, Honeymoon finished strongly to score over 1600m.

She looks well worth following in the near future.


Finally good luck to all the locals nominated for awards at this Thursday’s NZTR Horse of The Year Awards.

Star local three year old Dundeel and brilliant juvenile Rudd Awakening look strong chances to win their categories.

I will have a look at the results in next week’s column.

Catch you next week.