Houston’s sights on Grand National

Cambridge jumps jockey Shelley Houston likes her chances of becoming just the fifth female rider to win the Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton.

Houston will ride the Taranaki jumper Penstar for trainer Bob Baker in today’s $60,000 Racecourse Hotel Grand National Steeplechase (5600m). She has had four rides on Penstar for two wins and two fourths.

 “He tweaked a muscle behind and that’s why he didn’t run on the first day at Riccarton,” said Houston. “Bob didn’t want to risk him. Instead he ran him on the flat at Hastings last Monday and he was happy with the way he went.  The wet track at Riccarton won’t help him, but the distance will. I give him a good chance.” 

The first female rider to win the Grand National Steeplechase was Debbie Henderson on Noble Express in 1994 and the following year Leanne Elliot followed suit on Just Red. Megan Prendergast (Brick) joined the list in 1999 when winning on Black Rhythm in 1999 and Rochelle Lockett became the fourth female rider to take the race when scoring on Currency in 2000.

 Houston’s first ride on Penstar was way back in August 2009 when successful in a maiden steeplechase at Foxton. She didn’t get back on him until this year’s Manawatu Steeplechase when finishing fourth and a start later she deadheated for first with Volkswagin in the Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase. 

Houston’s other ride on Penstar was in the Wellington Steeplechase and the result was a fourth to Tom’s Myth. “He was chasing the whole way at Trentham and the figure-eight track didn’t suit him,” said Houston. “He was jumping, turning and chasing and couldn’t get into rhythm. He had every reason to get tired, but he didn’t. He still ran on a bit.” 

Houston has had five rides in the Grand National Steeplechase and has had to settle for two seconds, the first one aboard Ultimate Game in 2005 and the other on Cape Kinaveral last year. Her other rides were on Willie Winit (fourth), High Season (fifth) and Black Eagle (ninth).