Eion sends warning to Great Northern rivals

CLC Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4200m) winner Eion will contest the ARC Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) at his next start. Photo Credit: Race Images – Kenton Wright

Lightly raced jumper Eion provided an ominous warning to his potential ARC Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) rivals when he took out an action packed CLC Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4200m) at Te Aroha on Sunday.

The Pakuranga Hunt Cup is the major lead-up race to the Great Northern and the Ken Duncan-trained Eion looked spot on for his upcoming challenge over the famed Ellerslie hill as he chimed in with two fences to clear for rider Emily Farr, before out-finishing a gallant Zartan in the run to the post to record his fourth career victory.

The race had a messy start with veteran chaser Kipkeino falling at the first fence before continuing riderless for the duration of the contest.

Despite being niggled at in front by the riderless Kipkeino and Wanganui visitor Mesmerize, Zartan looked to be travelling like a winner with 600m to run, however he couldn’t shake off the persistent Eion who proved too strong in the closing stages and had to settle for second, with Te Kahu shading Lacustre for third.

“Emily (Farr) rode him well and I’m very happy with him,” Duncan said.

“We’ve got our eye on the Great Northern and that run today will have him spot on for that race in a fortnight.

“He was suited by the track today (Slow9), although he handles most surfaces.

“He won his maiden chase at Ellerslie and also the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m) there, so he likes the venue and we hope they can run the meeting there if the COVID situation allows.

“There’s not a lot to him and he stands taller than he actually is, especially after a win, but I don’t think he will have any trouble with the Northern distance, so I’m looking forward to getting there.”

Duncan also advised that stablemate Shamal, who didn’t complete the race, had pulled up okay and would also contest the Great Northern Steeplechase provided he could strike some wetter track conditions at Ellerslie.

Earlier in the day Waverley trainer Harvey Wilson produced promising hurdler Dr Hank to take out the feature hurdle event on the card, the RMS Contracting Open Hurdle (3100m), his third win over the smaller fences from just four starts.

Free-goer English Gambler set up a breakneck speed out in front, clear by more than a dozen lengths at times as Dr Hank was allocated the task of chasing him down.

Despite tiring as he entered the home straight, English Gambler looked set for victory, but Dr Hank joined issue at the second last fence and then strode clear as his rival bungled the final obstacle, throwing rider Shaun Fannin and leaving Dr Hank to take the win by just on four lengths from Curious George and the late closing Aigne.

A winner of two races on the flat for former trainer Darrell Hollinshead, Dr Hank hasn’t put a foot wrong over jumps since joining Wilson back in May this year.

“He has surprised us a bit, but it has been a nice surprise,” Wilson said.

“He was with Darrell but then they gave him to us with Peter Hollinshead and Colin Clark, who I used to show jump with, staying in for ten percent each.

“He’s not a brilliant jumper but he’s tough and fit and he got the job done today.

“As long as things go well, he will most likely contest the Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) next up.”

The day didn’t end well for Wilson with his well-performed chaser It’s A Wonder being pulled up by rider Shaun Phelan during the running of the CLC Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4200m), with the Grand National (5600m) and Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) winner likely to have run his last race.

“It looks like that might be it for him as Shaun said he just didn’t really want to be there,” Wilson said.

“That is not like him at all, so he may be telling us enough is enough.

“He has been a marvellous horse for us and if it is his last race, then a wonderful retirement in a nice paddock awaits him.”

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