The familiar combination of trainer Raymond Connors and jockey Isaac Lupton combined once again to take out a feature jumping event at Ellerslie when Max stormed to victory in the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m). The Connors-Lupton partnership has proved nigh on unbeatable at Ellerslie over the years, combining to secure three Great Northern Steeplechases (6400m) and two Pakuranga Hunt Cups (4900m) with fabulous jumper Hypnotize along with another Great Northern Steeplechase courtesy of Wise Men Say in 2017.
Monday’s contest saw the Connors-trained Max sent out favourite for the feature chase despite failing to feature in the Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) at his most recent start, with punters believing the Heavy10 track conditions would play in his favour. Allowed to lob along at the tail of the field by Lupton, Max began to loom into contention as the field climbed the legendary Ellerslie hill for the second time. Allowed to scoot along the inner and cut the corner heading to the last fence, Max found top gear as he sailed over the last obstacle and forged away from a game Perry Mason with Lacustre fighting on well for third.
Lupton was confident of a good performance from Max after Connors told him the horse had improved since his Waikato Steeplechase effort and would find conditions more in his favour. “Raymond thought he would improve with the Waikato run and be closer to spot on for this race,” he said. “The track being a little bit softer helped him as well. “I tried to be a bit handier but it was quite competitive so I had to poke through where I could get some runs and he was quite good in the end. “He won his maiden here over the hill and I thought he would be a prospect for the McGregor Grant but they didn’t have it here last year so it’s two years later that we got here.”
Connors admitted he had today’s feature steeplechase as a prime target for the nine-year-old Gallant Guru gelding. “We planned for this race and I’m glad everything worked out,” he said. “It was a lovely ride and a great performance. “I’ve been very lucky up here and long may it continue. “We always thought he would need his first couple of runs and that bit of rain helped as it slowed them up and let us get into the race. “He’s a nice jumper and a good honest horse.”
Connors will race the horse through the winter with an eye to returning to Ellerslie later in the year to tackle both the Pakuranga Hunt Cup and Great Northern Steeplechase. Max is now unbeaten in two runs over the Ellerslie hill and has won seven of his 26 career starts for Connors and his father Mark who share in his owership.