A consensus between a trainer and his first-choice jockey will see talented jumper Laekeeper contest Saturday’s Corson Maize Pakuranga Hunt Hurdle (3350m) at Ellerslie with a new rider. Shaun Fannin will ride topweight Laekeeper for the first time after Morrinsville trainer Simon Rees and regular rider Emily Farr agreed she should ride last-start Riccarton winner Abacus for New Plymouth trainer John Wheeler.
Farr has ridden Laekeeper in all but two of his 14 hurdle starts, winning four times on the Keeper eight-year-old gelding, among those wins was last year’s Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) at Riccarton which led to placings in the Grand National Hurdles (4200m) at Riccarton, last year’s Corson Maize Hurdle (3100m) at Te Aroha and Great Northern Hurdles (4200m), also at Te Aroha.
However, Farr had parted company with Laekeeper in both the Sydenham Hurdles and Grand National Hurdles at Riccarton earlier this month, the only two times he has failed to place in jumping contests. “He’s really well, extremely well actually,” Rees said. “I had the situation where Emily had another ride and we agreed she should take that ride and we’ll see how Shaun goes on him. We’re very thankful for all the work Emily has done with him. “Shaun is very keen to ride him. We’re hopeful he can race well. He’s fit and well but a lot depends on how the ground is.”
Ellerslie was rated a heavy 11 on Thursday, conditions Laekeeper has handled well in the past, though his most recent wins have been on slightly better slow 9 and heavy 10 tracks. TAB bookmakers have Wellington Hurdle (3400m) winner No Tip as a $3.70 favourite ahead of Laekeeper and Bay Rocker at $4.60. Rees said safely through Saturday’s race Laekeeper would again contest the Boutique Body Corporates Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) at Ellerslie on September 7.
Fannin will also partner Saturday’s CLC Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4900m) favourite Raisafuasho at Ellerslie. Meanwhile, Rees will seek a hat-trick of wins with Maestro Blu in the ITM Winstone Wallboard Gib 1800 at New Plymouth on Saturday, suggesting a win could springboard the Mastercraftsman five-year-old into Group 3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) contention at Riccarton in November.
Maestro Blue followed a 3 1/4-length Te Aroha maiden win with an even easier 4 1/2-length Riccarton Rating 65 win earlier this month and looks well placed in Saturday’s special conditions maiden. “I felt he was nicely placed and we’ve got a bit of weight relief from the apprentice,” Rees said in reference to Mubs Kareem’s 4kg allowance. “We really like him. He’s going well and he worked pretty well this morning too. Long-term we’d like to go back to Riccarton in November and get him over a bit more ground. I think he’ll stay pretty well. He’s probably looking for 2000m now.”