Stephen Nickalls has to pinch himself every time he looks back on this season.
The Manawatu horseman was happy training a handful of jumpers on his Rangiotu farm and then one filly changed everything.
Llanacord, a NZ$15,000 yearling sale purchase by his stepfather Kevin Hopson, went from winning her maiden race at Wanganui in February to winning the Group 2 Lowland Stakes (2100m) at Hastings at her next start, before placing in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) at Trentham in March.
Nickalls then made his first trip across the Tasman with her where she once again gave her trainer the experience of a lifetime when finishing runner-up in the Group 3 South Australian Fillies Classic (2500m) at Morphettville.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Nickalls said. “We knock around and do what is best for the horses and to get a horse like her, who has come from a maiden race to winning a Group Two and placing in a Group Three in Australia has been wonderful.
“We have enjoyed it and will look back on it with fond memories.
“We are pretty excited about the future with her as well. She has got to step up to that open grade next season, but everything she has done this year tells me that we are going to have a lot of fun with her next season.
“I was up with my mum and stepfather last weekend and we sat down and said we would get her back in work early July and see how she comes up, and make a plan from there.
“We have got nothing firm set for the spring. We will probably nominate for the Hastings carnival, simply because she is at that level, but whether we get there she will tell us.”
Nickalls also experienced one of his best moments as a jumps trainer when Zartan finished third in the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m) at Ellerslie on Monday.
“He was awesome. He is such a lovely horse and a joy to have around,” Nickalls said.
“Coming down the hill he was in front and we were all getting very excited.
“Jumping is what I love and I have an absolute passion for it. To have a horse run third in a McGregor Grant is wonderful.”
Zartan is set to return to Ellerslie, but Nickalls is eyeing another feature jumps race closer to home before then.
“He has come home and has pulled up really well,” he said. “We will look at going back for the Great Northern with him, he seems to like the hill.
“He will probably go there via the Wellington (Steeplechase) and Pakuranga (Hunt Cup).”
While Zartan will head to Trentham next month for the Wellington Steeplechase (5500m), Nickalls is looking forward to heading to the Upper Hutt track this weekend with a couple of other runners.
His charge will be led by last start winner Chase in the Wyndspelle At Grangewilliam Stud 1600.
The four-year-old gelding posted three previous placings and Nickalls was delighted to finally break maiden ranks with the son of Zed at Trentham last month.
“It was a lovely win,” he said. “It was good to see him get one. He threatened a little bit earlier, so it was good to get that monkey off our back.
“He has always been a horse that we have had quite a bit of time for, but he has just been a little bit dumb and learning his craft, but he put it all together a fortnight ago.
“It was really exciting for us to get that win.”
Nickalls has been pleased with Chase ahead of Saturday and he believes his wide gate of 10 and stepping up in grade won’t be too much of a concern for his gelding.
“He has bounced through the race really well,” he said.
“I think the best draw he has had was nine, so he is used to being out there. We were down there at the track on Tuesday schooling some jumpers and the track was pretty wet. I think they will be coming wide later in the day, so I don’t think it will bother him too much.
“He has to go up in grade and that is always a question. The way he won the other day, his times were comparable with the (rating) 74 mile earlier in the day, so that is why we thought why not have a crack.”
Nickalls will also line-up Coconut in the Super Star Zed Em ‘Chase’ (4000m).
“We took him down (to Trentham) on Tuesday morning and he schooled around the fences down there and was really good,” he said. “He jumped everything really well and ran to the line well.
“It was a nice fitness run for him the other day at Palmerston North, he ran home well and we were really happy with him ahead of Saturday.”