Beautiful weather, great hospitality, and being able to go fishing in-between race meetings, it’s no wonder Shaun Phelan loves East Coast racing. Phelan, who trains at Cambridge in partnership with his father Craig, has taken three horses to Wairoa’s two day meeting and enjoyed success on Thursday with Big Mike in the Wairoa Cup Trial (1900m). The Listed Pakenham Cup (2500m) winner had been out of form since his trip to Sydney last winter and Phelan was delighted to see the seven-year-old gelding back in the winner’s circle.
It was another typical bold front-running display by the son of Don Eduardo. He was sent straight to the front by apprentice jockey Elen Nicholas where they dictated terms throughout and posted a 1-1/4 length victory over Mongolianconqueror, with a nose back to Roll The Gold in third. “We saw the old Big Mike yesterday,” Phelan said. “It took a while to get him right from his last Australian trip where he picked up a virus. He hasn’t been the same horse for a long time. “With the claim, everything was going his way. We were looking to find some form, otherwise he was going to go jumping.”
Phelan said the East Coast trip has done Big Mike the world of good. “We thought the trip away to Wairoa would be good for him as we knew that they do a lovely job with the track,” he said. “He has really thrived on the trip away. The club do a great job of setting up everything for us here.”
Phelan is looking forward to Sunday where Big Mike will contest the AFFCO NZ Ltd Wairoa Cup (2100m). Big Mike will jump from barrier four and Phelan said they will take a similar approach into Sunday’s assignment. “We will do the same thing again, he has got the claimer (Elen Nicholas) on,” Phelan said. “It’s better to let him roll and that’s how he best races. When he gets his own way in front he is a hard horse to peg back. “The track looks great and it is probably his best distance as well.”
Phelan is pleased that Big Mike has found winning form again and said he will now press on to some more Cup targets. “Our plan was to get him down here and get a couple of runs into him before trying to get him to the Auckland Cup (Group 1, 3200m) in a couple of weeks,” he said. “With a horse like him there are not too many other options for him. After the Auckland Cup we might look at something like the Mornington Cup (Listed, 2400m).”
Phelan will also have two other runners in on Sunday. Deshi will contest the Brokerweb Risk Services (HB) 1300, while Hit The Road Jack will line-up in the Corson Grain 1500. Both horses finished fourth in their respective races on Thursday and Phelan believes both will be strong contenders on the second day of the meeting. “Deshi was a bit upset with the race being held up for seven minutes with that horse losing a plate,” Phelan said. “He has got blinkers on for Sunday and I think he will run a good race. “Hit The Road Jack is a nice three-year-old that we have brought down here for education and I think he will be hard to beat on Sunday.”
Phelan is loving his time down in Wairoa and believes grassroots meetings are an integral part of New Zealand racing. “A lot of form comes out of the meetings,” he said. “It is all voluntary work here, so I don’t know why they find the need to get rid of these sort of clubs. “There’s a lot of history with these clubs and they still get great support, there will be two or three thousand people here on Sunday. You wouldn’t get those numbers at many tracks.”
While Phelan is looking forward to racing on Sunday, he is particularly excited about another favourite pastime on Saturday. “It’s awesome, the club look after you,” he said. “We are going fishing Saturday hopefully, so we are jogging on the spot waiting for that.”