Former top hurdler Just Got Home made a welcome and well received return to the winner’s circle at Te Aroha on Sunday when he prevailed in a thrilling finish to the Frank & Annie Matijasevich Memorial Open Steeplechase (3500m). The rising twelve-year-old had won for the first time over the bigger fences at the same venue back in August last year after switching to steeplechasing following a richly successful hurdling career that saw him win on five occasions in that role, including a victory in the 2014 Wellington Hurdle (3400m).
Trainer Rudy Liefting was keen on the chances of his charge before the race and that opinion was validated by Just Got Home who jumped superbly in or near the lead throughout. Tackled and headed by Magic Wonder with 1000m to run, Just Got Home forged his way back to the front on the point of the home turn before holding out the late challenge of Lacustre to register his 12th career victory and take his total earnings over the $300,000 mark. “I’m going to retire him after this year as he’s eleven now and he’s been such a good horse for us,” Liefting said. “He hasn’t got a Northern (Great Northern Steeplechase) in him or anything like that, but races like this are just nice for him. “He’s got plenty of speed and likes to bowl along a bit at a good clip and enjoys it here (Te Aroha). “There’s a $40,000 chase here at the end of the season so I think we will shoot for that.”
Earlier in the day the Mark Brooks-trained El Disparo gave his rivals a jumping lesson as he dominated proceedings from the front to take out the feature hurdle event, the Victor & Frank Matijasevich Open Hurdle (3100m). The El Hermano seven-year-old looked a different horse to the one that had struggled home near the rear in the Hawke’s Bay Hurdles last month as he attacked his jumps throughout for rider Shaun Phelan before striding home a comprehensive four-length winner. “It was good display as I think he got too far back when they ran along last time,” Brooks said. “We forgot that run as he pulled up well, so we had another go today. “We might look at going down south (Grand National Hurdles, August 7) now.”
Phelan was impressed with the fluency of El Disparo’s jumping as he rolled along in front of the quality field. “He sort of took his hook on me early so I let him roll and do his own thing,” Phelan said. “I didn’t realise how far in front I was but he jumped perfectly and did it easy. “He’s been going around in those good hurdle races and probably needed a confidence boost which he got today.” The victory was El Disparo’s second over hurdles and his fifth overall for his large group of owners that include his breeders, Frank and Faye Drummond. The win also provided Phelan with a feature race double as he was aboard Just Got Home after picking up the ride from his partner Emily Farr when she was stood down following a fall in an earlier hurdle event.