Prominent jumps trainer Paul Nelson has had plenty of top-class hurdlers pass through his care over the years but he labelled The Cossack as the best after his dominant win in the Hospitality New Zealand Canterbury 131st Grand National Hurdles (NZ) (4200m) at Riccarton on Wednesday.
His 12.5 length victory was his fourth prestige jumps race triumph, adding to victories in the Waikato Hurdle (3200m), Wellington Hurdle (3100m), and Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) at Ellerslie last year.
“It’s incredible,” said Nelson, who trains in partnership with Corrina McDougal. “It is not often that a horse can win the three big ones in the same year and this horse has done it.
“He is probably the best horse we have had.”
While The Cossack took good form into the race, he hadn’t been sighted on raceday since his win in the Wellington Hurdle at Hastings last month, and Nelson was wary that his charge may have been too fresh heading into the race.
“There were doubters about whether he would handle the heavy track, but I was more worried about whether he was too fresh,” Nelson said.
“This morning (Wednesday) I took him for a lead, but he took me for a lead. We came back and I talked with Michelle Northcott and she went and worked him a couple of times in the centre (of the track) because he was so fresh.
“It helped us because he came out and he was a sensible horse.”
Originally trained by fellow Hawke’s Bay horseman John Bary, Nelson saw a lot of potential in The Cossack and was able to negotiate a deal to buy him last year.
“We heard that he was for sale and that some Australians were looking at him,” Nelson said.
“They turned him down and I was watching him when John Bary had him, and I was keeping in close contact with Aaron (Kuru), who rode him.
“We talked with Peter Grieve and he actually belonged to his brother Ivan, and John Bary as well. I said ‘we should have a go at this horse’ and that was it, we managed to buy him.
“We don’t buy a lot of expensive horses and he’s the dearest one I have bought. We spent NZD$30,000 on him, which is a bargain now.”
The Cossack has subsequently won six races since joining Nelson’s barn, and placed on another five occasions from 12 starts.
A trip north to Ellerslie to defend The Cossack’s crown in the Great Northern Hurdle is enticing for Nelson, but he said he will wait upon their return to Hastings before making a decision.
“You can’t make a decision on raceday,” Nelson said. “You have got to go home and see how they pull up and go from there.
“I know the Northern is beckoning, but we will just have to see.”
Victorious jockey Shaun Phelan was jubilant after the race, pumping the air as he crossed the finishing line.
It was the Waikato rider’s first win in the race after a number of placings, and he was delighted to finally secure a win in the feature hurdle.
“It is very special, it is my first one,” Phelan said. “I haven’t had much luck in the race, I think I have had a couple of placings. I was just on the right horse at the right time.
“He was pretty keen early. I just wanted to get him settled and into a rhythm, and hopefully out slog them in that ground, and he certainly did that.”
The stable scored a double for the meeting when stablemate Nedwin was victorious in the Nautical Insurance Duke Of Gloucester Cup (1800m) earlier on the card in the hands of apprentice jockey Leah Zydenbos.