Promising steeplechaser West Coast looks to have attained the favourite’s tag for next Saturday’s Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge 147th Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) with a dashing display to take out the traditional lead-up event at Riccarton on Saturday.
Facing just three rivals in the Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Koral Steeplechase (4250m), the Mark Oulaghan-trained seven-year-old put in a proficient display in the hands of Shaun Fannin to defeat last start Te Rapa winner Carnaby by seven lengths.
After leading in the early stages of the contest, Fannin was happy to take a trail behind Carnaby before issuing his challenge at the top of the Riccarton straight where he took control of the race in the final stages.
Oulaghan had been a little unsure if his charge had the requisite fitness under his belt to win the race after a month away from the races but was clearly pleased with the effort.
“I was pleasantly surprised as with the preparation he has had I wasn’t sure whether he could do that, but he was quite good,” he said.
“Down the back I thought Carnaby was going quite well and he is conditioned up and fit and not a bad galloper, but this horse picked him up so it was a nice effort.
“He will push on to the big one next Saturday and he should improve with that one under his belt.”
The victory registered as Oulaghan’s seventh in the race but was just the second for Fannin after he had piloted the Kevin Myers-trained The Big Opal to win in 2017.
“Ideally I had wanted to take a sit and I was happy to trail Carnaby when he took over,” Fannin said.
“I was pretty happy when we ranged up at the second last fence, but the horse was doing a fair bit wrong so he will take a lot of confidence out of the run for next week.
“He has shown plenty throughout the season and I know Mark had targeted this carnival with him, so it his time to win a big race like the National as he will stay all day.”
Fannin will also have a live chance in Wednesday’s Hospitality NZ Canterbury 132nd Grand National Hurdles (4200m) aboard the Myers-trained Interllectus who went a cheeky race to finish third behind stablemates He’s Ric and Hey Happy in his first start since injuring a tendon when winning his maiden hurdle contest at Awapuni just under two years ago.
He’s Ric and rider Hamish McNeill showed they will also be a force to be reckoned with on Wednesday as they led all-the-way in the Avon City Ford Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) and proved too strong in the run home despite being hotly challenged in the concluding stages.
“I was quite surprised how they all let me get it quite so easy out in front,” McNeill said.
“He got a breather and when they came to me, he quickened up nicely.
“He was so relaxed in front and in a nice rhythm and hopefully he pulls up well.
“He could lead again on Wednesday as you don’t fix something if it ain’t broke.”
The win was the first of a running double for Myers who also took out the second race on the card with impressive three-year-old debutant Carignan, a son of Roc de Cambes that will be clearly suited over much further than his 1200m success on Saturday.