Railway winner Entriviere will carry a 63kg topweight in the open sprint at Ruakaka on Saturday. Photo / Trish Dunell
Riccarton officials will watch their two jumping races on Saturday with “our hearts in our mouths” as they hope they have saved their iconic Grand National races next week.
The Canterbury Jockey Club managed to get enough starters for the $50,000 Sydenham Hurdles and $50,000 Koral Steeplechase on Saturday after initially fearing they would struggle to attract enough northern visitors.
There are few jumpers trained in the South Island now as the Grand National meeting is the only week of jumps racing south of Cook Strait so getting these races off the ground is almost entirely dependent on North Island horses.
Even the trainers of South Island horses who recently secured their jumping tickets were under-standably reluctant to tackle the jumping races at this week’s carnival with no suitable lead-up races in the south, which would be needed for the rigors of Saturday’s races on a heavy10 track.
CJC boss Tim Mills says getting the seven starters for the hurdle and five for the steeplechase this Saturday goes a long way towards ensuring the GN Hurdle (next Wednesday) and GN Steeplechase (Saturday week) go ahead.
“It is a start and it is our intention to run them,” says Mills.
“We are hearing there could be two more steeplechasers coming down for the Grand National which would really help and we would love to have eight go around in the Grand National Hurdle next Wednesday.
“But that means them all getting through this Saturday well and we all know what racing can be like.
“The only downside to having lead-up races is a horse can perform poorly or have a hard run and the trainers may change their mind about the main race.
“So we will have our hearts in our mouths watching the two jumps races on Saturday.”
The hurdle and steeplechase on Saturday and the jumping aspect of the carnival will only go ahead as regular Riccarton supporter Kevin Myers is starting eight of the combined 12 runners in the two races this Saturday.
So no Myers, no Grand Nationals.
Mills says his team will wait until after the carnival before re-assessing whether to again ask New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing to hold lead-up jumps races at Riccarton, which would even be held alongside a synthetic meeting.
That will be the case if the Grand National Hurdle gets off the ground next Wednesday, with the flat races on that card to be held on the synthetic.
“We actually suggested to NZTR we have lead-up jumps races but that was turned down last year so we will look into that again but whether that is enough to keep jumpers in training down here I don’t know,” says Mills.
Saturday’s feature race is the $100,000 Winter Cup, again with Myers having a huge presence, but the glamor race of the weekend is over 1200km away at Ruakaka.
That will see Railway winner Entriviere with a 63kg topweight over stablemate Imperatriz carrying 60kg in the open sprint also featuring On The Bubbles and Dragon Leap in a rare early-season handicap of this quality.