Laekeeper (Emily Farr) impresses in the Sydenham Hurdles.
Simon Rees upped the ante at Riccarton today with his rising star hurdler Laekeeper, who cemented favouritism for Wednesday’s Grand National Hurdle with an all-the-way win in the $35,000 Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Sydenham Hurdles.
The Morrinsville owner-trainer-breeder, who doubles as a dentist, had brought Laekeeper along quietly through the early stages of his jumping career. The Keeper gelding had made six starts over hurdles before today, all at Te Aroha, for four impressive wins and two placings.
He faced his toughest test yet in Christchurch today, lining up against a quality field in the opening race of the 2018 Grand National carnival, and he again passed with flying colours.
Ridden as usual by Emily Farr, Laekeeper went straight to the lead in the 3100-metre race, travelled beautifully all the way and was never headed.
Southern hope Jackfrost made up plenty of ground from the back of the field, but Farr was unfazed and kept Laekeeper under a strong hold into the straight.
Jackfrost narrowed the margin to about half a length in the run home, only for Laekeeper to edge away again to win by three-quarters of a length. The rest of the field finished another four lengths away, headed by Drumgold.
Laekeeper was Farr’s first Riccarton winner and the very first runner at the Christchurch track for Rees, who grew up in South Canterbury and still has family in the area.
“That was a good trial for Wednesday,” Rees said. “He’s a great jumper. He’s shown that he can do it from the front as well – he’d led all the way in a trial at Cambridge, so I wasn’t too worried about him leading.
“It was after his last win at Te Aroha that people put it in my head to come down here and give it a go. I thought I might as well, rather than staying up north and waiting for the Great Northerns.
“He travelled down here perfectly, and he’ll appreciate more ground on Wednesday too.”
Farr, who has now had six rides on Laekeeper for four wins, has been singing the gelding’s praises for months.
“He’s just so economical,” she enthused. “He’s improved every single start. He deserves to be here today, and I’m so proud of him.
“The plan wasn’t really to lead, there was a lot of speed in the race, but he’s super fresh and I know that he can just sit there. His jumping will always get him there.
“I heard Jackfrost coming at him, but he was still travelling so well. He gives an amazing feeling.”
The Sydenham produced an early surprise when top-class hurdler The Shackler was pulled up inside the first 500 metres of the race. Regular rider Aaron Kuru was unhappy with the Waikato and KS Browne Hurdle winner’s action and withdrew him from the contest.
Today’s Winter Cup meeting is being staged on a Slow9 track, described by riders as better than they may have expected.