Wise Men Say and Venerate make for pure symmetry as they share the lead in the Wellington Steeplechase.
Raymond Connors brought a lucky charm to Trentham today and went home with a long-sought major jumps prize compliments of Wise Men Say in the Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase.
Today’s big jumps day marked the first visit to Wellington Racing Club headquarters by Connors’ nine-month-old daughter Matilda. Whether the blue-eyed youngster’s presence made the difference is purely speculative, but Connors was happy to give her at least some of the credit for the breakthrough with Wise Men Say.
“She might just be that lucky charm we needed,” he said. “We’ve won a Wellington Cup with Blood Brotha and the only other win we’ve had here was another flat race with Hypnotize.
“As far as jumps races go, we’ve had no luck, just couldn’t take a trick here, so it’s a big relief to fin ally get one home.”
Matilda apart, Connors was more than ready to give credit to long-time stable jumps jockey Isaac Lupton, who carried out a pre-race plan to position Wise Men Say handier than usual as a means of countering the firmer ground on the infield course.
“He went no good here last month but we were feeling more confident after he finished second in the Hawke’s Bay Steeple. We knew he needed to be handy though, he wouldn’t be able to give them too much of a start.
With that in mind, Lupton put Wise Men Say right in the race from the start, leading initially and then tracking the pacemaker Venerate. For a brief period in the second round of the 5500-metre race Wise Men Say’s head showed out in front before he gave way to Venerate again.
The race changed dramatically with 1200 metres to run when Venerate made his only mistake and dropped rider Will Gordon, leaving Wise Men Say in front and soon afterwards joined by lightweight Old Countess.
Her challenge was short-lived, but the result was by no means predictable. Wise Men Say was joined by Chocolate Fish, while topweight Amanood Lad, who had stalked the pace throughout, was also in for the fight.
Approaching the final jump Lupton knew he had to get it right, and so he did as he asked Wise Men Say for a big one. The Yamanin Vital hit the ground running and was strong as he maintained his advantage to score by three lengths from Chocolate Fish, with another eight lengths to Amanood Lad.
“I needed a big one at the last, so I had to get a bit brave,” said Lupton with typical modesty. “Thankfully he was up to it and we got the one we wanted.”
That took the 39-year-old’s tally of Wellington Steeplechase wins to four in a sequence that began with Black Eagle in 2007. It also maintained Lupton’s place at the top of the 2017-18 jumps jockeys’ premiership with 12 wins and a lead of just one over defending champion Aaron Kuru.
That’s quite a turnaround for the red-headed dairy farmer after three years of sparse participation when he rode a total of just 11 winners.
“Winning the Wellington Steeplechase again means a lot,” Lupton said. “I was a boy when my parents won the race with Hadfield and that became my dream, to one day win it as well.
Plans for the final weeks of the jumps season will be different for Wise Men Say this year, with Connors confirming that his next target will be the Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton rather than wait another month for a repeat of last year’s Great Northern victory.
“The Grand National looks like the race for him now,” he said. “With the change in venue to Te Rapa for the Great Northern I think Riccarton will be more suitable.
“Nothing against Te Rapa, but I don’t think it suits him like Ellerslie.”
That plan will mean a rematch with today’s runner-up Chocolate Fish, one of the real up-and-comers in steeplechase ranks.
“The winner was simply too good for our bloke, but we’re still thrilled with that performance,” said trainer Shane Brown. “It’s the Grand National for him now, we’re looking forward to it.”