Monarch Chimes (Shaun Phelan) surges to victory in the Hawke's Bay Hurdle.
Classy hurdler Monarch Chimes made a triumphant return to New Zealand’s jumps racing ranks this afternoon, impressively winning the $50,000 Te Whangai Romney’s Hawke’s Bay Hurdle at Hastings.
The Shinko King gelding won his first three hurdle starts in dominant style last winter. He cleared maidens by more than four lengths at Te Aroha, then beat Ngario by three lengths in a restricted open at Rotorua.
He stepped up to Prestige Jumping Race level for the Harrison Lane Hurdle at Ellerslie and won again, beating El Corby and Just Got Home by half a length, then rounded out his campaign with a fourth in the Great Northern Hurdle.
After resuming this year with three promising runs on the flat, Monarch Chimes travelled to Victoria for three jumping starts. He won an open steeplechase at Pakenham, then went to Warrnambool and finished third in the Brierly Steeplechase and fourth in the Grand Annual.
The six-year-old then returned home and finished third in a 2200-metre Rating 75 flat race at Avondale, followed by a close second in a hurdle trial at Cambridge. That heat was won by Laekeeper, who boosted that form with an impressive victory at Te Aroha last Sunday.
It all set him up for today’s return to hurdling, in which he was reunited with Shaun Phelan. The Waikato jockey was in the saddle for last winter’s winning hat-trick before injury ruled him out of the Great Northern mount and kept him on the sidelines for several months.
Monarch Chimes was the $3.30 favourite for today’s feature, and he made it look easy. The six-year-old cruised around in midfield for most of the 3100-metre journey, then began to creep forward approaching the home turn.
The front-runner No Change fought back gamely when Monarch Chimes drew up alongside him in the straight, but the favourite asserted his superiority and won by a length and a half. The rest of the field finished five lengths behind, headed by the third-placed It’s A Wonder.
“It’s a big thrill,” Phelan said. “It’s great to be back and to be back on this horse again. It’s good to get the job done today, and it’s pretty special to be riding a horse like this.”
Trained by Emma-Lee and David Browne for an ownership group that includes former All Black Kit Fawcett, Monarch Chimes has now won seven of his 29 starts and more than $195,000 in prize-money. He has had eight jumping starts for five wins.
“That was a very good performance,” Emma-Lee Browne said. “He’s still pulling and doing a few things wrong, but he’s a good jumper and we’re very proud of him.
“He did a bit too well in Australia – he’s still got his summer coat, and it’s been hard to get the weight off him.
“We’ve got a few options now. We could either go for some more big races here, or we could think about taking him back to Australia.”