Just when punters were starting to doubt the magic of Kevin Myers, as hot favourite Mahanadi blundered through the Waikato Steeplechase, the Wanganui trainer dug deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out upset winner Palemo.
But while the seventh-favourite in the eight-horse field was up front, most eyes were at the rear of the field, as last year's Grand National winner completely failed to come to grips with his first look at the big fences.
A collective groan could be heard from Te Rapa racegoers when Mahanadi launched skyward at the first fence of the $50,000 feature, losing lengths.
At the next obstacle he jumped so high he nearly catapulted rider Daniel Miller out of the saddle.
The horse eventually ran last - 53 lengths behind the winner.
Palemo's co-owner, Jeff McVean, admitted afterwards he laughed at one of his mates who predicted before the race that he would win.
Although his partner in Palemo, Douglas Duncan, had passed on Myers' confidence earlier in the week that the horse was pretty much primed, McVean remained dubious.
"But I shouldn't have doubted Dummy [Myers], we all know that he can deliver."
McVean recalled how he and his partner had paid close to $100,000 for the Don Eduardo horse as a yearling, hoping to win a derby.
"I trained him for his first few starts on the flat and over hurdles but he always pulled his heart out. My theory was if it's good, send it to the best so I asked Dummy to train him and he's got him calm."
McVean said he was happy to stick to show jumping, a field his family have dominated for many years.
Winning his first jumps race, and the prestigious Waikato Hurdles with his first jumper, was a huge thrill. "I can't believe it."
He said Myers, in typical style, had the horse ready to win early in the jumps reason because he was nowhere near as potent on wet tracks.
And that trait, a major problem for a jumper, is sure to restrict where Myers can aim the horse, said his helper, former top rider Jo Rathbone.
In his victory speech, jockey Matt Gillies credited Rathbone for much of the success of both the horse and himself.
"Jo does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that people don't realise. And she's helped a lot with my riding."
Rathbone, a three-time winner of the Waikato Steeplechase, said Mahanadi had been surprisingly cautious.
"Next time he'll come right."
- Sunday Star Times
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