Mark Weal has a theory on why Climbing High has returned in career-best form as a rising 12-year-old – racing is a more appealing prospect than retirement.
The Yamanin Vital gelding landed his second Ken & Roger Browne Memorial Steeplechase (4000m) at Te Rapa on Saturday, sending out a strong message that he was the horse to beat in the $35,000 Waikato Steeplechase (4000m) at the same track on May 19.
Climbing High would continue to race while he was competitive and enjoying it, Weal said, adding that there were already plans for the jumper when time was called on his racing career.
"When he was coming down the hill at [Ann] Browne's the other day, you could see he was just loving it and Shelley [Houston] said to me `I'd love to take this horse as a hunter when he retires'," Weal said.
"But my daughter Melanie already has him earmarked as a showjumper. He might be getting on as a racehorse but he'll be busy enough in his retirement."
Weal and his father Bill produced Climbing High in splendid order for Saturday's race, the benefit of three races on the flat leading in giving the veteran jumper a fitness edge. A calculated Houston ride and a suitable dead track were other key factors in his win.
"He just loves doing what he does – you can see that," Mark Weal said later. "People say `you should retire him, he's coming up 12 years old'. But he's never been better and while he's still enjoying it, he'll race on. I think he's actually better this year. He seems freer in his action."
Climbing High settled back early with Houston gradually pressing forward to stalk pacemaking The Fox.
It was clear from as far out as 600m from the finish that Climbing High had his rivals covered and Houston ensured he only did what he had to, easing him down to score by three-quarters of a length from the fast-finishing Volkswagin.
The Fox was two lengths away in third with 14 lengths back to fourth-place Ho Down.
Stipendiary stewards spoke to Houston after the race to remind her of her obligations when riding a horse out to the finish of a race.
But not even a censure from the stewards could remove the smile from the Cambridge jumps jockey's face.
"He's just the best horse I've come across in the whole time I've been riding," Houston said.
"Primo Canera was amazing but then he got injured and his back problems got worse. But this guy is so tough, so good. He doesn't even need me there. You could put a sack of potatoes on his back and he'd still go out there and do it.
"If he gets a good track for the Waikato Steeples, it's going to be a lot of fun."
Climbing High won the Browne Memorial-Waikato Steeplechase double in 2010 but finished second then fell in the two races last season.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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