Rejuvenated Shaun Phelan ready for second Grand National crown
Shaun Phelan could easily be sitting in the Riccarton stands on Saturday if it wasn't for the advice of two of his biggest supporters.
Twelve months ago, a punctured lung meant Phelan was unable to fly to Christchurch to watch the Grand National Steeplechase, let alone ride in it.
Phelan fell from Tom's Myth in the 2016 Wellington Steeplechase and received a fractured shoulder blade, a couple of fractured ribs and the punctured lung.
"I was pretty bashed up," Phelan said.
* Loyalty rewarded with Grand National Hurdle victory
* Ben Ropiha has Doiknowyou in the zone for Winter Classic
* Gary Knight's Grand National winner suffers tendon injury
* Mark Oulaghan lands another Upper Cut blow on Grand National Steeplechase
* Jumps jockey Shaun Phelan leaves hospital, hitch hikes home
He watched the 2016 Grand National Steeplechase, won by Upper Cut from the Te Rapa racecourse and vividly remembers the Mark Oulaghan-trained runner holding off a fast - but erratic - finishing Mr Mor by half a length.
On Saturday, a fit and in form Phelan will be legged up onto Upper Cut to try for back-to-back Grand National wins for the 11-year-old Yamanin Vital gelding.
Ironically, last year he was urging on the runner-up.
"I was actually cheering my mate Matt Cropp home on Mr Mor," Phelan said.
Upper Cut ($5.20), who was fourth in last Saturday's Koral, is second favourite behind The Big Opal ($1.90) for the 143rd running of the Grand National Steeplechase.
Just starting in the race is an achievement of sorts for Phelan who went close to calling time on his career last year.
"It just started to get to me a bit last year with all the injuries. I almost gave it away.
"If it wasn't for my father and partner telling me to hurry up and get out there because I'm still young I probably would have given it away," Phelan said.
His partner is fellow jockey Emily Farr and his father is well-known trainer Craig Phelan.
"I'm glad they did push me back into it because this year has probably been one of my better years," Phelan said.
When he is not riding over jumps, the talented horseman spends his days working as a stable foreman for his father out of their Rotorua and Cambridge yards.
Phelan did the Koral-Grand National double in 2014 aboard Eric The Viking and that carnival holds fond memories for him, especially since the retirement of Eric The Viking back in June.
After a run of injuries, Phelan now 25, said his major victories mean more to him as he gets deeper into his career.
"You dream of winning these big races but then when it happens it probably doesn't really sink in at the time."
Phelan was just 20 when he won the Great Northern Steeplechase, Pakuranga Hunt Cup and Wellington Steeplechase aboard Tom's Myth.
"I think I took it all for granted," Phelan said.
"It's not until you have a few bad days that you realise how special those wins are. They are hard to come by."
With his confidence up, Phelan believes he is riding better than ever and given he almost retired, a win aboard Upper Cut on Saturday would be close to a career highlight.
There remains question marks around The Big Opal getting the distance and even though Phelan acknowledges that, he has the ultimate respect for the favourite.
"How can you question Kevin Myers and Shaun Fannin they way they are going?"
Phelan picked up the ride on the Oulaghan-trained Upper Cut for a maiden hurdle back in May. They won with ease and are still together following a second behind Sea King in the Awapuni Hurdles and the fourth in the Koral.
Upper Cut missed a run when the Wellington Hurdles was transferred to Hawkes Bay but Phelan is hopeful he will thrive with the extra distance from the Koral trip of 4250m to 5600m.
He would love to see a bit more rain before Saturday to avoid the puggy conditions of last week.
Upper Cut will have to carry the topweight of 69kg.
"That's probably the biggest thing that is going against him," Phelan said.
But he is taking confidence from the Oulaghan factor. The Awapuni trainer has won the race five times.
"He hasn't been down there all week so if he's there on Saturday that will give me a lot of confidence," Phelan quipped.