Number six for Oulaghan as Upper Cut defends Grand National Steeplechase crown
"He's a freak."
That's how Shaun Phelan summed up the abilities of Awapuni trainer Mark Oulaghan following his sixth Grand National Steeplechase victory.
The Oulaghan-trained Upper Cut ($6.90) has gone back-to-back in the race with a one and a quarter length victory in the $75,000 Prestige race at Riccarton on Saturday.
Upper Cut's 2016 victory in the race gave Oulaghan the outright record with five wins and the 2017 success has given him a two win buffer in the history books over Ken Browne and Brian Anderton who both hold four wins.
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Oulaghan's previous victories came with Deecee Seven in 1997 and 1998, Counter Punch's dual wins in 2010 and 2011 and Upper Cut in 2016.
Upper Cut beat home a courageous Kina Win with a further nine and a half lengths back to Tai Ho in third for the 143rd running of the Grand National Steeplechase.
The 2017 preparation has been an interrupted one for Upper Cut after he missed a run when the Wellington Hurdles was transferred to Hawkes Bay.
"I was a little bit apprehensive whether he had enough miles under his belt with missing a run but as he proved he is tough enough to do it," Oulaghan said.
"They're tough horses the Yamanin Vital's. If they're in striking distance they seem to tough it out and that's basically what he did today."
Upper Cut was fourth behind The Big Opal in last Saturday's Koral Steeplechase.
"He had to improve a lot to win today but you can just put all your trust in Mark Oulaghan and look what happens," Phelan said.
The horse was not even fit enough to run in last week's Koral Steeplechase (4250m) so to win a 5600m race a week later was an absolute credit to Oulaghan, Phelan said.
"He still didn't feel like he was 100 per cent fit today, he's just an unreal horse with an unreal trainer."
Upper Cut's victory gave the now deceased White Robe Lodge sire Yamanin Vital a Grand National double following on from Ready Eddie's Hurdles victory on Wednesday.
Phelan, who settled mid-field on the rail, was concerned that he was not going to catch the leading pair of The Big Opal and Upper Cut's stablemate Paddy Owen around the 1400m mark but he said it was the proven toughness at the distance that got his mount home.
Phelan hugged the rail all the way home and Upper Cut had too many punches up his sleeve for Kina Win on the flat after they took the final jump together.
Upper Cut was Phelan's second win in the race. He won the 2014 edition aboard Eric The Viking.
"These are the races you live and dream for," Phelan said.
He watched Upper Cut win the 2016 Grand National, when ridden by Australian jockey Paul Hamblin, on TV because a punctured lung, suffered when he fell from Tom's Myth in the 2016 Wellington Steeplechase, prevented him from flying to Christchurch to watch the race live.
Oulaghan races Upper Cut with Aroha Duncan, Jim Speedy, Michael Ormsby and Warren Scott.
It is essentially the same syndicate that raced Counter Punch.
Ormsby directed all the credit towards his "champion trainer".
Race favourite The Big Opal lead for much of the race but faded out of contention with 350m to run.
Oulaghan said it was unlikely Upper Cut would head to the Great Northern Steeplechase but it was not totally out of the equation.
Heading back to Riccarton in 2018 was a possibility but Oulaghan said with Upper Cut being an 11-year-old he would not be planning ahead at this stage.