Five talking points from a week of jumping records and retirements
ONE: Mark Oulaghan, the King of the chase
Awapuni trainer Mark Oulaghan reckons he's had a lot of luck and luck goes a long way in racing. Maybe a case could be made that he is one of the luckiest men on the planet but the more likely scenario is that in the last 20 years nobody has managed to peak a horse for a Grand National Steeplechase quite like Oulaghan. Upper Cut's victory on Saturday took Oulaghan to six victories in the race, two more than Ken Browne and Brian Anderton (tied on four wins). The most significant part of Oulaghan's record is that his six wins are made up of three horses going back-to-back: Deecee Seven (1997/98) Counter Punch (2010/11) and Upper Cut (2016/17). The humble achiever gives the impression he would rather chew the fat about just about anything other than his own success but Upper Cut's victory on Saturday means the name Oulaghan will forever be spoken about during Grand National week.
TWO: There aren't enough quality jumpers in the South Island to keep the sport going...
How often have we heard that statement in the last couple of years? But it might be a hard argument to keep up. The Neill Ridley-trained Miss Mia could not have been more impressive when winning the 0-1 hurdle by four and three-quarter lengths on Saturday and the same can be said of the Brian and Shane Anderton-trained Jackfrost when he chalked up his second win of the week in the maiden hurdle by eight lengths. Both look Grand National candidates next season. Delacroix was third in Wednesday's Grand National Hurdle, The Energizer, who fell at the final jump looks a more than handy prospect and the trio of Additup, Drumgold and Speedy Jax are inexperienced hurdlers who ran places on Saturday. Kina Win looked the winner of the Grand National Steeplechase for a short time before finishing second and Tai Ho was third. The jumping landscape in the South Island is much more promising than what some of the naysayers would have us believe but stake increases for all jumps races are needed to capitalise on it.
THREE: Class mare was special in more ways than one
Miss Three Stars has had a sublime career on the race track but she has been special to her Ascot Park trainer Tommy Beckett in more ways than one. In the time that Miss Three Stars has been racing, Beckett has lost his wife and sister and regular jockey Sam Wynne has lost her grandfather. Beckett said during that time, Miss Three Stars heading to the race track has always lifted the spirits of everyone involved with her. "She's been so good to us in so many ways, it's been very special to be a part of," Beckett said. Raced by the Three Star Syndicate, Miss Three Stars retires to the broodmare paddock with 11 wins for more than $300,000 in stakes. Ten of those wins came with Wynne aboard. By Perfectly Ready out of seven win mare Missy, Miss Three Stars will be sent to Tavistock to begin the next stage of her life. She will be best remembered for her 2016 Group III Winter Cup victory and her consecutive Riverton Cup victories in 2015/16.
FOUR: Apprentice tops Grand National Carnival win list
When the jockey who has won more races than anyone else in New Zealand is singing your praises you must be doing more than a couple of things right. Record breaking jockey turned Apprentice Mentor, David Walsh, has been glowing in his praise of apprentice Kate Cowan and he has been proven right during the Grand National Carnival. Calm focused and relaxed, they are the three words that run through Cowan's head as she prepares for every race and it shows in her composure. Two big wins aboard grand galloper Nashville could have been so different if Cowan had let the occasion get to her. Two more wins on Saturday took her to four for the carnival, the most out of any flat or jumps jockey. Rosie Myers and Sarah MacNab were next best with three wins. At 24, Cowan is far from young for an apprentice but she looks destined to make up for lost time in the coming seasons.
FIVE: The Hurdle Gang, the unsung heroes of Grand National week
Most racegoers have no idea who they are or what they do but the hurdle gang play a pivotal part during Grand National week. Every year, rain, hail or shine they come out of the woodwork for the Grand National Carnival just like they have done for decades. When the crowd is watching the steeplechase races, the hurdle gang are hard at work - under pressure to remove the second jump of the National Stand double before the field comes around for the second time. Being August they often work in bleak conditions. Before each of the three days, the hurdle gang place the jumps on the track and remove them before the flat races. It's a thankless task and their work largely goes unnoticed but without them jumps racing at Riccarton does not happen.