An impeccably-timed ride by Aaron Kuru saw the Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal-trained Nedwin take home the spoils in a true staying contest in Sunday’s Peter Kelly – Bayleys Great Northern Hurdle (4200m) at Te Rapa.
As predicted pre-race, exuberant jumper English Gambler and jockey Hamish McNeill set a cracking pace on the first lap around the Te Rapa course, with Kuru patiently settling pre-race favourite ($2.70) Nedwin off the fence in third for much of the proceedings.
The race rapidly changed complexion when second-favourite ($3.20) and stablemate to the victor Taika misjudged the fence at the 1000m dislodging pilot Jack Power, and as described by race commentator George Simon, Kuru “took the bull by the horns” daringly sending Nedwin out to a three-length lead.
Though much of the field began to tire at the 600m, the son of Niagara looked slightly in danger when Tahuroa Height and first-season jumps jockey Kylan Wiles loomed ominously into contention and the pair jumped the second-to-last fence in unison.
Kuru never looked to be under pressure though and despite giving Tahuroa Height five-and-a-half kilograms, drove a gallant Nedwin to the last and the high-class combination pulled away in the closing stages to be victorious by two-and-a-half lengths.
The win gave Hastings co-trainer Paul Nelson a remarkable seventh Great Northern Hurdles crown, having most recently taken out the event in 2020 and 2021 with stable star The Cossack.
Nelson’s training partner Corrina McDougal recorded her third win in the race in four years and rides a lot of the stable’s trackwork, but heavily credited hoop Kuru with the win post-race.
“I’m a bit speechless really it’s pretty cool, just amazing,” she said.
“Aaron was amazing, he was the makings of it and when he took off over there, I was standing in the stands saying ‘come on, go’, but Aaron’s the key to that, he won that race.”
Nedwin and Kuru were third in the key lead-up event, the Open Hurdle (3200m) on Pakuranga Hunt Day, but turned the tables when it counted with a more aggressive ride on Sunday.
“He went well enough that day but Aaron did his homework and said ‘he’s looking for further ground, I’m going to ride it differently’, so we’ve got him fit but Aaron’s done the donkey work today,” McDougal said.
“He’s (Kuru) a good Hawke’s Bay boy.”
Kuru, who has had a long-standing and hugely successful association with the stable, travelled from his Victorian base to partner with Nedwin in the feature event, and couldn’t have been more proud of the nine-year-old who carried a lofty 71.5kg topweight.
“It’s well noted that he doesn’t like the firmer tracks but there’s much more positives than negatives when it comes to this horse,” Kuru said.
“He stepped up last year running third or fourth, but he was looking for the trip this year, more well-seasoned, older jumper, in the right stable and the right hands and I saw a lot of positives from today and rode him accordingly.”
Kuru was aboard the gelding three weeks prior in his placing behind English Gambler and Taika, but took significant learning from the race and formatted a game plan for the feature on Sunday.
“I was probably just too reserved on him, too relaxed and I was going to let him have one last crack at them but on the firmer deck I wasn’t able to pick them up, so a lot of learning from that one,” he said.
“We put him in a beautiful spot today, so comfortable, so relaxed and his jumping improved today from what it did three weeks ago.
“I was out on my feet a long way from home, but I knew they had him in winning order and fitness came after the last and kicked in.
“Paul Nelson takes pride in getting his horses fit so it was no better time to take it up and make it a true staying test and that’s what it was, the fittest came out on top.”
Te Awamutu conditioner Stephen Ralph was ecstatic with his charge and runner-up Tahuroa Height, who gave the favourite a good challenge and has proven a handy hurdler this season combining with Wiles.
“Coming to the home corner I thought ‘we’re right in this’ and if Nedwin got one wrong up the straight it’s our race but he just kept jumping unfortunately for us,” Ralph said.
“Kylan gave him a 10/10 ride and read the race absolutely perfectly.
“He’s an up and coming jumps jockey so hopefully he can keep his weight under control and I think we’ve got a great combination going on there.”