Awapuni trainer Mark Oulaghan provided the highlight of the final day of the Riccarton Grand National meeting, as he produced a winning double in the feature jumps events with stablemates West Coast and Berry The Cash.
Rugged stayer West Coast was shooting for back-to-back titles in the Racecourse Hotel Motor Lodge 148th Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) and produced a stunning display of stamina to race clear in the final stages under the steadier of 72kgs, to win by more than six lengths for rider Shaun Fannin.
Whilst the margin of victory may have been decisive in the final wash-up, supporters of the $1.80 favourite were left with their hearts in their mouths as he bungled his landing after the fence at the 1600m, scraping his nose along the Riccarton turf before recovering to charge after the pacemaker Carnaby.
West Coast drew alongside Carnaby at the top of the home straight and slowly forged clear to win handsomely from Prince Turbo, who shaded stablemate Carnaby in the run to the winning post.
Oulaghan, who set new record in the race as he recorded his eighth win as a trainer, cut a satisfied figure as he described his thoughts on how the race had panned out.
“It was a good effort today and he did things pretty right,” Oulaghan said.
“I think it suits him down here although he wasn’t flash at that one fence, which meant we had to work for it.
“The National has always been one of those key jumping races in New Zealand so I’ve always been keen on winning it.
“We may possibly go to the Northern now but it depends on how he comes through this and we see what the weights are.”
The Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) will be run at Te Rapa on 17 September.
Raced by the Williamson family from Twizel, West Coast took his career record to seven wins from 28 starts, with all wins coming over fences including six from nine at the steeplechasing caper and over $278,000 in prizemoney.
Earlier on the card, second season jumps jockey Portia Matthews produced an absolute gem of a ride aboard Berry The Cash to capture the time-honoured Hospitality NZ Canterbury 133rd Grand National Hurdles (4200m).
The lightly raced seven-year-old son of Jakkalberry had caught the eye when finishing off strongly in the Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) on the first day of the meeting, with the additional 1100m of the National making him one of the favoured candidates for the contest.
Settled near last by Matthews as race favourite and first day winner Happy Star set up a steady tempo in front, Berry The Cash bided his time before commencing a move with 800m to run.
Happy Star had looked to break the field apart at that point, with stablemate Obrigado chasing hard as Berry The Cash loomed ominously into contention.
The Oulaghan runner joined Happy Star as the pair went head-to-head over the last two obstacles, with Berry The Cash finishing best to win by a widening five-length margin at the line.
Matthews cut an emotional figure after the race as she paid tribute to Oulaghan for taking her on just over twelve months ago.
“This makes everything worth it in respect to how hard it has been to get here for me and the horse,” Matthews said.”
“He is a green horse and so am I, but we have taken a while to work out our tactics although I knew the extra ground would work out perfectly for us.
“Mark has been everything to get me to where I am today.
“Knowing how the horses are trained, their fitness and ability to jump makes me a better rider and I can’t thank him enough, along with the owners and the team at home.
“He (Berry The Cash) has always been my favourite and when I first rode him, that is when I met Mark, so he is a very special horse to me.”
Another overcome by emotion was Christchurch Jockey Club General Manager Tim Mills, who is part of the syndicate of owners of Berry The Cash along with his wife Wendy.
“It’s not very often I can’t speak but this is the most exciting moment of my life, except for my wedding day,” Mills said.
“I’m completely lost for words but to do it with a great mate like Mark, who I’ve been friends with for fourty years, is unbelievable.
“Mark convinced me into owning this one as we had had two slow ones before that, so well done mate.”
Berry The Cash is out of the High Yield mare Likely Story and hails from an extended family with a strong American flavour to it with multiple Group One winners on the flat including dual Breeders Cup Mile (1600m) winner Lure.