Shaun Phelan will chase his first winner as a solo trainer at Ruakaka on Saturday when Hit The Road Jack attempts to turn the tables on a familiar rival.
The Cambridge horseman is now flying solo after operating in partnership for the last five years with father Craig, who has decided to take a step back from the day to day running of the stable.
“I’ve had a couple of runners so far and I’ve being doing most of it on my own for the last couple of months, it’s just the way it’s worked out,” he said.
Phelan will continue to combine training with his successful riding career and will be officially crowned champion New Zealand jumps jockey at the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards at a Claudelands function on September 4.
He topped the 2021/22 premiership with 20 winners, double that of his closest rival, with a stellar season topped by nine prestige victories including the Grand National Hurdle (4200m) and Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) double.
Phelan also has mounts at Sunday’s Waverley meeting, but his immediate focus is on Hit The Road Jack’s bid on the Hirepool Ruakaka Cup (2200m).
“Obviously, we are going to come up against River Run again and he seems unbeatable at the moment, but he has got a bit more weight and we’ve got less,” he said.
Hit The Road Jack has finished runner-up behind the Tony Pike-trained runner at his last two appearances and will meet River Run 2.5kg better off from their last clash at Te Rapa.
“If we are ever going to have a chance to beat him it should be on Saturday. He was second-up last time out so he will be a bit better this time,” Phelan said.
He has the Gr.3 Martin Collins 159th New Zealand Cup (3200m) as a possible longer-term target for Hit The Road Jack, a son of Jakkalberry, and Phelan will also be represented in Saturday’s NZB Insurance Pearl Series Race (1600m) by the stallion’s daughter Enchanted Elle.
She is due a winning trick after three runner-up finishes from her last five appearances.
Phelan has a sizeable team of young horses in work and nine of them are headed for an extended stay at Ruakaka.
“I’m taking them up there this weekend for the better track and they will stay on for the trials on August 30,” he said.
Among them is Darci Brahma’s highly regarded son Golden Darci, an unraced three-year-old who Phelan hopes may develop into a contender for the Gr.2 AHD Hawke’s Bay Guineas (1400m) on October 1.
“He looks pretty special and won a trial at Cambridge a few weeks ago,” he said.
Phelan will be oncourse at Ruakaka on Saturday and then turnaround for a lengthy trek south to Waverley where he will continue his successful association with Hastings trainers Paul Nelson and Corinna McDougall.
Argyll will run in the Sportz Bay/Jolt Coffee House Hurdle (3000m), Rocking Good Time in the Pioneer Brand Products/Murdoch Contracting Hurdle (3000m) and Raucous in the Forest 360/Ultra Scan Steeplechase (4000m).
The former is reverting to the smaller fences after claiming recent top honours in the Waikato Steeplechase (3800m) and Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase (4800m).
“Argyll is having a run over the hurdles and is more of a steeplechaser and my best might be Rocking Good Time, who went really well last time,” Phelan said.
The nine-year-old finished third at Te Rapa in his hurdle debut while Raucous won over the big fences two runs back at Rotorua and then gave an indifferent display of jumping at Te Rapa where he was pulled up
“I’m not sure about Raucous, it depends whether he turns up or not,” Phelan said.