John Wheeler has enjoyed phenomenal success in Australia’s prestige jumping events and the New Plymouth trainer is keen on another winter trip across the Tasman.
He has multiple victories in the Great Eastern Steeplechase (4950m) and the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) while major jumping victories in Melbourne include the Australian Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) and the Hiskens Steeplechase (3700m).
Wheeler is now eyeing another tilt at the Grand National with rising star Chief Sequoyah, who produced an impressive display to win on debut over the big fences in the Ken Duncan Racing Open Steeplechase (3800m) at Wanganui today.
The Redwood seven-year-old settled a clear last under a patient ride from Sam O’Malley, who urged the gelding forward 1000m from home.
They were in front at the penultimate flight, cleared the last effortlessly, and went to the line full of running to score by 4-1/2 lengths.
“He didn’t make a mistake and he’s a good jumper. I was getting him ready for the Grand Annual at Warrnambool, but our tracks were that hard he was starting to feel them,” said part-owner Wheeler.
“I thought I’d leave him and once we get a bit of rain I’d give him a run. I’ll probably look at going to Melbourne with him in a month’s time and look at the Grand National, that’s in July so I’ve got a bit of time but I won’t be asking him to do too much before then.”
Wheeler went close to a winning jumps double today with Quaff, also in the hands of O’Malley, finishing runner-up in the Wanganui Function Centre Open Hurdle (3000m).
“Quaff will improve significantly, he over-raced a bit and was fresh and still quite big in condition so I was really pleased with his run. He’ll probably go to Melbourne as well for some hurdle races.”
Chief Sequoyah won three times over the smaller fences last winter, including the Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) having joined Wheeler’s team after winning two on the flat for Cambridge trainer Stephen Marsh, who remains in the ownership group.
Another former Marsh-prepared flat winner Oso Savvy is also with Wheeler to prepare for a jumping career.
“I’m very happy with him and he jumps super. He looks like a good horse, I just had a bit of trouble with him,” Wheeler said.
“He’s not unsound or anything, I think he was maybe a bit jarred up after the summer racing and he is just coming right now as the tracks soften, he’s got no blemishes.”
While Wheeler will be firming up Victorian jumping plans for Chief Sequoyah and Quaff in the coming weeks, he will also keep an eye on the progress of his former charge Le Villi.
The Puccini filly won two of her five starts for Wheeler and finished sixth in the Gr.1 New Zealand Oaks (2400m) before Australian Bloodstock purchased her.
“My number one owner Tommy Carroll owned her outright and she’s a pretty good horse so we’ll be keeping an eye on her over there,” Wheeler said.
Le Villi finished seventh in the Gr.1 Australian Oaks (2400m) in her first appearance for Newcastle trainer Kris Lees and is currently a $27 chance for the Gr.1 Queensland Oaks (2200m).