West Coast completes iconic double with Northern Steeples victory

West Coast strides to victory in the Ben and Ryan Foote Great Northern Steeplechase (6500m) under Shaun Fannin.  - Photo: Kenton Wright, Race Images
West Coast strides to victory in the Ben and Ryan Foote Great Northern Steeplechase (6500m) under Shaun Fannin.

Photo: Kenton Wright, Race Images

By Jess de Lautour, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

The Letham Stud-bred West Coast cemented himself at the top of the steeplechasing ranks at Te Rapa on Sunday, the top-class jumper claiming the elusive National/Northern double when taking out the Ben and Ryan Foote Racing Great Northern Steeplechase (6500m).

In a contest that was pitted as a match-race between two champions in Mark Oulaghan’s West Coast and Paul Nelson and Corrina McDougal’s The Cossack, the favourites both carrying a tough 73kg eyed each other off from the bounce sharing pacemaking duties throughout the first two laps of the mammoth 6500m task.

Aaron Kuru was first to stake his claim with The Cossack putting three lengths on the field at the 1000m, with West Coast biding his time under Shaun Fannin before going up to match his arch-rival at the 600m, the pair putting on the anticipated spectacle for the Te Rapa crowd heading into the home straight.

West Coast produced the better leap over the final fence and got the break on The Cossack, with a fast-finishing Captains Run closing late, but Fannin never looked in doubt claiming the title by a short neck.

Awapuni-based Oulaghan prepared West Coast to victories this campaign in the Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase (4800m), Wellington Steeplechase (5500m), and Grand National Steeplechase (5600m), and now the Northern crown, the first horse to claim the latter three in the same year since Brookby Song in 1948.

“He certainly performed with all the goods today,” Oulaghan said.

“He jumped pretty well all the way, I thought possibly he might’ve been a bit handy early in the race but his jumping was good and the result was good, so I can’t complain.

“His jumping ability is good but he seems to have an inert ability to stay, he looks beaten at odd times but he seems to be able to get going again.

“(The ground) was an unknown for us, he’s never run on ground like this, but good horses adapt to it.”

Oulaghan has had a host of top-level jumpers through his training career, with the likes of Yourtheman, Upper Cut and Rand, a winner of jumps races in the United States and Japan that Oulaghan made reference to post-race when questioned whether West Coast was his best ever.

“I’ve always said my flagbearer was Rand, which is going back a bit, but I guess you could say this guy is approaching that form,” he said.

Also based at the Palmerston North course, Fannin has balanced training and riding duties over the past couple of seasons and was thrilled to claim his fifth Northern title aboard the son of Mettre En Jeu, also going back-to-back in the iconic race having taken the 2022 edition with Kiddo.

“It’s been a great race for me, but this horse is very special, what a wonderful win that was and for two top horses to fight it out like that it’s lucky we came out on top,” Fannin said.

“The ground was probably the biggest concern I had, The Cossack has a really good record around here and we’re not really known on the better surface so to tick that off was a great result.

“Mark’s a wonderful conditioner to get him back after the National, it was a really big thrill.”

The pair have been almost unbeatable over the fences this year with four victories from five starts, Fannin claiming last season’s Jumps Jockey of the Year award while West Coast was crowned Champion Jumper at the recent New Zealand Thoroughbred Horse of Year awards.

“He’s a lovely jumper, he was a bit wound up today, he jumped out a bit keener than I thought and I was in front,” he said.

“He tends to gawk around a bit in front so I was happy to let The Cossack roll and he was the one to beat so I just followed that everywhere and I gave him his chance after the second last and he was too tough.

“You get to the last, you throw your heart over it and hope to catch it on the other side and I’m lucky he’s a big horse and can take those big strides, it was a massive effort under the 73kg.”

Oulaghan completed a stellar day in the Waikato also taking out the Vision Complete Earthworks LTD 2200 with an in-form Semper Magico, who backed up from his impressive Waverley Cup (2200m) victory last weekend. - LOVERACING.NZ News Desk


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