The Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) is the pinnacle for many jumping enthusiasts, and Wanganui trainer Jo Rathbone is no different.
The race holds a special place for her, having taken out the Ellerslie feature as a jockey in 2005 aboard Just The Man for trainer Davina Waddell.
“That (Great Northern Steeplechase) is one of my favourite races,” Rathbone said. “I won it with Just The Man and have had quite a few placings.”
Rathbone will be out to add a training victory in the great race to her burgeoning CV when she lines-up Magic Wonder in the Great Northern on Saturday.
The eight-year-old daughter of Eighth Wonder is fresh off her victory in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4900m) at Ellerslie, a race that eluded Rathbone as a jockey.
“As a rider you always want to win those sort of races and it’s the same as a trainer,” Rathbone said.
“I didn’t win a Pakuranga Hunt Cup as a rider. I was meant to ride Snowdroptwinkletoes when he won that year, but I crashed and ended up in hospital and missed the ride.”
Seven years later she was able to rectify that lost opportunity and get her hands on the coveted silverware.
“I was rapt with her win,” she said. “It’s the first horse that I have trained to run in that race.”
Rathbone has been happy with the way Magic Wonder has come through the race and she is looking forward to making the trek north to Ellerslie from her Wanganui base to tackle the Great Northern on Saturday.
“I am really happy with her, she seems to have come through it very well,” Rathbone said.
“She was back home that night and we will go back up again on Friday. She had a couple of days in the paddock to get over it and the best place for them is to be back at home where it is familiar.”
Magic Wonder will step up to the marathon distance of 6400m for the first time, but Rathbone is confident she will be able to handle the grueling test.
“Going by how she won the other day you would think that she would get the trip,” she said.
“It’s not like you can compare it to anything else though. It’s still another time over the hill and an extra 1500m. She hasn’t run in a Northern yet, so you really don’t know until you try.”
Rathbone is also wary of fellow Wanganui jumper and two-time race victor Wise Men Say.
“Wise Men Say is proven at the distance,” she said.
Ellerslie Racecourse was Rathbone’s favourtie track as a jockey and nothing has changed since she has hung up her boots.
“The Ellerslie course was always my favourite to ride. I just loved the course,” she said. “I think it is a real riders race, you can make up so much (ground).
“I always enjoyed riding there. There are great fences and it’s just a great atmosphere up there as well.”
With the impact of COVID-19, the jumping season has been extended deeper into spring, but Rathbone is one trainer who isn’t displeased with having to race on firmer tracks.
“I am happy about it because it suits my horse,” she said. “But it’s not ideal because it is harder on them. But they have had a little bit of rain up there (Auckland) so hopefully that will take a bit of sting out of it.
“It is a taxing race as it is, but on firmer ground it’s a bit tough on them. But it is what it is and you have to go with it.”
Meanwhile, Rathbone’s pride and joy Tallyho Twinkletoe took out the Champion Jumper of the Year Award at last week’s Australian Racehorse of the Year Awards after the 10-year-old claimed three of the nation’s premier jump races in the Grand National Hurdle, Grand National Chase and Brendan Drechsler Hurdle.
The talented jumper has returned to New Zealand after his recent Australian campaign was curtailed following his fifth-placing in the Grand National Hurdle (4200m), but Rathbone said he has arrived home in good order.
“I think he knocked himself a bit when he hit that last fence in the hurdle,” she said.
“You couldn’t press on because he wasn’t quite 100 percent, but they did a bit of work with him over there before he came home.
“He is home and in the paddock and he seems good, so I’ll just do what I have done the last few years and start working him again around Christmas time and see how he comes up.
“I am hopeful that he will be fine to go back again next year. He is only 10 and he has only had 25 starts.”