Hunterville trainer Ken Duncan has stepped into new territory with his fine steeplechaser Shamal set to race at Ballarat on Sunday.
Duncan will start the nine-year-old Zabeel gelding in the Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) with regular rider Buddy Lammas in the saddle. “It’s the first time I’ve had one over here in Australia so it is all part of a learning curve,” Duncan said. “I’ve always wanted to bring one over, but never had one good enough. I mightn’t have another this good so we’re having a go.”
Shamal spoilt his good record this winter when being pulled up in the Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) at Riccarton last start, but took no harm from the race. “It was just too wet for him,” Duncan said. “He was too far off the leader (It’s A Wonder) and was never going to catch him. When he got tired Buddy pulled him up. “This race has always been in the back of my mind and I’m happy with him since he arrived last Wednesday. “He schooled last Friday no trouble and he’ll be going home for a spell after this one and we’ll look at next year.”
Duncan is grateful for the hospitality shown to him during his stay at Ballarat, but has had a quick education on the Ballarat weather. “At the moment it’s as bad here as it was at Christchurch,” he said. “He even worked in snow. Hopefully it will improve before Sunday.”
Last year Shamal won the Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton and was third in both the Great Northern Steeplechase (6300m) at Te Aroha and the McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4000m). He started the current jumps season with a double at Te Rapa, including the Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) then after finishing fourth in the Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase (4800m) he bounced back with another Te Rapa win, beating It’s A Wonder, who went on to win the Grand National Steeplechase recently by 23 lengths.
Lammas has been Shamal’s regular rider since winning on him at Awapuni last winter in the lead-up to the Grand National Steeplechase and he is looking forward to Sunday’s assignment. “As long as the track doesn’t get too wet he should be a good chance,” Lammas said.
Lammas will head to Melbourne on Saturday night after riding that day at Ellerslie, where his mounts include Old Countess in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4900m). Old Countess recaptured her best form last Sunday when winning the Wanganui Steeplechase (4100m) for the second year on end. “Last year she went on from winning the Wanganui Steeplechase to finish third in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup and she should be a good chance on Saturday,” Lammas said. “Pete and Jess (Brosnan) have got her back to her best.”
While Duncan is in Ballarat with Shamal, stablemate Alfie Dee (another of Lammas’ regular mounts) is being prepared for his attempt to add the Great Northern Hurdle (4190m) at Ellerslie on September 7 to his last-start narrow win in the Grand National Hurdles (4200m) at Riccarton.
Alfie Dee had notched his first jumps win at Awapuni last month in his final lead-up to the Riccarton feature and had he shown form earlier in the winter he, too, could be in Melbourne. “Possibly I should have brought him over,” Duncan said. “I did think about it, but when I was making these plans he wasn’t going good enough. He’s just come right lately. “He can have a crack at the Great Northern (Hurdle) and he might get his chance next year.”