There aren’t too many jumps jockeys as chill as Shaun Fannin but even he can’t hide his excitement for the first feature jumps meeting of the year.
The three-time jumps jockey of the year heads to Trentham on Saturday with five leading chances in the jumps races, headed by Grand National Hurdles (4200m) winner Happy Star in the Awapuni Hurdle (2800m) and Interllectus in the Manawatu Steeples (4000m).
“Looking at my book, it does look strong so hopefully I can do my part and we have a really good day,” Fannin said.
“With Waikato Steeples day and Manawatu Steeplechase day getting swapped around, this is the first big jumps day of the winter for us. It’s the first big one that we get to ride at for six or seven months so it’s exciting.
“We ride for good money and especially going to Trentham and the big open spaces and riding the figure eight over big fences, it does get you pumped for the first day for sure.”
Fannin was aboard for the Kevin Myers-trained Happy Star’s first-up win in a Woodville highweight and has watched on with delight as the seven-year-old gelding has placed in the Listed Anzac Mile (1600m) at Awapuni and Listed Rotorua Cup (2200m) in two runs since.
“He seems to have come up super this season. He won impressively fresh-up and he’s placed in the two stakes races he’s been in since,” Fannin said.
“I’ve ridden him in the Waverley point-to-point and again in the point-to-point at Levin and he couldn’t have been any more impressive. I’m beaming with confidence going into Saturday with him.”
Happy Star will carry 70kg topweight but Fannin took heart from an off-the-cuff endorsement from Otaki trainer Hollie Wynyard, who formerly prepared the galloper with her partner Johno Benner, who remains as a co-owner.
“Hollie told me Johno used to ride him in work all the time so he’s used to carrying big weights, she said. He’s a class horse and he’s only giving the horses on the minimum four kilos and with his class, it shouldn’t worry him too much.”
Fannin will shoot for his third win in the Awapuni Hurdle after winning on Sea King in 2017 and Aigne in 2020.
Successful in the Manawatu Steeples on Kick Back in 2016 and Game Percy in 2018 and 2020, Fannin goes into this year’s race confident last-start Wanganui hurdle winner Interllectus can add to his tally.
“He shows any amount of ability,” Fannin said.
“I remember winning a hurdle race on him in 2020 before he unfortunately suffered a tendon injury. Last year he just took a couple of runs to come right as they often do after a tendon injury but he won really well at Woodville at the end of last season.
“He was unlucky when he flashed home at Hawera and ran second then he couldn’t have been any more impressive the other day at Wanganui.
“He was just minding his business out the back then picked them up pretty much untouched, all under his own steam. It was effortless. Looking towards Saturday, you couldn’t ask for a better trial. He jumps the big fences really well and he stays so I’m really excited to ride him.”
Fannin will ride the Mark Oulaghan-trained Grand National Steeplechase winner West Coast in his jumping return.
“This race will help build his fitness for those bigger ‘chase races towards the end of winter,” Fannin said.
“As a Grand National winner, if you are running in those premier jumping races and picking up results on the way through, you’re going to be carrying big weights the whole time.
“This is just about placing him right. His run last Saturday was pretty good for a maiden horse in a Rating 75 race. He’s pretty fit and I’d expect him to be right there as well.”
Fannin rides the Myers pair Khafeef and Escalade in the first two races.
“Khafeef was impressive over the hurdles last time at Hawera and Kevin’s horses jump anything so I have no concerns heading to the bigger fences. He likes a better track and going to Trentham, it’s always a bit better out in the middle of the track.
“Escalade has shown plenty at the point-to-points. He’s a beautiful jumper and he ran a really good third on wet ground at Rotorua last time so I expect him to be really hard to beat.”
As well as riding duties, Fannin will saddle maiden horses Zoe’s Legacy and Mr Beans The Name later in the day in his role as a trainer.
“Zoe’s Legacy has done a fair bit of work and is forward for this. She’s a lovely jumper but with 52.5 kgs she’s a definite chance on Saturday,” Fannin said.
“Mr Beans The Name has been given to me as a jumper and he just needs to kick off somewhere. He’ll probably just need a couple of runs to get ready for hurdling racing but if it gets really heavy, he’ll be fitter than most.”