The prospect of decent footing has multi-talented Cambridge horseman Shaun Phelan excited heading into Hawke’s Bay’s showcase jumps racing day at Hastings on Saturday.
Phelan has a realistic chance of completing the prestige jumps races double as he partners The Cossack in the Te Whangai Romneys Hawke’s Bay Hurdles (3100m) and It’s A Wonder in the AHD Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase (4800m).
In addition, he’ll be bringing the evergreen stayer Big Mike, who he trains with his father Craig, to Hastings for the Birchleigh Polo Club Handicap (2100m).
“Hopefully the rain stays away because they would all prefer the better track that you usually get at Hawke’s Bay,” Phelan said.
Phelan knows It’s A Wonder well, having partnered the Waverley gelding nine times over fences for four wins, including the 2019 Grand National Steeplechase (5600m).
He said It’s A Wonder should be nearing peak fitness after second placings in the Waikato Steeplechase and the McGregor Grant Steeplechase.
“He will definitely improve on those runs with more raceday fitness,” Phelan said. “He’s giving away a little bit of weight now but these are his sorts of races, Hawke’s Bay and Grand National coming up.”
Phelan will pick up the ride on Great Northern Hurdles (4190m) winner The Cossack on Saturday.
“He won the Northern on a good track and the Waikato on a decent track so Hawke’s Bay will suit him well,” Phelan said.
Big Mike, a $500,000 earner on the track, finished third in a 2100m open handicap at Ruakaka earlier this month. The winner of the Listed Hawke’s Bay Cup (2200m) at Hastings earlier this year, Big Mike hasn’t won on heavy ground but will handle slow or dead going.
Stable apprentice Elen Nicholas, who was out for nine months earlier this season, firstly with a shoulder injury and then a broken leg, rode him at Ruakaka and Phelan said her four-kilogram claim would help Big Mike this winter.
“Elen’s claim means we can send him round without carrying big weights, which will suit him really well,” he said.
The Phelan team’s best winter galloper this year looks to be Quiz Kid, who is being aimed for the Group 3 Winning Edge Presentations 124th Winter Cup (1600m) at Riccarton in August.
Quiz Kid gave Nicholas a scare when she bounced up in the saddle when the gates opened in the East Rock Hapuka Steaks Handicap (1600m) at Tauranga last Saturday, but she got in control quickly and Quiz Kid was never threatened once he hit the lead.
“He is a bit of a quirky horse. There’s a few senior jockeys that haven’t got on with him, so fair play to Elen, she’s done a lot of work on him and it was good for that to be her first win back.”