A patient ride by Shaun Phelan paved the way for promising hurdler Dr Hank to deliver a feature jumping race victory when he dominated his rivals in the closing stages of the Fairview Motors Waikato Hurdle (3200m) at Te Rapa.
The winner of a maiden hurdle contest at the venue in May last year, Dr Hank went on to finish a gallant second to The Cossack in the Great Northern Hurdle (4200m) at just his fifth jumping start to conclude his winter campaign last season.
Given a pair of runs on the flat by trainer Harvey Wilson to kick off his 2022 preparation, the eight-year-old son of Redwood looked primed for a big effort in Saturday's hurdle feature and delivered on those looks with a faultless display of jumping in the hands of Phelan.
Settled in midfield as pacemakers English Gambler and Raucous set a solid pace in front that split the eight-horse field wide open in the early stages, Dr Hank began to warm to his task with 1200m to run.
Phelan quickly made contact with the leading pair rounding the home bend and forged clear over the final two obstacles to win going away by a conservative eight lengths at the winning post.
English Gambler battled on gamely to take second from the late closing Fantasy Flight, who survived a scare at the 1000m when rider Dean Parker lost his near side iron before regaining its use 200m later through an outstanding piece of horsemanship.
Wilson was thrilled to pick up his first win in the race after going close with It's A Wonder in 2018, who finished second after bungling a fence in the home straight.
“It's fantastic to win a race like this and I think this horse is a very promising jumper,” Wilson said.
“We were pleasantly surprised with him last year as he just kept stepping up after he won his maiden jumping start.
“This year he really looks to have furnished nicely and we think he could be in for another good campaign.
“He is quite a leggy type and very nimble so when he does make an error, he seems to be able to get himself out of trouble.
“He didn't need to do that today and it was a beautiful ride by Shaun, as he bided his time on quite a testing track and put him in the race when the leaders started to come back to him.”
Wilson and his wife Ann are the majority owners in the horse after receiving him from his breeder Peter Hollinshead and his son Darrell who had prepared him to win twice on the flat.
“Peter Hollinshead sent him to us last year and he and Colin Clarke stayed in for a small percentage with Ann and I taking the majority ownership in him,” Wilson said.
“The Great Northern Hurdle (4200m) in September is our main target this season, so we will put together a plan to get him to that race over the next couple of months.
“We would love to take him to Riccarton for the Grand National Hurdle (4200m) but that is highly unlikely as he is not the best traveller and we don't want to muck up a Northern campaign if there was a hiccup due to that.
“We're also not thinking of Australia as I'm over seventy these days and we are quite happy staying here at home and chasing the bigger races as the money is still very good and it makes life a lot easier without having to work out the logistics to go over there.”
Dr Hank has now won seven of his 39 career starts and over NZD$141,000 in prizemoney.