Chocolate Fish (above) proved his credentials as an out and out stayer when he out-toughed his rivals in Sunday’s $125,000 Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase (6300m) at Te Aroha.
Traditionally run over the famed Ellerslie hill this year’s edition of the great race was transferred to Te Aroha due to the extensive track renovations recently completed at the premier Auckland venue. That move did not detract from what is a marvellous spectacle of determination, skill and stamina over the ultimate distance, qualities that the Shane Brown-trained winner has in spades.
Brown had tasted disappointment at the recent Grand National meeting at Riccarton where Chocolate Fish could only manage a well beaten third in the prestige steeplechase contest after starting favourite for the event.
Any regrets were quickly cast aside this time as the Colombia nine-year-old put on a proficient display of jumping in the hands of rider Shaun Phelan to capture his biggest career victory. Allowed to track the speed throughout Phelan decided to put the acid on his rivals as he urged his mount to the front with two fences to run.
Race favourite Perry Mason went with him, as did Grand National winner Shamal, but they were both left trailing in his wake as Chocolate Fish called on all his reserves to forge clear in the run to the post.
“We’re always the bridesmaid but this time the horse just gave all day and he just keeps going,” Phelan said.
“He put himself there today which was really good as usually he drops out, switches off and it takes me a round to wind him up.
“I was happy that I was following Thenamesbond the whole way although I did get a little bit of panic when they swept around me at the 600m and didn’t give me a lot of room.
“I thought bugger it I will just ride him ugly and pull him out wide as when he gets open space he runs. My only worry was hitting the front to soon as he can shy and look around, but he was just too good.”
Brown was trying hard to keep his emotions in check as he waited for his charge to return to the birdcage.
“That’s fantastic,” he said.
“I thought we had the best stayer so I said to Shaun to put him in the race and he will out-tough them.
“A lot of people said he was a bit of a ‘gunna’ but he’s just a genuine stayer who will go all day.
“He’s a nine-year-old that’s only had twenty-five starts but he won his maiden (steeplechase) race first-up and has been up against the big guns ever since.
“It’s huge to have won the Northern, I’m just rapt for the horse as he deserved that.”