(By John Jenkins)
Hastings thoroughbred trainer Paul Nelson claimed the most satisfying winning double of his long and illustrious career when taking out Saturday’s $50,000 Te Whangai Romneys Hawke’s Bay Hurdle with No Change and $50,000 AHD Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase with Perry Mason.
Nelson had won both feature jumping races before but this time he was in partnership with long serving employee Corrina McDougal, the two having joined forces just under two months ago.
Nelson has been one of Hawke’s Bay’s top trainers for many years, concentrating mainly on jumpers but also achieving great success with flat performers. He has produced well in excess of 200 winners since he started training in the mid-1970s, with his first major success being the 1987 Wellington Steeplechase with Storm.
He had won the Hawke’s Bay Hurdles once before, with Ho Down in 2010, while he had celebrated three previous victories in the Hawke’s Bay Steeples, with No Hero in 2003 and 2005 and Just A Swagger in 2007.
McDougal has worked, off and on, for Nelson for the past 20 years and has been a regular employee at his Air Hill Station property for the past four. She has also been a licensed trainer for 15 years and has produced 17 winners in her own right.
The pair joined in a training partnership at the beginning of May and No Change and Perry Mason brought up their fourth and fifth wins together.
McDougal has had to battle debilitating health issues throughout most of her life and underwent a kidney and liver transplant last year. However it has not stopped her from fulfilling her life-long ambition to be involved with thoroughbreds and still regularly rides them in training.
Nelson paid a special tribute to his new training partner when accepting the trophies after Saturday’s two big wins, saying there would not be many people who are as dedicated to the job as Corrina is, despite all her health problems.
“She has been through a lot over a long period of time and it is great to see her with a big smile on her face again.”
Also sharing in the celebrations was Hastings-born jockey Aaron Kuru, who produced two masterful rides to claim success on both No Change and Perry Mason.
Kuru, 27, was born in Hastings where he learnt his craft by first working for trainer Patrick Campbell and then with John Bary. At that time he was also a top softball player, representing the New Zealand Black Sox.
But he decided to stick with furthering a career as a jumps jockey and moved to Cambridge, where he is now based.
Paul Nelson, his wife Carol, and Kuru have built up a great association in recent years, one that both camps cherish.
“Our association just gets better and better and I just hope it doesn’t break,” Nelson said during his victory speech following No Change’s win.
“I’m glad I have been able to team up with Paul Nelson and also hope it never breaks,” Kuru replied.
Kuru said it has been a goal of his, since he started race-riding, to win either a Hawke’s Bay Hurdle or a Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase and to take out both events on the same day was like a dream come true.
“Growing up here in Hawke’s Bay it has been one of my main goals. It was always a bit of a dream that that I could win both races and now it’s happened.”
Kuru finished second aboard No Change in last year’s Hawke’s Bay Hurdle, when they were beaten by the ill-fated Monarch Chimes and Shaun Phelan. He had also filled minor placings twice in the Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase, with a third on No Quota in 2015 and a second aboard Brer in 2016.
Kuru’s ability to position his mounts perfectly in jumping races and save every inch of ground in the running has made him one of the best in the business and his expertise was never more evident that his ride aboard No Change on Saturday.
He settled the horse fourth on the inside in the early stages of the 3100m event and was able to get out and around tiring horses to lodge a claim, three-wide, rounding the home bend. No Change took control after jumping the second last fence and then produced a magnificent leap at the last to race away and win by two lengths from Woodsman, with Laekeeper a further 3-1/2 lengths back in third.
Kuru said Perry Mason was not such an easy ride in the Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase.
“He went a bit keener than I wanted and I knew we had a long way to go so I wanted to try and get him to setttle,” Kuru said.
Perry Mason and stablemate Zardetto disputed the early pace before Kuru finally let his mount stride to the front starting the last 1400m. They were never headed from then on, crossing the line two lengths clear of Chocolate Fish, with four lengths back to third placed Zardetto.
Paul and Carol Nelson bred and own No Change, who was recording his 11th win and his fourth over fences while Perry Mason is a horse they were gifted by Sylvia and the late Paddy Kay and has now recorded five wins over fences, four in steeplechase events and one over hurdles.
“Perry Mason was trained by Sylvia Kay and one day here at the Hastings races he hadn’t gone that good. Her and Paddy said they didn’t want to carry on with him and so they offered him to us,” recalled Paul Nelson.
Perry Mason is now raced by the I See Red Syndicate, a 30 strong group of racing enthusiasts that have raced several horses from the Nelson stable over many years and with amazing results. One of their best was Just A Swagger, who chalked up eight wins, seven seconds and seven thirds from his 65 starts, with his victories including the Grand National Hurdles (twice), a Hawke’s Bay Steeplechase and a Grand National Steeplechase.
“It’s a huge thrill to be able to win this race today with Perry Mason as you can see how much it means to the syndicate that races him,” Nelson said, pointing to the huge group of owners assembled in the Hastings birdcage.
“I think we’ve trained something like 35 winners for the syndicate over the years and, without their support, we wouldn’t have had he success that we have had.”