It’s only a few days now until what are traditionally the highlights of the jumping season, the Great Northern Hurdles and Steeplechase.  To be run for the first time away from Ellerslie, both races are packed full of interest, and this will be added to by the return of former champion jumps jockey Michael Mitchell.  Now based in the USA, where he has ridden 14 winners over jumps, including the Grade 1 AP Smithwick Stakes for the last two years, Mitchell has answered a call from Team Rogerson to ride the impressive last-start winner Gallante in the Schweppes Great Northern Hurdles, but also has a very real chance of taking out the Irvines Great Northern Steeplechase on the Peter and Jessica Brosnan-trained Old Countess.

Great Northern Hurdles

The first of what could be considered the Great Northern Hurdles (named only as the Handicap Hurdle until 1891, then the Grand National Hurdles up to and including 1903) was run in 1885. Originally 2¼ miles, it was reduced to two miles in 1889, returning to 2¼ miles in 1904. It was increased to 2½ miles in 1907, with a further 160 yards added in 1972. From 1974 the metric distance of 4190 metres has been used, with the exceptions of 1990 and 1996 (4200 metres). The 1990 race, run on the inside course due to reconstruction work on the outer track, was listed as about 3900 metres, but appeared to be no more than 3750 metres, while the starting stalls from 2011 looked to be at least 50 metres further back than in previous years.

Fastest times:

4:39.73 Starbo 2005

4:41.05 Gogong 1985

4:43.82 Leyland 1978

4:47.86 Kidunot 2009

4:47.89 Marks Gold 1981


Slowest times:

6:12.45 Zedeedudadeeko 2017

5:43.59 Gagarin 2015

5:35.38 Wee Biskit 2014

5:24.74 Lord Zirito 1995

5:22.61 Mount Sinai 2010

Note that Mount Sinai was promoted to first after suffering interference.

Highest winning weights:

12st 12 lb (82 kg) St Simon 1897

12st 9 lb (80½ kg) Liberator 1895

11st 12 lb (75½ kg) Sentinel 1891

The lowest winning weight was 8 st 9 lb (55 kg) carried by Shillelagh in 1888, when the race minimum was 8 st 7 lb.

The female sex has not had much luck in the race – the only women jockeys to win are Michelle Hopkins in 2001 (Smart Hunter), Laura Tunnell on Starbo in 2005, when, in an amazing feat of balance, she was without her offside iron for the last lap of the race, Shelley Houston in 2010 (Mount Sinai on promotion) and 2012 (Waitoki Ahi), and Kayla Veenendaal on Harvest The Gold (2013). Only five mares have been first past the post – Melinite (1894), Wee Pat (1934), Charade in 1939, which carried the highest weight of 10st 11 lb (68½ kg), Southern Countess in 2011 and Wee Biskit in 2014. Since metrication in 1974, the highest weight carried has been 68½ kg by Harvest The Gold in 2013 (65 kg minimum), but Execute carried 68 kg (57 kg minimum) in 1975.

No horse has won more than twice. Dual winners are:

El Gallo (1915, 1916)

Solar Mist (1954, 1955)

Elrey (1962, 1963)

Smoke Ring (1964, 1965)

Mr Hickey (1980, 1982)

Vincere (1987, 1988)

Lord Zirito (1992, 1995)

Just Not Cricket (2006, 2007)

The oldest winner whose age is definitely known was Lord Zirito (12) in 1995, Sea De’il (1924), Cuchulainn (2004) and Harvest The Gold (2013) were 11. The youngest were the four-year-olds Shillelagh in 1888, St Simon (1897), Cavalier (later Chevalier, under which name he dead-heated in the Wellington Hurdles) in 1900, Merriwai (1907), Wimmera (1910), Te Onga (1914), Poanui (1922), Paul (1950) and Royalcille (1952).


The following jockeys have won three times:

Percy Johnson Mutiny (1893), Cavalier (1900), Battle Axe (1903)

Bill Rennie Wedding March (1927), Prince Lu (1931) Landmark (1932)

John Carter Coppice (1953), Solar Mist (1954 and 1955)

Brian (Baggy) Hillis Smoke Ring (1964), Lordtuckey (1968), Brockton (1971)

Jonathan Riddell Chibuli (2002), Just Not Cricket (2006, 2007)


The following trainers have won four times:

Graeme Rogerson Jean Rapier (1983), Noble Heritage (1989) and Lord Zirito

(1992 and 1995, the latter in partnership with Keith Hawtin)

Ann Browne Salezaar (1996), Gold Story (2000), Smart Hunter (2001), all in partnership with her late husband Ken, and Mount Sinai (2010 after Solid Steal was relegated).


Trainers to have won three times are:

Alf Winder Sandy Dix (1937), Town Survey (1943), Bramble Song (1946)

Ray Cotter Cornishman (1951), Royalcille (1952), Meresun (1957)

Graeme Sanders Execute (1975, in partnership with his father Bill), Mr Hickey (1980, 1982)

John Mudgway Vincere (1987, 1988), Serpente (1993on protest)

Ken Browne Salezaar (1996), Gold Story (2000), Smart Hunter (2001), all in partnership with his wife Ann

Paul Nelson Chibuli (2002), Just Not Cricket (2006, 2007)

In 1993 Majestic Blaze won by a short head, but was relegated for causing interference to Serpente. Despite lengthy appeals to the New Zealand Racing Conference and High Court, the amended placings stood. In 2010 Solid Steal won by half a length from Mount Sinai, but was relegated for dictating the other horse’s line in the run home.

The following horses have won the treble of the Great Northern, Wellington and Grand National Hurdles:

Gladful 1917 Great Northern, 1918 Wellington, 1921 and 1922Grand National Town Survey all three in 1943 Smoke Ringall three in 1964, 1965 Great Northern Hurdles and Steeplechase Bramble Song won at Ellerslie and Riccarton in 1946, but was denied the treble with no Wellington meeting being held that year. Five othe r horses have won two of the three in the same year.

Great Northern Steeplechase

The first Great Northern Steeplechase was run over 3½ miles in 1885, the winner

Macaroni actually being an aged gelding, not 4 years old as shown in lists of major race winners. The distance was increased to 3¾ miles in 1926, and to 4 miles (6400 metres) in 1947. The only deviation from the traditional rout e was in 1990, when, due to track reconstruction, the race finished on the inside of the two courses in use from 1979 to 1997.

Fastest times:

7:39.35 Ballycastle 1978

7:41.44 Just The Man 2005

7:47.18 Ellivani 1994

7:51 Spray Doone 1970

7:51 Specialist 1974


Slowest times:

9:31.50 Wise Men Say 2017

9:04.82 Amanood Lad 2014

8:52.06 Ascona 1977

8:50.48 Real Tonic 2006

8:50.20 Jack Romanov 2015

Highest winning weights:

12st 13 lb (82½ kg) Kiatere 1907

12st 5 lb (78½ kg) Coalition 1921

12st 3 lb (77½ kg) The Guard 1902

Since metrication in 1974, the highest winning weight carried has been 70½ kg by Hypnotize in 2010 (63 kg minimum) but Loch Linnhe carried 69 kg in 1976 on a 57 kg minimum.

There was a dead-heat in 2001, between Smart Hunter (which was completing the Great Northern double for that year), and Sir Avion (which had won the Hurdles in 1998). It was the first dead-heat in a major jumping race since the Otago Steeplechase in 1918. Twelve mares have won, Ima Heroine in 2011 being the first since Falada in 1969. The latest was Kick Back in 2016. The highest weight carried was 11st 2 lb (71 kg) by the first, the four-year-old Belle in 1886. No other horse as young has won the race.

The oldest winner whose age is definitely known was Irish Comet in 1937, aged 13. Dozie Boy (1944) and Ascona (1979) were 12. Only two horses have won the race three times – Hunterville (1983, 1984 and 1985), owned by Doug Mackenzie (who died shortly before the third win), trained by Ron Cropp and ridden each time by amateur Denis Gray, and Hypnotize (2007, 2008 and 2010), trained by part-owner Raymond Connors and ridden byIsaac Lupton. The following horses have won twice:

Levanter (1896, 1897)

Kiatere (1905, 1907)

El Gallo (1915, 1916)

Sir Roseberry (1924, 1925)

Valpeen (1934, 1938)

Dozie Boy (1942, 1944)

Brookby Song (1947, 1948)

Dunwold (1953, 1954)

Patrick Molloy (1960, 1961)

Brockton (1971, 1972)

Loch Linnhe (1975, 1976)

Ascona (1977, 1979)

Sydney Jones (1995, 1997)

Royal Ways (1999, 2000)

Golden Flare (2002, 2003)

Isaac Lupton holds the jockeys’ record with five wins: Hypnotize (2007, 2008, 2010),