(By John Jenkins)
Jumps jockey Mathew Gillies made a welcome return to the winner’s stall after an absence of more than two years when he guided Wilijonmcbride to victory in today’s Signature Homes Hurdle at Te Rapa.

Gillies, 33, won the jumps jockeys’ premiership in 2013-14 and had chalked up 85 winners before today, including the 2015 Grand National Hurdle at Riccarton.

However a nasty fall from Gagarin in the Wellington Hurdles in July 2016 sidelined him for a few weeks and, after finishing second on the same horse in that year’s Grand National Hurdles, he decided to give race-riding away.

Gillies fell from his mount Gagarin at the third to last fence in the Wellington Hurdles and unfortunately he was clipped by a following runner as he was kneeling on the track. He suffered severe concussion and a gash to his head that required stitches.

Palmerston North-born Gillies moved to Cambridge and entered into a training partnership with Graham Thomas in August 2017 and had all but given race-riding away.

However he now has renewed enthusiasm to continue riding over fences and today’s win followed a close second aboard Gagarin in an open steeplechase at Wanganui last Wednesday.

“It’s taken a few years to get back to 100 percent and get back mentally to want to get back out there and get that adrenalin rush back again,” Gillies said.

Wilijonmcbride won today’s 2800m hurdle event by 1-1/2 lengths, running down the tearaway pacemaker Hesalljazz in the final stages, with Tommyra a neck back in third.

Apprentice Lemi Douglas adopted daring tactics aboard Hesalljazz, letting him run at break-neck speed in the middle stages to open up a 20 length break on the field with 600m to run. However the horse was noticeably getting tired as they entered the home straight and Wilijonmcbride was able to sweep past in the final stages, despite botching the last fence.

Gillies said he was happy to let Douglas go on Hesalljazz when they took off going down the back straight as he knew the horse couldn’t maintain that speed to the finish.

“I was going at a good pace and when he (Douglas) went around me I thought you are going way too quick so I thought I’d sit and wait and it worked out,” Gillies added.

“He (Wilijonmcbride) was lucky to stand up at the last. Some horses would have rolled there but he’s tough and stood back up.”

Wilijonmcbride was recording his second win over hurdles from four starts and has also been a winner on the flat. Co-trainer Graeme Rogerson is confident the horse will develop into a good jumper and said he will probably now line up in the Waikato Hurdles on the same track in a fortnight’s time.