Hardy Central Districts jumper Max made it two wins from two starts over the testing Ellerslie hill when he and the familiar combination of trainer Raymond Connors and jockey Isaac Lupton claimed today’s $50,000 McGregor Grant Steeplechase.
The Connors-Lupton partnership has proved nigh on unbeatable at Ellerslie over the years, combining to secure three Great Northern Steeplechases (6400m) and two Pakuranga Hunt Cups (4900m) with fabulous jumper Hypnotize along with another Great Northern Steeplechase courtesy of Wise Men Say in 2017.
Today’s 4150m feature saw the Connors-trained Max sent out favourite for the feature chase despite failing to feature in the Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) at his most recent start, with punters believing the heavy-10 conditions would play into his favour.
Allowed to lob along at the tail of the field by Lupton, Max began to loom into contention as the field climbed the legendary Ellerslie hill for the second time.
Lupton stuck to the inside, cutting the corner heading to the last fence, and Max hit top gear as he sailed over the last obstacle and forged away for a decisive 4 length win over Perry Mason, with Lacustre fighting on well for third.
Lupton, who spends most of his time as a dairy farmer, was confident of a good performance from Max after Connors told him the horse had improved since his Waikato Steeplechase effort and would find conditions more in his favour.
“Raymond thought he would improve with the Waikato run and be closer to spot on for this race,” he said.
“The track being a little bit softer helped him as well.
“I tried to be a bit handier but it was quite competitive so I had to poke through where I could get some runs and he was quite good in the end.
“He won his maiden here over the hill and I thought he would be a prospect for the McGregor Grant but they didn’t have it here last year so it’s two years later that we got here.”
Connors, who also operates a dairy farm in the Rangitikei, admitted he had today’s feature steeplechase as a prime target for the nine-year-old Gallant Guru gelding.
“We planned for this race and I’m glad everything worked out,” he said.
“It was a lovely ride and a great performance.
“I’ve been very lucky up here and long may it continue.
“We always thought he would need his first couple of runs and that bit of rain helped as it slowed the up and let us get into the race.
“He’s a nice jumper and a good honest horse.”
Connors will race the horse through the winter with an eye to returning to Ellerslie later in the year to tackle both the Pakuranga Hunt Cup and Great Northern Steeplechase.
Max has now won seven of his 26 career starts for Connors and his father Mark who share in his ownership, including a maiden hurdle race at Ellerslie in 2017.