NEWS PREVIEW

Fannin wants crown back

Fannin rides reigning champs The Big Opal and Ngario in the NZI Koral Steeples (4250m) and Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) respectively at Riccarton on Saturday before jetting off to Melbourne to partner Yardarm in the Crisp Steeplechase (3900m) at Sandown on Sunday.
The 21-year-old hoop landed his first jumps riders' premiership in the 2015-16 season with 27 wins, but had to settle for third last season with his 11 wins falling short of Aaron Kuru's 20 and Will Gordon's 13.
However, Fannin remains favourite to claim the champion jumps jockey title at next month's New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards, having won the most prestige jumps races and ending the season as the highest stakes-earning jumps rider courtesy of his wins in the Pakuranga Hunt Cup and Great Northern Steeplechase, both on Kick Back, Grand National Hurdles (Ngario) and Waikato Steeplechase (The Big Opal).
"You always want to be at the top," Fannin said. "We had a flukish season the year before last when Kevin [Myers] had so much depth in his jumps team and they were all winning.
“We didn't quite have the same depth last season but hopefully that quality will be back this season. It's looking good at this stage anyway."
Mathew Gillies was aboard The Big Opal for his Koral Steeples win last year, but Fannin was more than happy to take the reins on the talented steeplechaser at Riccarton on Saturday.
"He won the Waikato Steeples really well, but then he had a mishap in the Manawatu Steeples when he fell and he took a while to get over that," Fannin said.
"He's had a flat run and a hurdle run last week and that should top him off nicely for Saturday. He won this race last year and he's a nice, dashing chaser. He makes up a lot of ground at his fences and he's got that flat speed to increase the tempo and push the issue when we need him to."
Saturday week's Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) looks the main mission for the Kevin Myers-trained Storm Creek nine-year-old gelding who parted company with Gillies in that race last year.
A Sydenham-Grand National Hurdles repeat is foremost in Fannin's mind with the Myers-trained Ngario, who produced a terrific trial for the Riccarton features when second at Rotorua last Saturday.
"That was his first hurdle run in nearly a year and I'd say he'd be spot on for Saturday," Fannin said.
"He won the Sydenham and Grand National double last year and he's down there to do the same this year. He gave me a great feel the other day. Just with 70 kilos, he blew out the last bit."
Fannin was looking forward to Sunday's Crisp Steeples and partnering the Mark Brooks-trained Yardarm, who races as Over The Yardarm in Australia.
"It's not a really strong field. Zed Em and Angelology have both gone out and Sea King is in the hurdles. He ran second in the Waikato Hurdles and if he races up to that form, he'll be right there," Fannin said.

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