Excellent Grand National dress rehearsal

Northern raider Laekeeper moved into Hospitality NZ Canterbury 129th Grand National Hurdles (4200m) favouritism following his victory in the Sydenham Hurdles (3100m) at Riccarton on Saturday.
It was the first trip to Riccarton for both Laekeeper and his owner-trainer, Morrinsville dentist Simon Rees, and the win in the Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge-sponsored 1 15⁄16 m event was the first on the track for talented jumps rider, Emily Farr.
Laekeeper headed south with a record of four wins and two placings from six hurdle starts, being unbeaten in his last three races over fences, each with Farr aboard.
All four hurdle wins had been at Te Aroha, but he had no trouble handling the Riccarton fences after being a reluctant leader in the early stages and leaving Farr to control the race throughout.
“The plan wasn’t to lead, but he’s super fresh,” Farr said. “He’s just so economical in his jumping but he can take the long ones too. He’s improved with every single start.”
Laekeeper was travelling well in front entering the home straight and had no trouble shaking off a determined finish from Jackfrost to score by three-quarters of a length with Drumgold four lengths astern in third placing.
The race was marred with the early defection of the favoured runner, The Shackler, whowent amiss. He looked in trouble after jumping the first fence and was pulled up after the next fence by rider Aaron Kuru.
The Sydenham Hurdles has always been a good guide to the Grand National Hurdles and Laekeeper assured favouritism next Wednesday, while there was also plenty to like about the performance of Jackfrost, who had to overcome a check at the 3 1⁄2 f in which he lost momentum.
Rees was talked into making the trip south after Laekeeper won the restricted open hurdles at Te Aroha on July 6.
“I thought I’d give it a go rather than wait for the Grand National Hurdles later on,” said Rees. “He’s a great jumper and I wasn’t too concerned about him leading.”
Rees is now looking forward to the $75,000 Hospitality NZ Canterbury Grand National Hurdles (4200m) and has no concerns about the extra 1100 metres.
“He’ll appreciate the further ground, too,” he said.

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