Miller jumps up the jockey ranks
Last Saturday marked another milestone in the brief but eventful career of the country’s youngest jumps jockey, Daniel Miller, when he claimed his first feature steeplechase.
Less than two years after winning for the first time in his budding career, the 18-year-old came up with a ride that even the most experienced cross-country jockey would be proud to win: the $50,000 Manawatu Steeples. His mount, Upper Cut, is trained by Mark Oulaghan, one of the most respected conditioners of jumpers.
The wily Awapuni trainer and Daniel’s now-retired mentor Tom Hazlett came together in previous years for numerous big jumps wins. Now the opportunity has been handed to the youngster – and, judging by Saturday’s per- formance, he’s ready to make the most of the opportunity.
On Saturday, Upper Cut – a gelding by one of the best jumping stallions of recent times, Yamanin Vital – was having his first start over fences since the Great Northern Steeplechase more than nine months ago.
Daniel was aware that just two preparatory flat runs may have left his mount suspect over 4400 metres in the heaviest of track conditions, so he gave Upper Cut an easy run back in the field and, when it came time to make his bid, saved as much ground as possible.
The combination’s chances looked slim when they were still a distant fourth with just two fences remaining, but that all changed when Upper Cut dove through to grab the honours by a long neck.
‘‘I was mindful that he hadn’t had a jumping start for so long and I tried to give him as soft a run as possible, but he really finished it off well,’’ Daniel said afterwards.
‘‘This is my biggest win and even though it’s not rated a Prestige Jumps Race, we beat all the good horses and jockeys and still feels pretty good.’’
Daniel’s day had started badly when his first maiden steeplechase mount, Harvest The Gold, fell at the second-last fence when trying to hunt down the eventual winner Joking. It improved with a second placing in the maiden hurdle to put him in a positive frame of mind for his big ride.
The win took his career tally to 17 wins, all but three of them in jumps races. With eight wins over fences this season he is in third place behind English jockeys Michael Mitchell and Charlie Studd on the jumps jockeys’ premiership.
Now he can look forward to further opportunities. Upper Cut is likely to run next in the Hawke’s Bay Steeples at Hastings later this month and then head to Riccarton for the Koral- Grand National Steeples double. In between those two race meetings, Daniel will ride Oulaghan’s dual Wellington Steeplechase winner Brushman in his attempt at a historic third victory in the Trentham feature next month.
‘‘Things are going pretty
well for me, it’s great to be getting rides in these big races,’’ says Daniel, who is employed at Te Akau Racing and has 20 months remaining in his apprenticeship.
‘‘I don’t live with Tom and Pam [Gerard] any more but Tom still tapes all my races and goes through them with me afterwards. He’s had a lot to do with Mark putting me on and has always told me that of all the trainers he ever rode for, Mark was the best at getting them fit.’’
Track conditions contrasted starkly from the Awapuni bog at Saturday’s other North Island meeting at the sand- based Ruakaka racecourse. A number of Matamata horses made the trek north and two of them capitalised with stylish wins.
The Ken and Bev Kelso-trained Makarska was rewarded for some honest performances on unsuitable heavy tracks with an easy win, setting up a double for her rider Michael Coleman. Sam Collett also saluted the Ruakaka judge twice with wins in the last two races, the second of them Peter and Jacob McKay’s fresh-up runner Valante.
In other news, Jason Bridgman has made the decision to cross the Tasman and establish a stable near the new Pakenham racing and training centre on the outskirts of Melbourne.
That follows the recent end of Jason’s near four years with Te Akau Racing, and while he and his wife Stacey are well aware of the challenges ahead, they’re excited at what the future holds.
‘‘I’ve taken some counsel from people I respect in racing and breeding and the response from them has been pretty much the same – good on you, it’s the right thing to do.
‘‘It’s exciting and invigorating, the right time to put my experience to work. My time at Te Akau was a huge learning curve, working with lovely horses and alongside skilled people, but now I’m starting basically from scratch and I believe Australia is the place to do it.’’
Jason is by no means the first skilled New Zealand trainer to try his luck offshore – nor will he be the last – and I’m sure readers of this page will join in wishing him and his family well for the future.