Miller jumps up the jockey ranks

Matamata Chronicle - - News - DENNIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

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.

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