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Southern steeplechase main focus

By Don Farmer
[email protected]
All eyes will be on the Grand National Steeplechase at Riccarton tomorrow, where Wairarapa has an interest, but punters should beware of allowing the Te Rapa meeting to slip under their radar.
While Eric The Viking will be flying the flag down south, Longchamp is entered in the feature event, the group 2 Foxbridge Plate up north and Nymph Monte is entered in race three at that venue.
Tauherenikau trainer Aaron Bidlake is no stranger to Riccarton Park.
He will be hoping his 11-year-old steeplechaser will be able to repeat his Grand National win of two years back and make the trek south really worthwhile.
So far stablemate Kingesstar has contributed $750 to the trip’s expenses by finishing fourth in a steeplechase on the first day of the carnival but a win by Eric The Viking tomorrow would mean a return to Tauherenikau with expenses well and truly covered.
Although he got track conditions more or less to suit in the Koral on the first day, Eric The Viking could have done with it being even heavier as he is a real mudlark.
He finished midfield of the 12 runners and was certainly not disgraced and was not helped by a poor jump at the fourth fence on the journey from which took him some time to recover.
There were signs too that at this stage of his career Eric The Viking would be better suited to longer distances than the Koral, which was contested over 4250m, as he is a true stayer.
The Grand National is run over 5600m and the Tauherenikau jumper could be seen at his best tomorrow, all things being qual.
Interestedly Bidlake has a new rider aboard.
Stephan Karnicnik replaces Matthew Cropp who switches to the luckless Mr Mor.
Mr Mor was pulled up in the Koral after a less than impressive jumping display and the previous start, in the Wellington Steeples at Trentham won by Eric The Viking, lost rider Michael Mitchell when well out of contention.
In any event all runners will have to try and combat The Big Opal, from the Whanganui stable of Kevin Myers which is cleaning up in the jumping game just now.
At Te Rapa Longchamp, prepared at Opaki by Andrew Campbell, looks well placed to build on an impressive recent record.
The Tavistock gelding has won his last three, all on heavy tracks, and with weight-for-age conditions applying in the Foxbridge Longchamp looks up to the task of winning yet again.
He has been superbly ridden by apprentice Timmy Johnson on all three recent wins especially in the Opunake Cup last time out when young Johnson showed he was a good judge of pace keeping Longchamp in the trail to just the right time before kicking away to a comfortable win.
The biggest danger to Longchamp is expected to be Southern Icon, winner of four in a row although the classy Kawi coming in fresh can never been discarded, although the journey could prove too short for him.
Grant Nicholson has entered Nymph Monte in a rating 85 over 1600m which will be the gelding’s first start for four months.
Nymph Monte is a handy type recorded four of his five wins on dead tracks, two of them being at 1600m.
Danielle Johnson will take the ride tomorrow and has been the pilot on two other occasions both being winning rides.

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