Paul Nelson is backing himself to have got The Shackler's Wellington Hurdle (3400m) preparation pin-point perfect as he bids for a feature jumps "double-double" on Saturday.
The master jumps trainer will produce Istidaad 11-year-old The Shackler in Saturday's Anuka Smoker Wellington Hurdle at Trentham without a leadup race since his KS Browne Hurdles (3100m) win at the same track five weeks ago.
Nelson, who produced The Shackler to win last year's Wellington Hurdle (3100m) at Hastings and stablemate Amanood Lad to win the Wellington Steeples (5500m) the same day, said it was a point of concern but he was confident his star hurdler was in the right condition to win.
"He improved a lot between his Waikato Hurdle win and the Kenny Browne and he's just ticked along since then," said Nelson, who also produced Solid Steal to win the race in 2010.
"It's a five-week gap between runs but he's done plenty of work and he works himself hard anyway. I'm hoping we haven't made a mistake but the only suitable run in between was the open staying race here [at Hastings] a couple of weeks ago and I didn't think he needed it. We're backing ourselves to get it right."
Stakes-placed in the 2013 Listed Matamata Cup (1600m) on the flat, The Shackler has won five of his 10 hurdle starts, three at prestige level after last year's Wellington Hurdle, the Waikato Hurdles (3200m) at Te Rapa in May and the KS Browne Hurdles.
"His record was good last year and so far this year, it's been spotless. We're hoping he can carry that on for Saturday."
Nelson goes into the race with a more-than-capable second-stringer in Second Innings, who, at the corresponding meeting two years ago, went down a long head in the Parliamentary Handicap (2200m).
A winner of his first three hurdle races later that winter, Yamanin Vital nine-year-old Second Innings was sidelined through injury last winter and only made his return to hurdling at Te Aroha last Friday in finishing fourth.
"He was always going to take a bit longer to come up because he had broken down last year but he's done well in his two runs back," Nelson said.
"That Te Aroha run should have really brought him along."
TAB bookmakers installed The Shackler as a $2.30 favourite for the Wellington Hurdles, ahead of Awapuni Hurdles winner Iffitel at $4.20 and joined third favourites Second Innings and Kipkeino at $6.
Nelson has the Hospitality New Zealand Canterbury Grand National Hurdles (4200m) at Riccarton on August 8 in mind for both his horses.
The Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Grand National Steeplechase (5600m) at Riccarton on August 11 is on the programme for Amanood Lad, who defends his Grant Plumbing Wellington Steeplechase (5500m) crown on Saturday.
Amanood Lad had become known as an Ellerslie specialist after his wins in the 2014 and 2015 McGregor Grant Steeplechase (4150m), 2014 Great Northern Steeplechase (6400m) and last year's Pakuranga Hunt Cup (4900m) as well as placing in the Northern in 2015 and 2016, but Nelson was confident his charge could perform just as well at Trentham on Saturday.
"He's been around long enough now to know his way around and he jumps all fences well. They'll get along a bit in the early part but she'll be a real slog up the straight," said Nelson, whose first Wellington Steeples win was with Storm in 1987.
"In years gone by, he's slogged up the Ellerslie straight pretty well and I can't see the Wellington track being a lot worse than it was at Ellerslie last year (when Amanood Lad's record for the slowest-run Northern was broken).
"His run at Te Aroha the other day was as good as his run was in the same race last year before winning this one and he's behaving more like a four-year-old than a 14-year-old - he's very bright."
Amanood Lad shares $2.90 Wellington Steeples favouritism with last year's Great Northern Steeples winner Wise Men Say. – NZ Racing Desk