The slowest horse Shane Brown has trained could provide the Woodville trainer with his most important training success at Riccarton on Saturday.
Chocolate Fish, a nine-year-old son of Colombia, is Brown’s big hope to win the Racecourse Hotel & Motor Lodge Grand National Steeplechase (5600m), one of the premier jumps events on the New Zealand racing calendar.
Brown is in his 13th season of training and has steadily built up his band of owners. He experienced his best season last term with nine wins to take his total to 61, but he admits he wasn’t counting on Chocolate Fish being a contributor when he first started to work him.
“He’s the slowest horse I’ve trained, but he’s a genuine stayer,” Brown said.
Chocolate Fish showed that stamina in last Saturday’s Koral Steeplechase (4250m) when the leader Notabadrooster fell in his path after the last fence, just as he was coming into the race strongly.
Chocolate Fish recovered and, aided by his brave rider, Shaun Phelan, jumped over Notabadrooster and set out after the winner, Amanood Lad, to close to within a half-neck when finishing second.
“It was a top effort by horse and rider, too,” Brown said. “That’s why Shaun is one of the best in the business.”
Early in his career, Chocolate Fish’s lack of speed saw him fail to clear maiden ranks on the flat, though he picked up five placings from 11 starts, and he was well-beaten in his two hurdle starts.
But when switching to steeplechasing he has proved a good money-spinner for his connections, which include Brown’s partner, Amy Ames-Durey.
He won his ‘chase debut at Hastings 13 months ago and a month later Brown threw him in the deep end, contesting the Koral – Grand National Steeplechase double.
“People thought I was mad running him in the Grand National in just his third start over fences, but he wasn’t disgraced,” Brown said. “He’s now had the benefit of that experience and we might reap the rewards on Saturday.”
Chocolate Fish finished fifth in last year’s Koral Steeplechase then fourth to Upper Cut in the Grand National Steeplechase and since then he has been a model of consistency over country with his sole blemish being when seventh in the Waikato Steeplechase (3900m) at Te Rapa.
“He just never handled the track at Te Rapa that day,” Brown said. “But he hasn’t gone a bad race since then.”
Chocolate Fish will again clash with Wise Men Say and Amanood Lad on Saturday and Brown rates the pair as two of the hardest to beat, but he is also wary of a “smoky” in the race.
“If the track gets heavy Wise Men Say and Amanood Lad should be right in it, but I’ve also got a lot of respect for Tai Ho,” Brown said.
“He was placed (third) in it last year and he’s won his last two. He gets in on the minimum like us. He’s the one to keep an eye on. Shamal is a chance too.”
All bar Wise Men Say (71kg) and Amanood Lad (70.5kg) are on the 65kg minimum.
“The biggest thing for us is being on the minimum,” Brown said. “That gives him a good chance to win a race like this before he gets up in the weights.“ – NZ Racing Desk