A few years back I had a regular gig on a sports show on a Taupo radio station where one of my co-hosts was renowned for asking “have I told you how much I love this time of year?” before going on to proclaim it his absolute favourite.
What you could gauge from listening to the show that it really didn’t matter what the season, or the major sporting event of the time, they were all his favourites.
At the risk of channelling him I do have to confess that this is one of my very favourite racing weeks. Of course, in the 2019 version it is a little more streamlined than the mid-winter week of my youth when Trentham hosted three days of racing over a week. School holidays being structured differently back then, this also necessitated wagging school to make the mid-week day – the excuse being I was visiting my grandfather. The fact I was visiting him in the owners and trainers bar at the racecourse was glossed over as something the nuns possibly didn’t need to know.
Three days of winter racing at Trentham meant straw in the birdcage to mask the otherwise knee-deep mud and out on the track it was the survival of the fittest.
While I have vague memories of traditional steeplechases, by the time we had moved back to Wellington the figure-eight course was in use and everyone soon learned the top of the old public stand was the best place to watch the drama unfold.
According to the holder (in his head) of all Wellington RC history the one and only Des Coppins, the first Wellington Steeplechase to be run over the figure-eight course was in 1973 and won by Destino, trained by Bob Autridge.
Hard to believe then, that this will be the 46th running over that course! Of course, the race itself boasts a much longer history going back to the first running in 1884.
Looking back at past winners in living memory I found it interesting how I could recall so many of those races, yet I am often tested when trying to remember who won the previous year’s running!
My absolute passion for the Wellington Steeplechase probably started when Fleeting Moment won. Trained by Jock Harris he was ridden by Mike Dombroski.
A keen hunter Mike once turned up at my parent’s place in Tauherenikau with a Captain Cooker piglet – I will spare the squeamish the reason why said piglet was motherless – thinking it would make a cool pet for me. It did – until it outgrew our place and was moved across to my grandfather’s place and….well, you can probably guess the rest. So Mike was something of an idol and, him winning the Wellington Steeplechase lit my interest in jump racing.
My grandfather despite, or probably because of, being a former jumps rider was very reluctant to train them, so he seldom had a jumper in the stable.
For me though, there is nothing better than watching a field of top-class jumpers stream over fences as they negotiate the twists and turns of the figure-eight course. And of course, there is nowhere better to watch that than on top of the old stand at Trentham – the stalwarts will be there on Saturday for the culmination of my favourite week of the year!