SAUNTER CONTINUES HIS FEATURE WINNING RUN
by Michael Manley
Saunter Boy made it a clean sweep of feature hurdle races for 2022 and etched his name into jumps racing folklore as one of the best performers of all time after his game victory in the $300,000 Grand National Hurdle (4200 metres) at Sandown Lakeside on Sunday.
The reaction of the beaten jockeys underlined what they thought of Saunter Boy as they tried to give him a congratulatory pat after he had pulled up and on the return to the mounting yard.
Saunter Boy carried top-weight of 71 kilos and was left in front a long way out, but he was able to defy a late challenge from St Arnicca who carried seven kilos less to make it five wins from five starts in 2022.
In the past 20 years only another champion Black And Bent has carried a bigger weight to victory.
Saunter Boy has now won his past six hurdle starts and eight of his last nine. He has won 10 of his 13 starts. He has now won every feature hurdle race in Victoria.
Ciaron Maher and Dec Maher were emotional after they had claimed their third successive Grand National Hurdles having won in 2020 with Ablaze and 2021 with Wil John.
Steve Pateman added another line to his glittering CV with his fifth win in the Grand National Hurdle which is now a record. Pateman won four in a row between 2011 and 2014 and Saunter Boy was his first since then.
Pateman has also ridden 13 winners for the season and will add another Champion Jockeys championship to his huge tally.
Pateman said Saunter Boy almost fell at the first hurdle as he was too relaxed. He also said he felt lonely being left in front a long way out in the straight.
Ciaron Maher repeatedly used the adjective phenomenal to describe what Saunter Boy had achieved.
“That’s what's so special about the jumpers. They come back year after year and get better; they get stronger and tougher. To carry that sort of weight over that trip was a phenomenal effort to do it from the front,” Maher said.
Pateman said he had little choice but to clear out from the field after he had jumped the third last so well.
“I thought I’d capitalise on that a little bit. I was thinking we’ve put all our eggs in the one basket here,” Pateman said.
“I’ve never ridden a horse that is so good down the hill at Sandown I thought I was very lonely after the last.”
Pateman said Saunter Boy was so relaxed he almost fell at the first hurdle.
A decision to concentrate on the second half of the jumps has Flying Agent on track to take out the $350,000 Grand National Steeplechase (4500 metres) at Ballarat on August 28.
The Amy McDonald trained ten-year-old gelding followed his win in the Thackeray Steeplechase with a seven lengths victory in the$150,000 Crisp Steeplechase at Sandown Lakeside.
Last year Flying Agent finished sixth in the Grand National Steeplechase but McDonald said he was tired after being in work from early in the year as he was aimed at the Warrnambool carnival where he won the Brierly Steeplechase.
“He’s a different horse this preparation since he missed Warrnambool and we’ve aimed him at the National,” McDonald said.
Flying Agent was ridden by McDonald’s partner Lee Horner who said Flying Agent was the stable’s flagbearer.
McDonald said Flying Agent had kept the stable going this winter.
“He’s unreal. He’s really enjoying his job,” she said.
McDonald was excited after the win saying the feeling of winning a feature race was something which was hard to beat.
“You don’t get this working in an office. You do it for the good days and this is a great day," she said.
McDonald said the plan wasn’t to be that far back and said Horner’s ride was sensationalAs he was able to sneak spots through the field from well back, Horner said he was forced to go back in the field after he said “he walked out of the gates.”
Horner said Flying Agent’s jumping was “faultless” and he thought he was looking like a National horse this year.
Promising hurdler Heir To The Throne will also be contesting a feature race at Ballarat which will be the J.J. Houlahan Hurdle after his tough victory in the Ladbroke It Hurdle (3400m).
The brother to the Melbourne Cup winner Prince Of Penzance continued the great run for the Leek stable.
Trainer Andrea Leek said Heir To The Throne was suited by the drier track and also Sandown.
The win also continued jockey Aaron Lynch’s good form.