While jumps racing in Australia is in disarray and facing an uncertain future, New Zealand's popular winter pursuit has been headlined by a modern day marvel. The champion steeplechaser Hypnotize lived up to his name with a mesmerising third in the Great Northern Steeplechase victory at Ellerslie.
It was an entrancing tale of a country-owned and trained jumper whose exploits have highlighted an excellent season for the cross-country code. The tough as teak 11-year-old lumped the biggest weight in over 50 years to join Hunterville as the only three-time winner of the event.
Hypnotize carried 70.5kg over a gruelling 6400 metres that included 25 fences and three visits to the famous Ellerslie hill. Toss in his three Pakuranga Hunt Cup successes and you have a jumper of extraordinary talent. Hypnotize has won six of his seven starts at Ellerslie with his only defeat a runner-up finish in the 2009 Great Northern. He's a unique fellow - plain-looking (said in the nicest possible way!) and without the size one might expect of a weight-carrying machine.
Regular rider Isaac Lupton, of the racing famous Waverley clan, concurred and went further to say he wasn't the quickest of jumpers either. But Hypnotize is safe at his fences - he's never fallen in 21 steeple or hurdle starts - and has huge reserves of stamina. He had looked to be in trouble coming down the hill in his latest Northern success, but came on relentlessly. The gelding broke their hearts in the final stages to win by nearly four lengths from Kousso, who was in receipt of seven and a-half kilos. Huge credit must also be given to the conditioning skills of his trainer and part owner Raymond Connors. He has continually peaked him to perfection for the big occasion and indeed presented him to win this year's Pakuranga Hunt Cup at his first jumping start of the preparation. Hypnotize has no doubt benefited from Connors' gentle approach and has been well looked after with a relatively light 38 career starts.
It would be no surprise if a fourth Great Northern success wasn't on the dance card and a couple more kilos might no be enough to stop team Hypnotize. By Sir Tristram's son Yamanin Vital, Hypnotize was bred the Anderton family's White Robe Lodge and out of their winning Tawfiq mare Auburn Rose. It is the family of a host of Group gallopers - among them three-time Gr 1 winner Prince Majestic and the Sydney Cup runner-up The Bandette - and another special jumper. That being Our Jonty who in 1998 was trained and ridden by Connors to win the Great Northern and they also finished runner-up two years later and added a fourth placing in 2001. Connors and his father Mark - an affable and unassuming pair - have enjoyed outstanding success with the Anderton breed.
One of the best, if not the best potentially, was Our Jonty's half-brother King Johny. A son of Seasoned Star, his two wins from 17 career starts belied the talent that was masked by a number of setbacks. As a three-year-old he progressed quickly to finish third in Xcellent's Gr 1 New Zealand Derby before the Connors boys headed to Australia. King Johny opened his account with a third in the Gr 2 Tulloch Stakes and then finished fourth behind Railings in the Gr 1 AJC Derby. The gelding returned home to win the Gr 3 Manawatu Classic before he was struck down by injury and was never the same force.
The boutique Connors stable at Whangaehu, a small settlement about eight km south-east of Wanganui, has an excellent strike rate in both jumping and flat features. There's no great secret to their success with excellent stockmanship and common sense combining for the best results. What is pivotal though is an unhurried approach and understanding of the individual. Playing that waiting game isn't always easy but with patience comes the prize.