Grand National high on The Cossack’s agenda – just which one is the question

By Dennis Ryan

22 Jun 2022

Grand National high on The Cossack’s agenda – just which one is the questionThe Cossack and Shaun Phelan jump their way to another emphatic win at Te Rapa on Saturday.

“He just goes out, does the job and comes back having a little blow but bugger-all else. He’s quite incredible really.”
A brief exchange between renowned horsemen Harvey Wilson and Paul Nelson at the end of a memorable Waikato Hurdle-Steeplechase card at Te Rapa last weekend summed up one aspect of what it means to have a horse like The Cossack on the jumps scene.
“Let me know when you’ve made your mind up where you’re going next,” Wilson said to Nelson, “then we’ll work out where we go.”
Waverley-based Wilson was referring to possible pathways he might take with his exciting prospect Dr Hank, who took his jumps record to four wins from six starts with an eight-length victory in the Fairview Motors Waikato Hurdle. The obvious barrier to further success is the prodigious talent known as The Cossack, who bypassed a repeat of his 2021 win in the Waikato Racing Club’s feature hurdle in favour of a debut over the Te Rapa country in the Ken & Roger Browne Memorial.
The ease with which the reigning Jumper of the Year dispatched his maiden rivals added another layer of options for Nelson and co-owners Peter and Doug Grieve and John Frizzell to consider. Wilson got no response from his Hawke’s Bay colleague on Saturday – and it’s quite possible neither he nor anyone else with a similar query is going to get a complete answer any time soon.
“I did hear Harvey, but at this stage we haven’t given it a lot of thought,” Nelson shared with RaceForm behind a wry chuckle on Monday. “It’s what everyone is asking I guess; even last night Andrew Bensley was in touch from Melbourne, and when he brought up the Grand Nationals over there, I had to ask him what the dates were.”
The A$300,000 Grand National Hurdle is scheduled for August 7 over 4200m at Sandown, while the A$350,000 Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) is three weeks later at Ballarat. The New Zealand Grand National Hurdle (4200m) and Steeplechase (5600m) both carry a stake of $100,000 and are scheduled for August 10 and 13.
“At least I know when they’re run and his target might be a Grand National, I know that much,” Nelson added. “But exactly which one and where? That’s as far as we’re going at this stage.”
The normally unflappable Nelson made a surprising admission with regard to The Cossack after another big day that also included his and training partner Corrina McDougal’s first Signature Homes Waikato Steeplechase with Argyll, one of the rising stars of their 12-strong jumps string.
“As far as The Cossack goes, I was pleased when Saturday was over actually. Running in his first steeplechase, it was good to get it out of the way. He’s had that steeples run so he doesn’t have to have another one for now.”
With a jumps record comprising nine wins from 14 starts headed by two Great Northern Hurdles and the Grand National, Wellington, Waikato and K S Browne Hurdles, The Cossack now qualifies for the ultimate compliment from his senior trainer.
“He’s the best we’ve had, you’d have to say he’s at the top of the list,” says Nelson. “Nothing else has done what he’s done, he just goes out, does the job and comes back having a little blow but bugger-all else. He’s quite incredible really.”
One of many previous jumps stars that Nelson can draw a comparison with is Grand National and dual Great Northern Hurdle winner Just Not Cricket, a member of the same family that also produced the McGregor Grant and Manawatu Steeplechase winner Proposition and now Waikato Steeplechase winner Argyll.
The trio’s breeders and co-owners Garry and Jan Sherratt, who race Argyll with Cambridge trainer Ben Foote and his partner Kim Rogers, were visiting family in Christchurch last weekend and watched the Te Rapa action in a nearby PubTAB.
“There weren’t many others in the bar, just a couple of Asian guys apparently,” says Nelson, “and according to Garry they were punting away and didn’t hold back when it came to the jumps races.
“Up at Te Rapa it made you feel good to see so many people turn up from the start of the day – it was quite obvious they were there for the jumps races. It says something about what appeals to racegoers at this time of year and what gets everyone through the winter.”
One former regular unable to be on course was veteran Te Awamutu horseman Peter Hollinshead to see his home-bred gelding Dr Hank add the Waikato Hurdle to his rapidly growing record. After three wins and a second in his first four starts over brush last year, the Redwood gelding had to play second fiddle to The Cossack in the Great Northern – good reason for Harvey Wilson’s question of Paul Nelson on Saturday.
“All Dad lives for is Dr Hank, he’s what keeps him going,” said Hollinshead’s son and former training partner Darrell over a celebratory drink. “He’ll be thrilled after seeing him do that.”
The last word from Te Rapa’s big jumps weekend belonged to Wilson, a member also of Dr Hank’s ownership group along with Hollinshead and former showjumping colleague Colin Clarke, after Shaun Phelan had added wins on Argyll, The Cossack and Dr Hank. That took Phelan’s tally over jumps for the season to 13 wins from 33 rides for a strike-rate of 2.54 and including seven of the nine Prestige Jumps Races contested since August 1.
“Shaun isn’t only a top class jumps jockey, he’s a horseman, a real horseman,” said the former Olympian.