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A Middle-Aged Mare's View of the Ellerslie Hill

I usually start my run at the top of the straight, with a deep breath and a fervent hope that no-one is watching.

Once, a gang of builders working on the public stand startled me by cheering when I got to the winning post. I had to apologise for not being Sunline. Or even a maiden winner at Dargaville.

I've watched the track staff rolling, mowing, spraying and fertilising the track over the past seven or eight months and it now has a good, thick sole of grass that makes even the flat sections quite testing, especially when you're a middle-aged mare making a modest comeback. The track will be really challenging for the Mercedes Great Northern Steeplechase if it's wet, which is very likely.

The rise out of the straight past the winning post always surprises me, it's much stiffer than it looks from the stand and the bend sweeps wide at the same time. Quite tricky for horses starting from the 2000-metre barrier and for the Derby horses on Boxing Day, jostling for position so soon after the start of the race.

On across the driveway to the golf course and, sometimes, past people walking their dogs, occasionally of the vicious variety. I've looked around for a good escape route should one of them decide to investigate me but haven't come up with anything better than perching on top of the nearest section of running rail.

Along the back, past the sponsors' billboards, is probably my favourite part of the course, although because the jumps here are in the shade, the landings can be slippery for the steeplechasers. I imagine the sprinters powering out of the 1200-metre barrier on New Year's Day and lift my pace to that of a slightly less feeble snail.

Then there's a moment or two when I work out whether I'm up to the Hill or not. Quite often I'm not, but do it anyway. Usually, my legs begin to express sincere regret for that decision about 20 metres later.

It's not a long hill, but it inclines sharply, especially near the rail, and then rises again just before the top. Getting there always feels like winning something. Thank heavens I don't have to jump the two fences along the top, especially the first one.

I have absolutely no idea how a half-tonne horse carries more than 60 kg of rider up that hill at 45 or 50 km per hour and then jumps a fence. Much less doing it three times, as the runners in the Mercedes Great Northern must do.

Apparently, the ability to gallop fast downhill is essential for a Steeples contender at Ellerslie. By the time I reach the beginning of the long home turn I'd be happy to roll down the hill. As it is, I have to concentrate to make sure I don't wreck my ankles.
Then it's through to the course proper again and the end of my run.

Unless I'm feeling like two-time Great Northern Steeples winner Royal Ways and have only just warmed up.....

The Auckland Racing Club presents the Mercedes Great Northern Carnival at Ellerslie, Queen's Birthday Weekend:
Saturday 1 June
$50,000 TV Guide Hurdles, 4190 metres
- featuring Real Tonic, Sir Avion & Smart Hunter

Monday 3 June
$100,000 Mercedes Great Northern Steeplechase, 6400 metres
- featuring Royal Ways, Smart Hunter, Sir Avion & Cool Conductor
$50,000 Crombie Lockwood Cornwall H. 1600m G3

- Susan Archer


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