Spoiled for choice champion jumps jockey Steven Pateman will ride Saunter Boy in Sunday‘s $250,000 Grand National Hurdle (4200m) at Sandown Lakeside.
Joint record-holder Pateman, who won four on the bounce through 2011-14, is hoping to become the first jockey in history to win five Grand National Hurdles.
But recent wins aboard Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Saunter Boy‘s stablemates Wil John and Norway certainly complicated the decision.
Norway went from a Warrnambool maiden to winning the Brendan Drechsler Hurdle brilliantly at Pakenham, while the equally progressive Wil John remains undefeated in three starts over the fences.
Saunter Boy‘s liking for Sandown Lakeside coupled with recent efforts at Flemington was the motivation for Pateman to stick with the Australian Bloodstock-owned former French import.
“Ciaron Maher is going to have three live chances in it for sure, with Wil John and Norway,” Pateman said.
“What can you do? Saunter Boy has got the best record I guess, a couple more runs up his sleeve.
“He blew them away in the Australian Hurdle and the (Kevin) Lafferty but also the flat runs in-between the hurdle runs have been huge, really, really good.
“He’s the real deal and he loves Sandown, he’s really quick down the hill at Sandown.”
Wil John looms as the Maher-Eustace knockout chance, with a light weight having not won a feature hurdle.
Norway will need to step up again after winning his maiden and Brendan Dreschler on the minimum weights.
“He‘s (Norway) got to jump up a few kilograms, which will make it tough but he can seriously gallop,” Pateman said.
Saunter Boy completed the Australian-Kevin Lafferty hurdle double by a combined 17 lengths.
The romps punctuated an indomitable combination Pateman has forged with Maher-Eustace this season to bank 13 wins in 20 starts since March 31.
The streak includes eight of the past nine starts.
Since piloting the outstanding Sea King to victory in 2014 the Grand National has proved elusive, with the 38-year-old having finished no better than third in four subsequent cracks at the jumps feature.
“It’d be amazing (to get a fifth), good to do it for Ciaron and Dave, we have had a great season,” Pateman said.
“Not being able to ride the light weights might‘ve cost me one or two (Grand Nationals).”
Frank Douglas won four Grand National Hurdles between 1934-43.
Almost without fail, Pateman has credited wife Jess, who holds a degree in sports science, after every major win this season for the crucial role she plays in managing his weight.
Pateman dominated jumps from 2010-14 but “snacking” and ”eating at wrong times” led to weight gain and ultimately brought the Barwon Heads-based West Australian back to the pack.
“She’s been amazing,” Pateman said.
“I wasn’t not doing enough (activity and exercise), my diet wasn’t right, she’s the key to that for sure.
“Cutting a few things out, not bad food at all, a lot of things I really enjoy like eye fillet and broccoli.
“Hell of a lot worse things you can eat.”
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