As one of Hawke's Bay's all-time great jumps trainers, Paul Nelson has had no shortage of big-race success throughout the country.
But many of his most satisfying, popular and memorable victories have come on this day at Hastings in the Hawke's Bay Steeplechase - particularly with outstanding jumpers Just A Swagger, who now has a race named in his honour on the same day, and No Hero.
And Nelson has a strong chance of adding further home-track success tomorrow when he lines up two of the seven runners in the 2012 Livamol Hawke's Bay Steeplechase. The first of them is Ho Down, a former top-quality hurdler who has handled the switch to steeplechasing brilliantly so far this season.
He was a good third in the Waikato Steeplechase and an even better second in the McGregor Grant at Ellerslie. If he's continued to improve at that same rate, he'll be a handful tomorrow for any opponent.
The other Nelson runner is Better On Top, who's still new to jumping after a successful career on the flat. But what we have seen from him in steeplechases so far has been highly impressive - a win at his first attempt at Wanganui, followed by a third at Hastings, then a convincing victory over subsequent Manawatu Steeplechase winner Lord Custom at Trentham earlier this month. He's still well placed at the weights and has Richard Cully, who the TAB rates a $3 favourite to be this season's leading jumps jockey, in the saddle.
Others who must be respected in the big steeplechase include Zagata, who won the traditional lead-up Syngenta Steeplechase on this course last month, and the well-performed Volkswagin and Karlos.
Though the Steeplechase is traditionally the more important and popular jumping race of the season in this region, the Te Whangai Romneys Hawke's Bay Hurdles might have the edge this year in terms of quality. Arguably the most impressive jumper of the season so far, Morpheus, will be seeking a third straight prestige jumping win. He's been held in high regard by trainer Graeme Rogerson for some time, and his performances so far this winter make it easy to see why. He was dominant in the KS Browne Hurdle at Ellerslie and superb in the Awapuni Hurdle. He's very quickly got right up in the weights - he has to lug a whopping 69.5kg tomorrow - but on his current form he seems to be a class above his opposition. The way he's going at the moment, that weight may not be enough to stop him. The 12.40pm timing is quite early in the day for one of the feature races, but it's well worth getting to the track in time to see a high-class hurdler in action.
Most of the attention surrounding tomorrow's races is focused on the jumps events, but there's a very nice sprint field assembled for the Taradale Club Open Sprint. The field contains stakes performers Sandblaster, Shahbab, Brackenwood, Latika, Golden Globe and Group 1 winner The Pooka. And local hopes will be carried by the speedy Starguru, a winner of seven of her 23 starts.