By Michael Manley
Maher and David Eustace will take out their first Melbourne Metropolitan Trainer’s Premiership having trained 72 city winners.
While their flat team has grown in numbers and quality so too has his jumps team and they will have eight runners in the three jumps races on Sunday and every one of them has strong winning claims.
The majority are under the care of his brother Declan at their Ballarat stables.
“I’m really excited about Sunday as I think we’ve got great chances in the three jumps events. We’re taking a strong team to Sandown and hopefully we can have some success,” Maher said.
Maher and Eustace won last year’s Grand National Hurdle with Ablaze and the head trainer is confident he can add another one but as to which which one it will be he’s not sure.
“I know it’s a cop-out but I can’t split them. They all have great chances,” Maher said.
Maher said the trio all made appeal on different fronts.
“Saunter Boy is in great form. He should have won his last start on the flat, that’s how well he is going. He’s mixing his flat and jumps racing and he’s racing in great fashion. He’s come on as a jumper,” he said.
“Norway has got untapped potential. He thrived from is first hurdle start to his next run. He’s really came on and he’s done the same again. He’s not well weighted though.”
“Wil John has a couple of advantages. He’s a dyed in the wool stayer and he’s the one on the weights. They are a couple of big pluses for him.”
“He’s been placed in a 4600 metres flat race so you know he’ll run the 4200 metres right out.”
“Ablaze isn’t getting any younger and he’ll peak at Ballarat in the Grand National Steeple. He’s come on in leaps and bounds since his last run with some decent track gallops,” Maher said.
Maher said Bit Of A Lad had been freshened up since his last start where he placed third in the Thackeray Steeplechase at Warrnambool on July 4.
“I think he’s right back to his best. His work this week has been very good and I think he’s well weighted,” he said.
Maher said Big Blue had taken benefit from his Steeplechase debut win at Pakenham.
“He’s a bit like Norway. That last start win has really sparked him up and given him confidence. He schooled well the other day,” he said.
Maher said he was also excited by the potential of Light Pillar and Mawaany Machine in the BM120 Hurdle.
Light Pillar won his hurdle debut at Pakenham by 12 lengths and Maher said he couldn’t have been more impressive.
“Mawaany Machine also couldn’t have done any more. He’s learnt to relax.”
Melbourne Racing Club executive Josh Rodder said his club was thrilled to be hosting the feature jumps meeting at Sandown Lakeside on Sunday.
He said the strength of the fields was a reflection on the resurgence of jumps season.
Rodder said jumps racing was attracting younger participants and devotees.
“From the MRC point of view we are reaping the benefits of what our former chairman Mike Symons and also Sandy McGregor have put in place over the years as they helped the AJRA make adjustments and I think that has paid off as there has been a change in the way jumps racing has been perceived,” Rodder said.
“You could see on social media the reactions of younger people during the Oakbank and Warrnambool carnivals. It was a wider younger demographic on the social media talking about the great jumps racing.”
“All credit must also go to the AJRA and the wonderful job they’ve done with their marketing to attract a younger audience.”
“The AJRA has to be commended for their work and the introduction of the new hurdles. The video on their website with Eric Musgrove talking about the new hurdles is fantastic. It’s a very educational video.”
“Also, you can add in the group of Irish and English jockeys who have come out here such as Tommy Ryan. They are great characters and jumps racing is in their blood as they grew up with them. They have also helped spread the message.”
“Then there’s the young local riders such as Clayton Douglas and we also we have the support of Gai Waterhouse, which cannot be undersold.”
Rodder said the MRC loved running the feature jumps meeting at Sandown.
“It’s such a great spectacle at Sandown. It’s a spacious hilly track with undulations. It’s perfect for jumps racing.”
Rodder said the Grand National Hurdle shaped up as one of the best in memory.