Racing.com Park, one of my favourite jumps courses, hosts three hurdles and a steeplechase race on Sunday.
The surface at the Pakenham venue is usually outstanding with just the right amount of ‘give’ for jumps racing, and the obstacles are very well spaced. It’s a big flat course and every horse gets its chance.
I have a strong book of rides for the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace team.
In the feature M. J. Bourke Hurdle I’m really looking forward to the jumps return of Big Blue.
I rode him twice last season and he won both races impressively. He was in such good form that after those wins he went to Sydney and took out the St. Leger on the flat.
I won a hurdle trial on Big Blue at Cranbourne last week. His main target is the Galleywood Hurdle at Warrnambool next month but I expect him to be hard to beat on Sunday. He’s very good.
There looks to be a bit of depth in the race, though, with the Eric Musgrove-prepared Lucques taking well to hurdling with successive wins.
I expect Our Yangtze to be competitive, too. I rode him when he had 70.5kg and finished runner-up to Startierra at Hamilton at the start of this month.
Monarch Chimes (purple cap): a good Kiwi jumper who also won on the flat in Melbourne. Photo courtesy RACING PHOTOS
Bit of a chance
Sunday’s JEH Spencer Steeple looks an even race.
I’ll be aboard Bit of a Lad for Maher and Eustace. Bit of a Lad is making his ’chasing debut after winning four of his past six over hurdles.
I rode him in a steeple trial and while we were 23 lengths from Don’t Be Shy when finishing third I was really encouraged by Bit of a Lad’s jumping. I tried to hold him up as he has a habit of over-racing and came back under me nicely, which was pleasing.
John Salanitri’s Don’t Be Shy will be the hardest for us to beat on Sunday. She has only raced once over the fences but it was a memorable performance ... she won the Australian Steeplechase (last year).
Red form franked
The Maher and Eustace team have accepted with both Ascot Red and Chequered Flag in the hurdle race restricted to horses that have won no more than one jumps race.
I rode Ascot Red to victory in a maiden hurdle at Casterton last September. At his next start he finished runner-up to Killarney Kid, which has turned out to be good form.
Ascot Red has been coming along quite well this time in.
Chequered Flag returns to the jumps for the first time since he was narrowly beaten in the J.J. Houlahan Hurdle by the classy Two Hats back in 2017.
I haven’t ridden Chequered Flag in a race but I have schooled him and he gives me a good feel.
The Aaron Purcell trained Startierra who broke through for his maiden win at his second attempt over hurdles also looks a contender.
Last Sunday’s Oakbank meeting was a successful one for me, with Killarney Kid and Zed Em both winning impressively.
Zed Em’s effort to win a third consecutive Von Doussa Steeplechase was fantastic. He became the first horse to complete the treble since Chocolate Royal in 1978, 1979 and 1980.
Full marks to the club as the track was in great condition. I believe the crowd was up on last year, too.
Chimes connections devastated
We had a very sad moment at the Cranbourne trials last week when the Emma-Lee Browne trained Monarch Chimes suffered a life-ending leg injury. He was travelling really well but broke down on the flat coming off the back straight, nowhere near a jump.
It was just one of those things that happens with horses but the tears were flowing.
Monarch Chimes was a very good jumper who won four times over hurdles and once over fences. He also won a flat race at Sandown last winter. He meant the world to Emma-Lee and his other connections.