The best week in Australian jumps racing kicks off next Tuesday ... three days of the ’Bool.
I rode in trials at Warrnambool on Wednesday and I’m happy to report the track is in great condition. The course through the paddocks at the back is in outstanding order.
I got a close look at the sand between the double on the top of the hill when Sir Ritchie stopped and dumped me during one trial. I can confirm the landing area there is nice and soft. Sir Ritchie continued without me.
I have a very strong book of rides for the week but, pleasingly for punters, there also looks to be plenty of depth in most races.
Let’s go through them ...
The carnival traditionally kicks off with three maiden hurdles, though given the amount of interest around at the moment there is a possibility there will be four when fields are finalised on Friday morning.
The best of my maiden prospects appears to be Aloft, trained by Eric Musgrove. He jumped very well when winning a trial at the ’Bool on Wednesday. I also won a trial on him at Cranbourne back on April 5.
Another talented hurdler I’m fortunate to be on is Euroman, for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace. He has also been trialling nicely. Ciaron and David also have Big Bad Baz making his jumping debut. I liked the way he trialled when winning a heat on Wednesday.
I’m also a chance to ride Michelin for Patrick Payne. He finished third in what might have been a strong heat. The first two home were Social Element (Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott) and Who Says I’m Ready (Terry and Karina O’Sullivan). Social Element looked a typical Gai Waterhouse performer. He’s a dashing hurdler and he only made one minor mistake over the obstacles.
Others to catch my eye at the trials were Cheners (Eric Musgrove), Golden Flag and The Other Half (both for Patrick Ryan Jnr).
I’m booked for Bit of a Lad. He has really trained on since finishing fifth at Pakenham at his ’chasing debut.
He reminds me of the great Al Garhood (I won the 2011 Grand Annual Steeple on him).
Al Garhood loved racing up and down the hills and Bit of a Lad is the same.
As for dangers, I’ll‘ava’alf (Patrick Ryan Jnr) has won three times over the 3450m of the Brierly course and again he showed his liking for the track when easily winning his trial on Wednesday.
Dormello Mo (Simon Ryan) also looks in very good order.
In the Dunroe I’m very happy to be on Ascot Red for Maher and Eustace.
Ascot Road will be making his ’chasing debut following a close second to Mr One Eleven in a hurdle race at Pakenham on April 14. Ascot Red trialled super on Wednesday and I expect him to go very well.
Henry Dwyer’s Solar Coaster will probably be our biggest danger. He had a nice, easy trial on Wednesday and looks to have trained on after winning his ’chasing debut (April 14).
The feature race on Wednesday is the Galleywood Hurdle and once again Ciaron Maher and David Eustace are providing me with a great chance in Big Blue.
He has been set for this race all along and has taken a lot of benefit from his close second to Lucques in the M.J. Bourke Hurdle at Pakenham.
We met Lucques at level weights that day but should get an advantage this time. With added fitness we can turn the tables.
The Galleywood will be very truly run if Goodwood Zodiac lines up. He was very impressive winning his maiden hurdle by 30 lengths. He will find this feature race harder but he will certainly give us something to chase.
The Grand Annual
In the main event of the week I’ll be looking to complete the Great Eastern-Grand Annual double on Zed Em. Patrick Payne tells me the great horse has came through Oakbank in terrific order.
We just missed out behind Gold Medals in last year’s Annual. With weights more in our favour this time around, we can turn that result around (hopefully). Gold Medals is obviously a classy jumper whose flat form this time in has been solid.
The Grand Annual is often won by a lightweight. One of them in particular worries me as an opponent of Zed Em — his stablemate Slowpoke Rodriguez. He was an eye-catching second to Solar Coaster at Pakenham on his return to the fences this time in. At his previous chasing run he lost his rider at the last in the 2017 Grand Annual, when he looked a definite winning chance.
The other intriguing runner, if he takes his place in the Grand Annual, is the Great Eastern Steeple runner-up Spying on You.
I thought his Oakbank run was excellent. Last season he finished third in the Grand Annual before going on to run a brave (and close) second in the Grand National Steeple.
Champion Novice Hurdle
The other jumps race during the carnival is a hurdle restricted to jumpers who only started jumping after November, 2016.
I’ll be on Chequered Flag (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace). He is another to have trialled well on Wednesday.
Some of the maiden gallopers from Tuesday may back up into this $50,000 affair.
As you can see there is a lot of quality ready to tackle Warrnambool next week. I can’t wait!