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In-form Payne finds another star


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Double Bluff has no trouble clearing this flattened obstacle on his way to victory last weekend. ROSS HOLBURT/RACING PHOTOS

Trainer Patrick Payne’s outstanding jumps season continued last Sunday when Sir Lopez claimed the Australian Steeple.

The success was a follow-on from an incredible run by Zed Em, who won the Von Doussa Steeple, Great Eastern Steeple and Grand Annual Steeple.

Now, in Sir Lopez, Payne has another top horse for major-race riches towards the end of the winter season.

With a bit of luck, Sir Lopez will get enough of a handicap to allow me back on him.

I couldn’t make the weight last Sunday so Richard Cully rode him — and rode him an absolute treat to hold off the gallant Gold Medals.

Gold Medals continues to run bravely, the Australian Steeple being his third successive second placing in a feature race.

Flag finishes on a high

Sunday’s Australian Hurdle was another great race, with my mount Killarney Kid doing his best but failing to run down the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Chequered Flag.

The winner held us out by 2¾ lengths and we spaced the rest, with Lucques finishing 35 lengths away in third spot.

Unfortunately, Chequered Flag won’t race again after badly hurting a joint. He retires with a fine record over jumps — four wins and a second from five starts. I had the pleasure of riding him to victory on the final day of the Warrnambool carnival. He gave me a great feel that day.

Stable staff will really miss him. “Nascar”, as he was known, was very popular around the place.

Talented trifecta

The other hurdle race last Sunday was taken out by Aaron Purcell’s Double Bluff, who led throughout in a strong display.

With Clayton Douglas aboard, he defeated Social Element (Shane Jackson). I finished a close-up third on Euroman. There isn’t much between that talented trio of hurdlers and more jumping riches await them.

Expect improvement

I’m off to Morphettville this Saturday to ride Mr One Eleven for Eric Musgrove in the hurdle race.

He ran well below his best in the Australian Hurdle on Sunday (sixth of seven) but Eric believes the horse may not have appreciated 25 days between races.

At his previous start he finished runner-up to Big Blue in the Galleywood Hurdle. That is very strong form and Mr One Eleven can bounce back.

The hardest to beat will be Archie Alexander’s improving hurdler Andrea Mantegna.

He was a strong maiden winner at Hamilton at his second go over the obstacles and with only half a kilo over the minimum weight he looks a very strong chance again.

Busy at the ’Bool

Warrnambool will host a minimum of four jumps races next Tuesday. Fields won’t come out until after Winning Post has hit the streets (Friday morning) but the maiden hurdle could be split if acceptance numbers are high.

One of my mounts is Solar Coaster for Henry Dwyer in the open steeple. He was only two lengths behind Sir Lopez in the Australian Steeple last Sunday and is in great order.

I’ll be riding Unabashed, a horse I also train, in the restricted steeplechase. Unabashed has come on nicely since finishing third at Mount Gambier. That was his first ’chase in two years.

I’m also looking forward to riding Michelin for Patrick Payne in a maiden hurdle. I’ve been on him a few times in the trials and he’s a very good jumper. He finished third to Andrea Mantegna at his hurdling debut and loves soft tracks.

Same size, but safer

After the Australian Steeple was run last Sunday a big jumps fan asked me if the new fences at Sandown were different to the previous model.

He thought they were lower. They “felt” the same height to me. They’re definitely more inviting for a horse to jump, though, with safety modifications proving very popular.

I believe the track staff love them, too, as they’re a lot lighter and therefore easier to move around.

The new fences are used everywhere in Victoria except Warrnambool and Casterton. The latter course has the traditional hedges while Warrnambool has its own model of fences.

I hope Warrnambool eventually transfers to the more modern ones. They’re quite expensive but, given how much money the May carnival brings into racing, a good investment.