South Australia claims the jumping spotlight this Saturday with the running of that state’s Grand National Hurdle and Grand National Steeplechase.
I’ve had some luck in both races in the past. My first steeple victory came back in 2006, when Murray Bridge was the venue (for the final time). My win came aboard the Karen Byrnes-trained Jasper Ruler, who led throughout.
Morphettville has hosted the steeple since 2007 and I’ve won three editions there — on Isti Bee in 2008, Stop the Traffic in 2009 and Zaman in 2013.
Stop the Traffic was prepared by Eric Musgrove and I was all set to combine with him on Lucques in this year’s race, only for him to get 65.5kg. I can’t make that weight, which is a shame as he looks a great chance.
I rode Lucques over hurdles three runs back when he finished a good third in the Galleywood Hurdle.
Since then he’s run a distant third in the Australian Hurdle and had a hitout on the flat (last of 10 at Ladbrokes Park on June 15).
He beat two rivals in a 2800-metre steeple trial at Warrnambool on June 7 and appears to have taken to the bigger obstacles with aplomb.
Lucques is a big, strong son of High Chaparral and he is very fit for Saturday’s challenge.
Looking for dangers, I have a lot of respect for Grant Young’s hardy ’chaser Spying On You, who raced below his best when a well beaten fifth to Sir Lopez in the Australian Steeple on May 26.
His previous form was good. He carried 71.5kg to victory at Mount Gambier (May 10), having placed behind the star ’chaser Zed Em in the Great Eastern Steeple (second) and Grand Annual Steeple (third).
Another threat on Saturday is Patrick Payne’s improving Kiwi chaser Speedy Jax. He’s had two runs over fences in Australia and won both. This is a stiffer test for him but he is progressing nicely.
Double the danger
In the SA Grand National Hurdle I’ll be riding Mr One Eleven for Eric Musgrove.
I rode the eight-year-old when he finished a close fourth to Beyond Thankful at Morphettville on June 1. We had 70kg and drop to 68kg for Saturday’s assignment.
The pressure went on a long way from home last start and it was set up for a backmarker, Beyond Thankful to, finish over the top of us.
Hardest to beat on Saturday should be Aaron Purcell’s Double Bluff. He’s had three runs over hurdles and has improved each time.
I ran fifth on Double Bluff when he made his hurdling debut at Warrnambool on April 30. We were a strong chance coming to the last jump but he made a mistake, which took a bit of energy out of him.
Double Bluff jumped much better at his next run, a two-length third to Super Haze, before winning impressively at Ladbrokes Park on May 26. Euroman was a closing third in that race and has won since. He is also a threat on Saturday.
The SA Grand National Hurdle has been a good race for me and Eric (Musgrove). We’ve combined for victories with Our Aristocrat (2011) and Urban Explorer (2014).
I also won on Solitas for Michael O’Leary (2008) and Man of Class (2010) for Ciaron Maher.
While I’m very proud of my four wins, that record pales in comparison to Eric’s seven!
His first was in 1987, when Kanihi scored with Brian Constable on top. Brett Scott won for him on Super Cobra (2002) and Karasi (2004), while Eric has teamed with Martin Kelly to take the past two National crowns (Abebe and Mystic Prince).
Morphettville is the only city venue for jumps racing in South Australia these days but there was a time, not that long ago, that Adelaide had one of the best hurdle courses in the land.
I loved riding at Victoria Park. We’d start at the top of the 1000-metre straight track and have six jumps in the run to the post. It was a magnificent sight for riders and spectators.
Victoria Park was traditionally the home of the South Australian Grand National Hurdle. Looking back through the Vic Park honour roll is an enjoyable experience ... there are some very familiar names on the list.
The legendary Colin Hayes trained two Victoria Park Grand National hurdle winners (Head for Space in 1985 and Wandering Duke in 1989).
Multiple Group 1-winning trainer Rick Hore-Lacy prepared 1979 Grand National victor Lord Rocky Red, who scored with Bob Challis on board.
Champion rider Jamie Evans won for Pat Hyland (Best Endeavours, 1993) and Robert Smerdon (Century Magic, 1994). Jamie’s brother Jason won the race four years later on Robbie Laing’s Kingston Dream.
The last Grand National Hurdle at Victoria Park was in 2007, when Frenzilian won it for Heather Frew, with Tommy Logan on board.
Room for Rogy and Gallante here
Speaking of notable racing identities, I noticed Graeme Rogerson prepared 2016 Sydney Cup winner Gallante for a victory last Saturday in the Awapuni Hurdle at Manawatu, New Zealand.
The eight-year-old gelding looked very impressive, racing on the pace before clearing out to win by 12 lengths. Gallante cruised over the last two jumps and looked to have plenty in hand. It was his second victory in six hurdle runs.
I hope Rogy considers sending Gallante over to Australia for some of our coming features. It would be a great boost to the local scene to have both the horse and the famous trainer back.