By Michael Manley
From an historical perspective few races in Australia can match Coleraine’s Great Western Steeplechase which will be run on Sunday at the picturesque Western Districts racetrack.
Firstly, the Great Western Steeplechase is one of Australia’s oldest races having first been run in 1857. To put that in perspective the Melbourne Cup was first held in 1861.
And it can proudly boast that it has had a poem written about it by one of Australia’s most famous poets, Adam Lindsay Gordon called “On The Fields of Coleraine”.
Not only did Adam Lindsay Gordon pen a poem about the race, he also rode in it five times between 1862 and 1866 and claimed a win and four placings.
The Great Western Steeplechase (3600 metres) which will be run on Sunday still provides an important role in the jumps calendar as it is the final lead-in race to the Grand National Steeplechase (4500 metres) at Ballarat on August 29.
For emerging jumper San Remo’s entire preparation his Stawell based trainer Dane Smith has had his eyes firmly set on one race, the Grand National Steeplechase at Ballarat on August 29, and he’s looking forward to him proving he’s on the right track with a forward showing at Coleraine.
It’s Smith’s preference though that San Remo won’t be tackling the Grand National Steeplechase as a maiden over the fences so he is hoping he can dispense with that tag with a win in the $40,000 race on Sunday.
Last Sunday at Coleraine, San Remo gave a strong pointer that he will be suited by the 4500m metres of the Grand National Steeplechase when he charged home to finish third behind Historic in the Casterton Steeplechase at the transferred meeting.
Anyone doing their form trying to find a sneaky Grand National Steeplechase chance would have been impressed by that effort.
Smith was thrilled with the performance and said the further he goes the better for San Remo but added a caveat saying that it’s one of his traits that he's often flashing home.
“That’s him. He can do that in any race. He hits a flat spot and then attacks the line,” Smith said.
“His jockey Lee Horner said he lost momentum down the hill, then he put in a sticky one and came off the bridle. He impressed him with the way he jumped ,bar for that one mistake, and also the way he finished the race off.”
Smith said the Great Western Steeplechase represented a great challenge for San Remo.
“There’s horses with form through races such as the Thackeray and the Crisp Steeplechase. We’re a steeplechase maiden taking horses such as Big Blue, Riding High and Police Camp on.”
“He’s a horse who has been learning his craft. He mastered the hurdles and then we took him to the steeples. Next year will be a big one for him,” he said.
“He’s been a great horse for us since we bought him from Archie Alexander. He was bought by a Grampians syndicate headed by Ron McDonald and Jeff Lovell.”
Smith said he hadn’t trained a jumper for a couple of years but has loved being back in the caper so much so that he’s purchased some younger horses who will also go jumping next year.
He said the jumps training facilities at Stawell were great as Sandy McGregor had helped get a hurdle and steeple lane put at the track a couple of years ago when he had horses trained there by Terry O’Sullivan.
Smith said as long as San Remo finished off strongly on Sunday he would take his place in the Grand National Steeplechase as the 4500 metres distance would suit him perfectly.
“Our plan all along has been the Grand National Steeplechase. Hopefully he’s not going into the race as a maiden chaser.”