By Michael Manley
A remarkable day of jumps racing at Ballarat on Sunday was highlighted by trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace training the first five winners and rising star Inayforhay taking out the Grand National Steeplechase.
Maher and Eustace couldn't complete the set though as they didn't have a runner in the Grand National Steeplechase.
The 4500 metres event proved to be a memorable one as the Paul Preusker trained Inayforhay proved he will be a star fencer for years to come with a runaway eight lengths win over the gallant Social Element.
Inayforhay gave his jockey Lee Horner his second successive Grand National Steeplechase as he also won on Bee Tee Junior last year.
Adding to the theatre of the day, the Grand National Steeplechase was delayed by 15 minutes, because the jumps jockey pointed out to stewards that they and their horses couldn’t view the last two jumps in the straight due to sun glare in their faces.
Underlying Racing Victoria’s commitment to safety stewards acquiesced to the request and removed the final two jumps, meaning that the horses only jumped 12 steeples instead of 16.
It was a meritorious training effort by Preusker to get Inayforhay to win the Grand National Steeplechase at his fencing debut.
Preusker said he had planned all year for Inayforhay to tackle the Grand National Hurdle and then to make his fencing debut in the Grand National Steeplechase and that's why he didn’t race earlier in the jumps season.
Inayforhay had to settle for second behind Wil John in the Grand National Hurdle in his lead-in run to the Grand National Steeplechase.
“It’s a big call. Last year we put the plan together. You love getting it right,” Preusker said.
“It’s always a risk putting all the eggs in one basket but in this case it’s been worth it."
Preusker said he had always liked training jumpers, so he was thrilled to have trained a feature race winner.
Preusker said Inayforhay was a dyed-in-the-wool stayer who had "a V8 diesel" for an engine.
Preusker thanked Horner for staying with Inayforhay throughout his campaign.
Horner said the win was bittersweet as he preferred to ride Inayforhay over his wife Amy McDonald’s horse Flying Agent.
Horner broke his leg in March and missed the first two months of the jumps season.
“I have to thank Paul. When I got injured he had to replace me and then I had to fight to get back on. I’m really grateful to get put back on,” Horner said.
Horner said Inayforhay was an up-and-coming horse who would be a Grand Annual contender next year.
He said he harboured some doubts about Inayforhay making his fencing debut in the Grand National Steeplechase but that only proved what a master trainer Preusker was.
On the final day of jumps racing for the season, it was fitting the training pair of Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace were to the fore with an unprecedented domination of Grand National Steeplechase day, as they have had a remarkable year with their team.
The first of their five winners was Raise You Ten who won the Ciaron Maher Says Thank You Hurdle, which was followed by Heberite in the Maiden Hurdle and then the Gotta Take Care Hurdle with Light Pillar.
They then added the feature hurdle event the J.J. Houlahan Hurdle with Saunter Boy and completed their quintet of winners with Mawaany Machine in the Henry Dwyer Steeplechase giving them their 20th winner for the year.
The five winners underline how far they go to source their jumpers. Their first two winners Raise You Ten and Herberite were bought in New Zealand as tried horses and are both by Raise The Flag.
Light Pillar is by Galileo and was originally trained in Ireland by Joseph O'Brien.
Both Mawaany Machine and Saunter Boy are both owned by Australian Bloodstock who purchased them as tried horses from Europe.
Former Irish and United States based jockey Willie McCarthy could boast a treble of winners for Maher and Eustace winning on Heberite, Light Pillar and Saunter Boy but he said he was unsure as to whether he would be back again to ride here.
McCarthy said he would love to come back and ride in Australia next year or otherwise his career would be over.
“The Australian Jumps Racing Association has asked me to come back for a couple of seasons to race here,” McCarthy said.
“I’ll try that, if they can do it, but if that can’t happen because of the pandemic, I’ll leave here in October and if I can’t get back here, I won’t race in the United States again and that could be it if I can’t get back here.”
McCarthy has taken jumps racing by storm since he started riding in Victoria in early March with seven winners from 23 rides including the Grand National Hurdle on Wil John.
Champion jumps jockey Steve Pateman also had another good day with a winning double scoring on Raise You Ten and Mawaany Machine which took his record to 22 winners for the season.
Declan Maher who runs the jumps arm of the stable at Ballarat predicted bright futures for both Raise Your Ten and Heberite who both were making their jumps debut.
Declan Maher said he couldn’t take the credit for Saunter Boy as he had spent time at all the arms of the stable.
“It just goes to show full credit to the team. They’re the people that help us all and get them ready. This horse spent time down at Caulfield and then went to the beach. They’ve done a super job with him. He only came up here (Ballarat) on Thursday just because it was closer and he didn’t have to travel up today," Maher said.
He said it was Ciaron’s decision to back Saunter Boy up in the Houlahan Hurdle after he found the distance of the Grand National Hurdle too far.