by Michael Manley
Pakenham trainer Rachael Cunningham is hoping Bee Tee Junior can continue her unique trend of her stable only winning main races when he contests the $350,000 Grand National Steeplechase (4500 metres) at Ballarat on Sunday.
Cunningham has won four jumps’ races in her training career, and they include the 2020 Grand National Steeplechase with Bee Tee Junior and the 2018 Crisp Steeplechase with Excellent Rhythm.
“We’ve never trained the winner of a maiden jumps race. All our wins have been in good races with those two horses,” Cunningham said.
Two years ago, the former Kiwi galloper Bee Tee Junior won the Grand National Steeplechase at his first start over the fences when ridden by Lee Horner.
On Sunday, he will be ridden by Aaron Kuru, as Horner is committed to riding his wife Amy McDonald’s star jumper in Flying Agent who will start favourite.
Cunningham pointed out that Kuru is familiar with Bee Tee Junior as he rode him at his first two jumps starts in New Zealand and his first win in a Maiden Hurdle at Ellerslie. He also rode him in a jumps trial at Cranbourne earlier in the year.
Cunningham said that Bee Tee Junior’s win in the Grand National Steeplechase two years ago had been the highlight of her training career and she was hoping she could match it.
Cunningham said two years ago Bee Tee Junior was able to beat Ablaze in the Grand National Steeplechase and she didn’t think they were taking on horses of that quality on Sunday.
“I think he’s definitely good enough to win again. We went to Coleraine as he had a blow after the Crisp and now he’s pretty spot on,” Cunningham said.
At his last start Bee Tee Junior carried 75 kilos and finished second to Roland Garros in the Adam Lindsay Gordon Steeplechase at Coleraine over 3600 metres.
In that race Roland Garros led by 20 lengths with 1000 metres to go. Bee Tee Junior gave away an enormous start and whittled that back to a length.
“He went enormous and pulled up well from it. He’s getting fitter and fitter.”
Cunningham said Bee Tee Junior sustained a minor tendon injury when he won the 2010 Grand National Steeplechase and could have raced last year but she chose to give him the year off to recover.
“For me he’s the best horse I’ll ever have so I gave him the full year and rehabbed it. Then we’ve been able to give him a long slow build up.”
Bee Tee Junior was trained in New Zealand by trainer Shaun Ritchie who is still a part-owner and he will attend Sunday’s race.
Bee Tee Junior joined Cunningham's small team in February 2020.
Cunningham said the 11 year-old would return next year and be set for the Grand Annual Steeplechase and another tilt at the Grand National Steeplechase.
Cunningham is from an equestrian background. She worked for several years for Robbie Laing and then Mick Price.
She trains a team of eight from her property near the Pakenham racecourse and she also does pre-training for Robbie Griffiths and Matt De Kock.
Cunningham said the hardest horse for Bee Tee Junior to beat would be the Amy McDonald trained Flying Agent.
“He’s airborne. If we can’t win it I hope Amy and Lee can as they are some of my best friends,” Cunningham said.
Horner is trying to make it three Grand Nationals Steeplechases in a row as he won on Bee Tee Junior in 2020 and Inayforhay last year.
Kuru is aiming for his second win as he rode Tallyho Twinkletoe to victory in 2019.