Article By Daryl Timms
Exciting steeplechaser Stern Idol is destined for greatness and could even surpass the all-conquering feats of the legendary Bashboy after the six-year-old giant won the JEH Spencer Memorial Steeplechase (3500m) in a performance that left his champion rider Steve Pateman speechless.
Starting as the $1.30 favourite, Stern led from start to finish to score a 15 length win over Bee Junior and Crosshill in a chilling display as trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace aim the Irish import towards the Brierly (3540) at Warrnambool’s May Carnival.
Standing at 17.3 hands, Stern Idol won both of his hurdle races last year but showed on the heavy 10 Pakenham track yesterday why his owners, headed by Gerry Ryan, were keen to see him make his debut over the fences.
And if anyone is in a position to make comparisons with Stern Idol, then it’s Pateman who rode Bashboy – a record one million dollar earner over the jumps - for the majority of his jumping career which included 18 wins for the Maher and Eustace team.
“It was an incredible performance.” Pateman said.
“I am speechless.
“I am in awe of the horse and he just did it so easily and he has just got so much scope and staying ability and he is fast.
“Saunter Boy has flown the flag for Australian hurdling and we really haven’t had a Bashboy-like chaser for a while so I think this might be the one.
“He is a big unit but he is smart and can shorten up at a fence and be safe. Bashboy used to very now and then standoff and take risks, but this horse doesn’t.
“What a horse.
“I am going to already compare him to Bashboy.”
Pateman said Bashboy was probably the best Chaser he’d ridden “but this boy could be as good as or even better.”
“I was just going so easy the whole race,” he said.
“I am already a fence in front and I’m coming to the last and I’m like making him jump safe.
“I’m only complaining because my reins aren’t long enough.”
Pateman said while the Warrnambool track wouldn’t be ideal for such a big horse, the plan would be to have Stern Idol in front.
“He his super safe and intelligent,” he said.
“And that was a like a trial for him today. He has beaten all the chasers that are heading to Warrnambool kind of thing.
“I am actually speechless by the performance. I thought he was incredible. I thought he’d win but it’s rare coming to the second last and the last in a good race and going whoa, just pop over them.”
Ciaron Maher isn’t worried about the gelding getting around Warrnambool as he is very nimble and is relaxing a lot better now than during his hurdling campaign.
In the other feature of the day, the Maher/Eustace champion Saunter Boy went down by half a length to the Peter Gelagotis-trained Blanford Lad in a thrilling finish.
Saunter Boy (Pateman), the $2 favourite, carried 72kg compared to Blandford Lad ($9.50) which had 65.5kg for rider Arron Lynch.
Despite being undefeated in all of his five hurdle races last season, Saunter Boy will defend his Galleywood Hurdle (3200m) title at Warrnambool next month against some emerging challengers, including Blanford Lad.
“He is exciting and take nothing away from Saunter Boy and he is a seriously good jumper who is the benchmark and he carried 7kg more or whatever it was,” Gelagotis said.
“It’s fair effort for us just to shade him. We can improve fitness wise and whether we can beat him again with the next scale of weights we have to carry, that remains to be seen.
“But either way we are having a bit of fun and he is one of the better jumpers in this state again.”
Gelagotis said he hadn’t trained jumpers for several years but his stable has an affiliation with the doyen of jumps trainers Eric Musgrove who has a share in Blanford Lad through owner Pearce Morgan who has his flat horses with Gelagotis and his jumpers with Musgrove.
“I wasn’t letting this one go and I said I’m going to put my hand back up for jumping and have a crack at it myself,” Gelagotis said.
“In my humble opinion he has been a bit of a thief as a flat horse but the jumping has turned him around and he has won on the flat at Flemington since he has become a hurdler and he is becoming a real genuine jumps candidate.”
Gelagotis hopes to get another crack at the Grand National Hurdle (4200m), a race the gelding finished third in last August to Saunter Boy when he got too far back in the field to overhaul the leaders.
And there were plenty of slaps on the back for Campbell Rawiller who made a winner debut over the jumps when he rode the Musgrove trained Circle The Sun ($26) to a narrow victory over Teofilo Star and Pure Deal.
In the lead for most of the race, Circle The Sun, having his first start over the jumps, was headed by Teofilo Star but fought on bravely to score an emotional win for Rawiller.
“I am just so thankful for the people behind me to get me here today,” Rawiller said.
“People like Steve and Jess Pateman, Clayton Douglas, Grant Young, Todd Belfour and my grandpa and my whole family who have got a really good background in jumps racing.
“The thrill today is unbelievable and the adrenalin is massive and to get that first one I must thank Eric Musgrove for backing me in my first ride over the jumps.
“I am really excited for the future ahead and feel like this is a dream come true. It is a real up for me but I know there are a lot of ups and downs but I will soak up this moment.”
Rawiller said he still also wanted to continue his career on the flat where he can ride the top weights.