By Michael Manley
In terms of the build up to this week’s Warrnambool jumps carnival expectations have never been higher.
In terms of available jumpers, numbers haven’t been as strong for many years. The maiden hurdle on the first day attracted 51 nominations and was split into three divisions with 41 runners.
Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace have taken centre stage in recent times, and they will again take a strong team to the ‘Bool.
Maher has already won six Grand Annual Steeplechases and he’s got the buzz horse for his attack on the race next week with former French jumper Stern Idol.
He has won four of his five starts and has won both of his races this time including the now traditional lead into Warrnambool, the J.E.H Spencer Memorial Steeplechase at Pakenham by 15 lengths.
The jumper has high profile connections as he is owned by well-known Melbourne businessman Gerry Ryan and he has several of his high profile friends in the horse such as 1952 Wimbledon champion Frank Sedgman, former Fitzroy Football Club President, Melbourne Storm founding father John Ribot, former North Melbourne player Sam Kekovich and News Limited supremo Peter Blunden are some of the owners.
The stable will also have the champion hurdler Saunter Boy going for his second Galleywood in a row. His run of six hurdle victories in a row ended at his last start at the hands of the Peter Gelagotis trained Blandford Lad.
Amy McDonald’s champion jumper Flying Agent will be trying to win his second Brierly Steeplechase and he will be against the Steve Pateman trained and ridden Valac.
Local trainer Symon Wilde is taking a big team to the jumps and plans to have 14 runners and he will have two starters in the Brierly Steeplechase, last year’s runner-up Britannicus and Elvison.
Wilde has had a great record with his jumpers in recent years and last year he was the champion Victorian trainer in terms of winners for the season.
He has also had a great record at his home carnival in recent years.
Gold Medals won two Grand Annuals and was also placed twice. Wilde has also won two Brierly Steeplechases including last year when he quinealled the event with Vanguard defeating Britaniccus. He also won two other races.
Wilde said he was a little bit behind schedule with his meticulous build up due to the tracks being firmer but he believes his team has managed to catch up.
Wilde will also try to win his third Grand Annual Steeplechase and has two horses aimed at that race.
They are Vanguard who started favourite in last year’s Grand Annual and recent recruit Hurry Cane.
Wilde recounted last year’s Grand Annual experience with Vanguard and said it was a bitter pill to swallow when he slipped on the flat after jumping the 13th obstacle.
“Going into the race I had a similar feeling I had when Gold Medals won the year before and that was the only thing which would stop Vanguard from winning was bad luck he was going so well,” Wilde said.
“As it turned out, that's what happened. He jumped the double and turned left. He was travelling beautifully for Will Gordon and just slipped on a spot where a few had slipped.”
“It was difficult to deal with. Jumps racing is hard enough without your horse slipping on the flat. Will also got banged up quite badly and the horse was injured.”
“He’ll go straight to the Grand Annual. His fourth at Pakenham topped him off and he’s since won a steeple trial here.”
Wilde was given Hurry Cane to train from New Zealand with a firm instruction from his owner Raymond Connors and that was to get him to run the ten-year-old in the Grand Annual.
“Ray was a successful amateur rider. He rang up and said Hurry Cane was a good flat horse and he raced well over the hurdles odds at his first season.”
“He’s sent him over with a specific mission, the Grand Annual. I said to him it’s a bit of a task for a second season jumper. He said that’s what I’ve sent him to you for; do your best.”
Hurry Cane has already made an impact winning the Ecycle Solutions BM125 at Pakenham on April 16 at his second start for Wilde.
“He’s a good stayer and loves a heavy track. I’m looking forward to him starting in it. Both my horses are fit and ready for it.”