Declan Maher is in awe of Stern Idol in terms of his physique and his jumping capabilities but even he regards it “as the $1 million question” as to whether he will handle the 5500 metres and the 33 jumps plus the quirky contours of the Warrnambool track in the Grand Annual Steeplechase.
Maher, who oversees the jumping arm of his brother Ciaron and Dave Eustace’s stable, believes Stern Idol has the smarts to handle the track.
Ciaron Maher has already trained the most Grand Annual winners in history with six and in addition to Stern Idol, the stable will have another imported galloper Rockstar Ronnie in the event. Declan in his own right as a trainer has Epizeel run in the event.
“Stern Idol is a beast of an animal and to do what he did last year when he won his Australian jumps debut over the hurdles at Warrnambool, horses don’t win like that,” Maher said.
“He’s got to relax. He’s got to run 5500m but he’s got Steve (Pateman) on his back and he knows his way around Warrnambool. He’s been schooled there a couple of times, he’s been left and he’s been right around here,” Maher said.
“Also, he’s been educated well in France; he’s clever and he goes over a fence better than a hurdle. In France he would go out every day and Selim Agbal said they would go out in a line of 10 to 15 horses and they would jump hurdles in the dark.”
“All we’ve had to do is teach him to relax. Horses don’t win races like him but it’s still the great unknown as to how he handles the trip and the course.”
Maher said their last two winners Heberite and Ablaze had both had the advantage of having been familiar with the 5500m circuit by having run in the Jericho Cup the year before.
Maher said he expected the two former United Kingdom hurdlers Rockstar Ronnie, who they train and also Aaron Purcell’s Crosshill to be the dangers to Stern Idol.
“Rockstar Ronnie’s first start was over 4200 metres and he’s a genuine three miler. He’s well credentialed for a Grand Annual having won three hurdle and steeple events which is a feat in itself,” he said.
Maher’s own runner Epizeel will be ridden by Willie McCarthy who won last year’s Grand Annual Steeple and he said he’s confident he will run the trip out.
"Willie calls him a “Combine Harvester” as he keeps on working and working," he said.
“He hasn’t done as much jumping as he’s only had three starts over them but he knows his way around the course having been placed in the Jericho,” Maher said.