Sunday’s Grand National Steeplechase has attracted a tremendous field.
It’s the strongest I can recall, headlined by the great Wells who will attempt to win the race for an astonishing fourth time.
With Richard Cully aboard, Wells has scored thrilling wins in the Mosstrooper Steeple and Crisp Steeple this time in. Weights favoured the champ in those two races and it will be much tougher for him back to handicap conditions on Sunday. He must carry 73.5kg.
Unfortunately, I am not allowed to ride in the National this year. I was booked for Bit of a Lad but the Hayes/Dabernig-trained Surging Wave is in the field.
I prepared Surging Wave when he won at Casterton on August 11. He moved back to his original trainers after that but the rules state that 28 days must elapse before the previous trainer (dual licence holder) can take another ride in the race.
It’s frustrating to miss the feature as Bit of a Lad is a definite each-way chance.
Patrick Payne looks to have the strongest hand. He runs the last-start Grand National Hurdle winner Tallyho Twinkletoe along with rising star Slowpoke Rodriguez.
Both horses are in outstanding order.
Tallyho Twinkletoe won a maiden steeplechase by seven lengths prior to coming to Australia (from NZ).
Slowpoke Rodriguez is extremely well weighted (64kg). Wells beat him by a short head in the Crisp Steeple.
Another really interesting runner in the field is visiting New Zealander Shamal. He has won five of his past eight over fences. It should be a mighty race.
Down to the wire ...
Ballarat’s all-jumps meeting will have many highlights, including the outcome of the J. J. Houlahan Championships.
The series started with the Von Doussa Steeple at Oakbank back in April. 12 points are awarded for first, eight for second, six for third, four for fourth and two for fifth for each of the nominated races. There are awards for the leading horse, trainer and jockey.
I have an unassailable lead (42 points) for the jockeys’ title and Patrick Payne has a 22-point lead in the trainers’ championship.
The leading horse contest, however, is still very much “alive”. Through his Von Doussa, Great Eastern and Grand Annual Steeple wins, Zed Em has 36 points.
Bit of a Lad (30) is only six behind him. Last year’s Grand National Steeple runner-up Spying on You (24) or Wells (24) could move to 36 points and level with Zed Em if they win the National on Sunday.
Gobstopper can bounce back
I have a good ride in Sunday’s 3200m Houlahan Hurdle; the talented Kiwi Gobstopper.
He made a big impression when winning the Brendan Dreschler Hurdle (3500m) at Pakenham at his local debut on July 21. After that he was pulled out midway through the Grand National Hurdle as his rider was concerned the horse was making an abnormal sound.
Gobstopper is now with Eric Musgrove and if he can run to his best he’s a huge chance.
Up-and-comers Northern Voyage and Robbie’s Star will be toughest to beat.
Gotta top chance
I’m looking forward to getting back on Euroman in the Gotta Take Care Hurdle (4000m).
I won on him at Casterton back in June. Since then he has placed three times in four runs. 4000m suits.
Hardest to beat will be Firefree.
Include in multiples ...
Three horses I train will be competitive on Sunday. My Four Oh Nine can be expected to be finishing powerfully in the 3400m maiden. I’ll be riding him.
Laylite and Mapping run in benchmark 120 steeple (3200m). Laylite is a last-start winner who has done well since.
Last Sunday’s Great Western Steeplechase program at Coleraine was a ripper — for me, especially, after Historic turned in an awesome performance to win the feature.
Historic is a great advertisement for jumps racing. For starters he proves you don’t have to pay much for a competitive jumper. We paid $4,000 for Historic and for his victory last Sunday he picked up prizemoney totalling $32,700.
He wasn’t quick enough for hurdle racing but adapted beautifully to the bigger obstacles and longer trips.
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