By Michael Manley
Both Warrnambool Racing Club's Chief Executive Tom O’Connor and Australia’s foremost jumps trainer, Eric Musgrove, left the recent jumps trials at the track on April 23 with smiles on their faces.
They were in buoyant moods after they had watched 97 jumpers participate in 19 trials consisting of 14 hurdle trials and five steeplechase trials with a faultless report card.
For O’Connor those numbers ensured there will be ten races each day over the three-day carnival.
On Tuesday, there are four jumps races consisting of three maiden hurdles which have attracted 16 acceptors consisting of ten runners and six emergencies. The Brierly Steeplechase has attracted 12 runners.
Musgrove is not only a renowned trainer but he is also passionate about jumps racing and making it safer and he was thrilled with what he had seen.
Musgrove is also a board member of the Australian Jumps Racing Association and he left those trials more than satisfied.
“We didn’t have a faller or a horse lose a jockey with almost 100 horses going around. It was a great result and a fantastic lead in to the carnival,” Musgrove said.
He said it was also vindication for the hard work done by the AJRA and Racing Victoria to continually make the sport safer.
Two years ago, the AJRA and Racing Victoria introduced EasyFit Steeplechases and Musgrove said that had led to improvement in the safety for the fencers.
This year RV and the AJRA have introduced a new type of hurdle known as OneFit hurdles and Musgrove said they are already making an impact.
The experienced trainer said that was a good portent for a successful week at Warrnambool and for the on-going jumps season.
“That was the most we’ve ever had trial on that day so it was an enormous result. Every horse and rider got around safely,” Musgove said.
He pointed out there were 14 hurdles trials on that day.
Musgrove said the introduction of the OneFit hurdles this year had played a part in this result.
“In recent years the steeplechases have also had their jumps modified and become EasyFit steeples
“The introduction of the OneFit hurdles is the continuation of our main concern which is horse welfare. “
Musgrove said last year the AJRA and RV trialled them without formally introducing them.
“There would be a couple in each jumps' trial. They were an enormous success. We are trying to minimise problems as much as we can and this is a huge step forward,” Musgrove said.
Musgrove said the main driver behind the push for the new style of hurdle was AJRA chairman Sandy McGregor who had watched their success in England.
“They weren’t brought in over-night. They’ve been used successfully in England. Sandy McGregor and the AJRA did a lot of work in getting them here,” he said.
“Sandy organised the prototype for RV to look at and they were very happy.”
The OneFit design is a modified hurdle frame with a custom fitting closed-cell foam pad replacing the traditional birch.
Musgrove said they were easy and quick to assemble and feature hurdle races would not have to be run before the flat races in the future.
O’Connor said the jumps races were the backbone of the carnival and the nominations for the week proved that jumps racing was on an upwards spiral
Last year was O’Connor’s first Warrnambool carnival as chief executive and although it was a carnival with a difference being reduced to two days with one of flat racing and one of jumps racing he still found out that it was the key element of the carnival.
“There was such a huge difference in the atmosphere between the first and the second day. The jumps' day was exciting. The atmosphere was electric even with only a handful of people on the track,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said he expected ten races to be held each day.
He said he expected crowds of 6000 on the opening two day and then the final day was already a sell-out with a COVID safe capacity crowd of 12,000.
That will rival Flemington’s Super Saturday as the biggest crowd to attend a Victorian race meeting since the COVID outbreak.