Racing in Warrnambool might not be a match for the famous Cheltenham Festival in England, and it definitely can’t be compared to Melbourne Cup week at Flemington.
However, there’s nothing like the Warrnambool Carnival in May and, this Tuesday, thanks to the foresight of Racing Victoria and the discipline of racing’s participants during the COVID-19 pandemic, the show will go on at Victoria’s seaside playground. That is, sans the adoring and joyous public that usually flock to the ‘Bool, and who make this usual three-day carnival so special.
This year, the meeting will be conducted over two days – Tuesday is an all-jumping program, while Wednesday is for the flat horses.
The Grand Annual Steeplechase, which was first run in 1872, has world significance in that its 33 fences are the most in any jumps race in the world – yes, more than the famous Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree in the UK.
The Warrnambool racecourse was inspected at 9am on Monday morning under cloudy but dry skies. The rating was a soft 7, which is an excellent result considering the amount of rain that has fallen throughout Victoria in the past week.
These are perfect conditions for jumps racing.
Grand Annual Steeplechase: A triple grand clash
The past two winners of the Grand Annual Steeplechase – the veterans Zed Em and Gold Medals – will clash with the rising star of Victoria’s jumping scene, Ablaze.
At the time of writing, Sportsbet’s Grand Annual Steeplechase betting markets has Ablaze at odds of $1.75. Gold Medals (easing at $4.20) shades Zed Em ($4.50), with Bit Of A Lad and Police Camp both next at around the $13 mark.
Ablaze is aiming to give his trainer, the long-haired former Warrnambool lad Ciaron Maher, his fifth win in his home town’s famous race. Maher won in 2010 and 2011 with Al Garhood, and in 2015 and 2017 with Al Garhood’s sister Regina Coeli.
Now one of Australia’s biggest trainers, with stables at Caulfield, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Sydney, Maher is also represented by Bit Of A Lad, who finished fourth in last year’s Grand Annual.
Maher, who trains in partnership with David Eustace, brought Ablaze over from New Zealand in 2019 with a jumps career in mind. After winning his maiden hurdle race at Coleraine in August, Ablaze showed his talent by beating Northern Voyage in the important JJ Houlahan Hurdle at Ballarat, just seven days later.
Along the way he also won Australia’s longest flat race, the Jericho Cup (4600m), over the Grand Annual ‘cross-country’ course in December. Since then, Ablaze has won on the flat at Moonee Valley (3000m), and had an easy victory at his first start over the big fence at Warrnambool on 27 March, when he beat Bit Of A Lad.
Ablaze might be the next superstar jumper for Australia, and the timing is perfect for this youthful talent to beat the old campaigners Zed Em and Gold Medals, who have fought out the last three Grand Annuals.
Zed Em reflects a value bet for such a class jumper – his price is based on his first-up flop (sixth of six) at the Pakenham steeplechase (3500m) on 19 April, where he ran behind Felix Bay. It was an inexplicable failure, but Zed Em has pleased trainer Patrick Payne since and trialled nicely at the ‘Bool on 28 April.
Zed Em has won four of his last six starts at Warrnambool over the tricky figure-eight course, with his only defeats being when he ran behind Gold Medals in the past two Grand Annuals. The Grand Annual victories have been 10-year-old Gold Medals’s only two wins in six runs on his home track.
Bit Of A Lad shouldn’t be underrated. His strong finish for second behind Ablaze at Warrnambool on 27 March suggests he’s ready to show his best, and he will stay the trip.
Grand Annual Steeplechase tips: Ablaze looks the plum bet, but he’s a short price. Save on Zed Em and Bit Of A Lad.
Brierly Steeplechase: The usual suspects fight it out
The leading jumps trainers Patrick Payne and Ciaron Maher (in partnership with David Eustace) have been able to separate their big teams of class jumpers to make sure they have the right horses in the right races.
The punters believe Euroman (Maher/Eustace) and Slowpoke Rodriguez (Payne) will fight out the finish of the Brierly Steeplechase, and this is reflected in Sportsbet’s betting market.
Brierly Steeplechase tips: Follow the top stables in this race, with Slowpoke Rodriguez just ahead of Euroman. The outsider to follow is I’ll’ava’alf, who trialled very well recently in Warrnambool.
Galleywood Hurdle: Runaway or Woodsman
Gai Waterhouse has become a Warrnambool addict – she hasn’t missed a meeting in the past six years. She gets her chance to win the big one with Runaway in the Galleywood Hurdle, but she’ll have to settle for watching the action from her couch in Sydney.
The gelding won the VRC St Leger at three, then won the 2018 Group 3 Geelong Cup and led the field to the turn in the Melbourne Cup won by Cross Counter 13 days later. He’s unbeaten in two hurdle starts at Warrnambool and Pakenham – easily.
He’s expected to win again, but the value bet seems to be former New Zealander Woodsman. The grey won impressively at Warrnambool on 27 March – the same day Runaway made his jumps debut over the same course and distance of 3200m. Woodsman ran nearly two seconds quicker, although Runaway’s finishing final 600m of 39 min 16 secs was two seconds quicker than Woodsman. Make of that what you will, but Woodsman’s price of around $4.50 in Galleywood Hurdle betting markets at the time of writing represents value for punters compared to the odds on offer for Runaway.
Galleywood Hurdle tips: Expect Runaway and Woodsman to fight it out. The value is with Woodsman.
Warrnambool Cup: All Sins are forgiven
Sin To Win isn’t exactly a horse that inspires a bet, but he could be the horse to follow in Wednesday’s Listed Warrnambool Cup.
Although Sin To Win hasn’t won since he won the Listed Ramsden Stakes (3200m) at Flemington two years ago, the Warrnambool Cup looks a race for redemption.
His strong-finishing second behind Haky at Flemington (2600m) was a sign that Sin To Win is ready to win again, and represents value in the Warrnambool Cup betting market. This was a very high-rating race that was run at a fast tempo, and Sin To Win ran on hard from 12th at the 800m to place second. One of the horses he ran past was last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Vow And Declare.
A soft 7 track is probably perfect for Sin To Win, who will be ridden by Damien Oliver for trainers David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig.
Warrnambool Cup tips: Sin To Win at the value to beat the very honest Inverlock – back them both – and Sin To Win’s stablemate Ventura Storm for third.
Wangoom Handicap: Moroney and Dunn to steal the show
Hawker Hurricane is not a horse you’d usually expect to be running in the Listed Wangoom Handicap (1200m), which is the feature sprint race at the famous May carnival.
Not many of the Wangoom’s past winners are what you’d call high-class sprinting three-year-olds, which is why Hawker Hurricane is one of the most interesting runners over the two-day carnival.
Trainer Mike Moroney has earmarked this race for the gelding and employed veteran jockey Dwayne Dunn to take the ride. Hawker Hurricane has had three runs from a spell – his most recent was a solid fourth behind Splintex and Flit in the Group 2 Arrowfield Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on 11 April. This is a significant drop in class, although he will have to overcome a wide draw. Keep an eye on the racing patterns.
Expect Hawker Hurricane’s stablemate Mr Marathon Man to run a big race. This former UK galloper was running in Group 1 races such as the George Main Stakes and Epsom Handicap in the spring and while he hasn’t won short of 1600m, he’s fresh and fit enough to win at good odds. Interestingly, Moroney has added blinkers to this horse.
Another interesting runner is Never No More, who was with Irish wizard Aidan O’Brien when he finished down the track in the Golden Eagle at Randwick in the spring. Now trained at Warrnambool by Lindsey Smith, Never No More was doing some nice work of late before coming 11th behind Prezedo at Flemington (1000m) on 25 April. Watch for a move for this horse in Wangoom Handicap betting markets.
Wangoom Handicap tips: Three chances at some sort of value for punters. Hawker Hurricane on top from stablemate Mr Marathon Man, with something smaller on Never No More if there is a sniff of money for him.
The best of the rest at Warrnambool: Look for local
Warrnambool trainers have a habit of hiding some promising horses away at this carnival. One of those is Matthew Williams, who has a big hand at the meeting. He might get his chance early on Wednesday when his filly Bella Tiara runs in Race 1 at Warrnambool. The daughter of Sepoy charged home late to come fourth behind Our Playboy at Terang – in a fast run 1000m – on 19 April, and Our Playboy franked that form by winning at Sandown last week. The booking of jockey Dwayne Dunn suggests this is the time to strike.
Other local trainers to watch, especially on Wednesday, are Symon Wilde, Aaron Purcell and Lindsey Smith.