Andoversford takes great pride in being the first site of the Grand Annual Chase in 1834, but our colonial cousins have adopted the rasce and then some. They are still racing in Australia and Tuesday's Waterfront by Lyndoch Living Grand Annual at Warrnambool is the most valuable running of the Grand Annual anywhere at AUS $315,000, (£161,000), and part of a breathtaking 8 race card worth Aus $770,000 (£395,000). Eight go to post for this handicap over nearly 3 1/2 miles.
Australian Jump racing hasn't had the best of times recently, and is limited to South Australia and Victoria. New South Wales banned Jumping in 1997. It's only a recent injection, both of money, marketing effort and a focus on safety that has seen it through a rough patch that threatened to outlaw the sport altogether.
Past winners Gold Medals (2018) and top weight Zed Em (2019) face stiff opposition from the unbeaten Ablaze. Gold Medals is trained locally and usually peaks at this meeting each year. He won the Grand Annual in 2018 (defeating Zed Em) and 2nd in 2019 (behind Zed Em) and looks to be going as well as ever judging by his effortless trial win here on 28 April. Question marks are lack of a steeplechase start this season to date and a genuinely heavy track wouldn’t be ideal. He receives 3.5kgs from Zed Em.
Top weight Zed Em is the reigning Grand Annual champion and an absolute superstar when right (21 jumps starts over for 13 wins & 5 places). He loves tracks like Warrnambool and Oakbank where frequent jumps places a premium on his jumping ability. Disappointing last start at Pakenham when eased out of the race late, trainer saying the horse was “bored and not enough jumps to keep him interested”. The top weight is only 7kg higher since all the weights have beenincreased during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The springer in the pack is the appropriately named Ablaze. Bought relatively cheaply from New Zealand, he has already won 2 hurdles last season, the Jericho Cup in December (one of Australia's leading races) and a BM84 on the flat at Moonee Valley. He is the fastest horse in the race, the best stayer, loves heavy, but the only slight query is his jumping. He was initially targeting the Brierly Chase on the same card, only to switch to the Annual. He was not super fluent at Warrnambool when winning on 27 March, has trialled again on 28 April and was only fair, making mistakes at the last 2 fences. His jumping would need to improve to win the Annual at only his 2nd steeplechase start.
You can get your fix of Steeplechasing down under on Tuesday starting at 02.45, so set your alarm early and pick up the coverage on .
STOP PRESS: Racing abandoned due to Virus concerns
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)