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The other Grand Annual down under is thriving

23-February-2023 11:08
in General
by Peter McNeile

The history of our sport in the Victorian era has spawned a host of races with splendidly arcane and grandiose names, and copycat events all over the world. The Grand National, mother of all steeplechases, has dozens of re-incarnations in those countries that still practise jump racing, as well as many here at home, where every self-respecting jumps course has a long distance steeplechase masquerading under a Grand National suffix. 

But the international impact of our British races was brought home to me again recently when travelling around Victoria, Australia, just about the only state down under still persevering with racing over obstacles. Following the demise of racing at Oakbank in nearby South Australia, Victoria is now the only Australian state to continue the sport. 

Ballarat, about an hour east of Melbourne, is an impressive galloping track hosting fixtures across all disciplines, and ably run by the affable Belinda Glass. the 4,500m Grand National Steeplechase in the height of the Australian winter in August regularly attracts a big field. It's not the same at all as the Aintree version, but no less entertaining, and the fact that 1,000 horses are trained at Ballarat ensures that the race is well supported by trainers both nearby and from further afield. 

In the UK, betting on the National far surpasses any other race. Australian racing has a different and more sustainable business model than the UK, but Grand National offers abound even so. St Arnicca gave Irishman William McCarthy his biggest ever winner in the AUS $350,000 race last August.

I was also able to introduce myself to the people behind a race that is close to Andoversford's heart - the Grand Annual. In Australia, the Grand Annual is on a par with Ballarat's Grand National - a showpiece Jump race at Warrnambool Racecourse not far off the Wild Ocean Way, where the scenery is nothing short of extraordinary. 

The Grand Annual was first staged at Warrnambool in 1872, 38 years after its first incarnation at Andoversford, so proving that success can travel fast! Copying the Cheltenham example, the May Racing festival in which the Grand Annual takes centre stage, is a midweek affair from Tuesday-Thursday, showcasing the best Jump racing in Australia, bar none. The race enjoyed a 150th anniversary in 2022. 


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4m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)


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