A locally-trained winner of the Great Eastern for the first time since 2003 was one of the many highlights from this year’s Easter Racing Carnival at Oakbank.
Spying on You, named Australia’s Most Consistent Jumping Horse in 2016, produced a barnstorming finish to run down the gallant Undergroundfighter on the line to claim the 4950m Great Eastern Steeplechase on Easter Monday, giving Murray Bridge’s Grant Young his first win in the race as a trainer, seventeen years after he piloted Bruskin to victory as a jockey.
Undergroundfighter, trained by Tony Rosolini, looked to have the race in his grasp after clearing the last of Oakbank’s live hedges well in the clear after a bold, pacesetting ride by Darryl Horner Jnr, but Tom Ryan and Spying on You timed their run to perfection, getting up in the last couple of strides to clinch a famous victory in the time-honoured chase, and giving popular Irish hoop Ryan his first win in the race. Two-time winner and Oakbank legend Lord of the Song was third, a testament to his incredible durability, after the 11YO gelding had almost snatched victory in the Von Doussa two days before.
Spying on You was Young’s second winner of the Carnival, after his stayer Spur on Gold took the honours in the 3600m Heat of the Jericho Cup earlier in the day.
Monday’s other feature, the 3600m Somerled Classic Hurdle, saw Patrick Payne’s Angelology put in a flawless jumping display to win the $100,000 race comfortably. Ridden by Steven Pateman, Angelology settled back in the field on the first circuit of the Adelaide Hills course, before hitting the front for the first time three out from home when last year’s winner Now And Zen (John Allen) made a mistake from which he never quite recovered. From that point on, Pateman never looked troubled and kicked away over the final two hurdles in the straight to win by 6 lengths.
Angelology was Patrick Payne’s second winner of the Carnival, after Zed Em led virtually all the way to take the honours in Saturday’s 3250m Von Doussa Steeplechase. Richard Cully took Zed Em to the front early on, and after the last looked to have the race securely in his keeping, but a stunning late burst down the outside rail by veteran chaser Lord of the Song (who won this race in 2013) produced a thrilling finish, with Zed Em managing to hold on to win by half a length.
In Saturday’s 2900m BM120 Hurdle, South Australian jumps fans were hoping that Nick Smart’s Distillation would be able to make it two Oakbank wins in succession after taking out the hurdle at the Prelude meeting two weeks previously, but despite being on almost level terms as they approached the last in the straight, Darren Weir’s Renew proved too strong, jumping the last brilliantly for John Allen to ease away and win by 4 lengths.
In a new award presented at the Carnival this year for the first time, the Sire Custodians Leading Jumps Trainer Prize was awarded to Patrick Payne, while John Allen picked up the prize as the Carnival’s leading jumps jockey.
Another highlight at Oakbank this year was the special guest appearance of Bob Champion, the legendary jumps jockey whose win in the 1981 Grand National aboard Aldaniti is one of sport’s greatest comeback stories. The lunch held in Bob’s honour at The Haus in Hahndorf on Easter Sunday in aid of the Cancer Council was a splendid occasion, and his highly entertaining interview with Melbourne Cup winning jockey and Adelaide racing legend John Letts was a real joy for the big crowd that came to meet Bob and learn more about his career and highly successful fundraising activities.
What jumps racing supporters can take away from this year’s Carnival was the depth and quality of the fields, with some of the country’s best jumping horses on display. It is also hoped that a local win in the Great Eastern, SA’s premier steeplechase, will provide a further spur to the renewed growth of jumps in the state, where the number of locally-trained horses has been steadily increasing, although there is still much to be done to continue to grow the industry here.