Jumps guru TIM HICKMAN will be covering each day of the Warrnambool Carnival for the Sportsbet Blog. Here are his thoughts on the two jumping races on the final day, including the big one, the Grand Annual. 

Last Hurdle readers continued their good run on Wednesday with Michelin getting the chocolates at the very healthy odds of $6.20 in the BM 120 Steeplechase. It was Aaron Mitchell’s first ride in a jumping race, and his effort was all the more remarkable given that he was unable to claim. A former flat jockey, he appears to have a bright future in the saddle over jumps.

The Galleywood Hurdle saw an upset with The Statesman breaking through for his first win in Australia. Given a superb ride by Will Gordon, he turned the tables on Saunter Boy from their previous meeting at Pakenham. It was a deserved victory for legendary jumps jockey cum trainer Brett Scott, who was hospitalized earlier this year after being kicked by a horse.

Race 1 – Champion Novice Hurdle

Expecting Saunter Boy to be scratched here after running in the Galleywood on Wednesday. That will leave Valac as a short-priced favourite. It’s not hard to see why, given his impressive flat form and his good jumping debut recently at Hamilton. There is no knock on the horse, but the price (likely odds on after Saunter Boy comes out) is too short.

Eckhart on the other hand is at a backable price. The Patrick Payne trained gelding was super impressive winning his jumping debut at Pakenham last year, then had the misfortune to run into Flying Agent on a Heavy 15 at Ballarat. Patrick Payne has given him four hurdle trials so he should come here at peak fitness.

I find it very hard to see either of them being beaten.

Race 7 – Grand Annual – Runner by Runner

The race we have all been waiting for – 33 fences, 5500 metres. The ultimate test of horse and rider. It doesn’t get better than this.

Lines up for his fourth crack at this race, having placed first (2019), second (2018) and third (2020). You can make an argument that he isn’t quite the force he was. Spying On You beat him comfortably in the Great Eastern at Oakbank, a race nothing had been able to get within drop punt distance of him in years past. Given that and the 71Kg, he looks well enough found at the $4.00. If he got to $6.00 or better he would be worth a ticket.

At time of writing it was said to be “very likely” he backs up from Tuesday, with last year’s Annual winning jockey, Shane Jackson, coming out of retirement to take the mount. He ran really well in the Brierly, but my concern is that he has had two goes at this race before and to my eye, he just doesn’t see out the trip. With 69Kg he isn’t particularly well weighted here either. Happy to oppose at his current price.

Lining up for his fourth crack at the race having placed first (2018) and second twice (2019 and 2020). His record in the race is outstanding, but he is 11 years of age now. You’d be foolish to rule him out and I think he is at about his right price. With 68.5Kg he is very well weighted considering his credentials around this track.

Lining up for his fifth crack at this race having finished third twice (2018 and 2019), fifth (2016) and sixth (2017). Finishing in the top three or four would appear to be his ceiling given he is well exposed here, and probably runs that bit better on firm ground. One for exotics.

Ex-UK jumper who won his only start over obstacles in Australia, the Von Doussa Steeplechase at Oakbank, in a remarkable battle with Zed Em. Given he is a four-time winner over jumps in the UK he has strong credentials, which were confirmed by the fact he was able to adapt to Oakbank. Warrnambool is a tougher test but Ciaron Maher’s horses are always exceptionally well prepared for this race and the fact Steven Pateman elected to ride him is telling. Entitled to be favourite, but no certainty.

Kiwi jumper who has had plenty of experience over jumps at home, including a second placing in last year’s Great Northern Steeplechase at Ellerslie. That race has a number of similarities with the Annual (they go up and down a hill twice and jump plenty of fences), and the fact he was sharp enough to beat admittedly a limited field last time at Pakenham suggests he has adapted to Australian conditions well. Terrific value and the best bet in the race.

Late scratching from the Brierly due to lameness and that is a less than positive sign coming into this. Even at absolute peak form he wouldn’t rate a winning chance.

Didn’t jump well in the Brierly on Tuesday and I would be surprised if he went around. No appeal if so.

Dislodged the rider at the second of the Tozer Road double in the Brierly on Tuesday. He was still travelling okay there but I would be shocked if he did anything here.

Comes from a top jumping stable but he is a big query in this grade and at the trip.

Finished third of five in the Great Eastern but a long way off the winner. He can go around without me.

Grand Annual Tips

I’m predicting a changing of the guard in this year’s Annual. I’ve got Yensir as my top pick and will be backing both him and Napoleon, who is terrific value.

  1. Yensir
  2. Napoleon
  3. Zed Em
  4. Gold Medals