THE early start to the jumps racing season is being blamed for the axing of next week’s first steeplechase of the year.
Racing Victoria (RV) officials yesterday made the decision to dump the steeplechase from Monday’s season-opening jumps races at Warrnambool because of a lack of qualified horses.
RV’s racing operations manager Paul Bloodworth said the race had originally attracted four nominations and a fifth runner was entered after the deadline was extended.
But two of the original four were deemed to be ineligible because they had not previously trialled or raced over Warrnambool’s cross-country course.
That rule was introduced in a bid to improve safety in the sport.
“That left us with three and we were not prepared to go ahead with three,” Bloodworth said. “Two of those three were nominated for the hurdle as well.”
Bloodworth said it was disappointing the season would open without a steeplechase.
“The only reason this race was on was because the Australian Jumping Racing Association requested steeplechase lead-ups to Oakbank, which falls very early this year,” he said.
Oakbank, which is traditionally held on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday, falls on March 31 and April 1.
While it is a week early this year, it opens the door for more horses to back up from Oakbank for Warrnambool’s famous May Racing Carnival.
Bloodworth said it was difficult to assess numbers for jumps races this season so early.
“It’s the first race of the season. The first race of the season has lower numbers,” he said.
He said he wasn’t worried about numbers yet.
“The numbers around at the moment look good. But it’s really hard to tell because we are starting so early,” he said.
Bloodworth said he hoped jumps race fields would reach an average of eight runners this season, having been below that for the last couple of years.
“We would be very happy if we can get that average up to eight,” he said.
He said hurdle numbers seemed strong, underlined by 40 entries for trials that had to be scrapped yesterday because of an unsafe wet track at Pakenham.
“We are starting really a month early and the tracks are firmer now, so it’s harder to get the horses fitter for trials and races,” he said.