WARRNAMBOOL jumps jockey Brad McLean admits he will be carrying the weight of home-town expectations when he and Cats Fun chase a slice of history in today’s 3YB Scotty Stewart Brierly Steeplechase.
The pair were the toast of the town when they claimed the $100,000 race last year for a big group of local owners.
Despite having to carry four kilograms more than 2013, McLean and Cats Fun are a genuine chance to secure rare back-to-back victories in the 3450-metre classic.
They are looking to become just the fifth jockey/horse combination to win consecutive Brierly Steeplechases in the 113-year history of the race.
Brian Constable achieved it twice, on Bourbon Boy (1990-91) and Al Garhood (2008-09) while Ted Byrne on Kirkwood (1961-62) and Neville Rantall on Regalo (1965-66) also claimed back- to-back triumphs.
“There is always pressure,” McLean said.
“But I don’t worry about it too much when I’m out there.
“There is always a big build-up and there is that bit of pressure but you forget about it when you’re out there. You just focus and have fun.”
While it’s the same horse and jockey, Cats Fun is prepared by Darren Weir following the disqualification of regular trainer Jarrod McLean, Brad’s older brother.
“Obviously I feel for Jarrod but it’s one of those little hurdles in life,” Brad said. “I’m sure he will come back bigger and better and I know he will be cheering me on.”
McLean said Cats Fun had enjoyed a similar preparation to last year. He was second at Sandown behind the Ciaron Maher-trained Palmero earlier this month, before the rival and today’s favourite won the Von Doussa Steeplechase at Oakbank on Easter Saturday.
“He (Cats Fun) is going good,” he said. “Obviously Palmero will be hard to catch.”
McLean said Cats Fun needed the run at Sandown and would be stronger today. They enjoyed Warrnambool’s beach yesterday.
While Cats Fun enters the race on the back of a similar build-up, McLean is in a vastly-different place to last year. He came to the carnival lacking confidence having spent the off-season trying to put his broken body back together. He had both shoulders reconstructed and had battled to regain his fitness before scoring the emotional win.
“I’m fit and healthy and so is he (Cats Fun),” McLean said.
McLean has had his left shoulder reconstructed three times, his right shoulder once and has twice broken a collarbone and once fractured a shoulder blade.
But his luck has changed. He rode Lord Of The Song to an easy win in last week’s Great Eastern Steeplechase after picking up the ride only hours earlier when Steven Pateman was ruled out because of a weight restriction placed on him by stewards.
Pateman will ride Palmero today.