JOURNEYMAN jumps jockey Richie Cully raised a sweat even before his winning ride in yesterday’s gruelling $250,000 Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool.
The 32-year-old spent an hour in the sauna early yesterday and after arriving on course sat in the sweat room for another 30 minutes just to make the weight for his ride on Chaparro in the famous 5500-metre race over 33 obstacles on a tricky cross-country course.
His weight loss was the difference between winning and losing on board the Patrick Payne-trained gelding in an epic race.
Cully and Chaparro cleared the last jump a length behind Tuesday’s Brierly Steeplechase winner Palmero and looked beaten with just 200 metres to go before surging level and striding to the lead just 25 metres from the line. The final margin was three-quarters of a length.
The triumph was the biggest of Cully’s career that has spanned 12 years for 90 wins in three countries. It was the 32-year-old’s first of 2014.
“To win it is unbelievable,” he said.
Cully, born in Sydney to Irish parents, moved to Ireland when he was 15 where he started riding. His career, confined to amateur ranks, yielded about 20 victories before he moved Sydney in 2005, working for Gai Waterhouse. After a year he moved to New Zealand where he twice won the jumps riding premiership in a six-year stint before he found his way to Victoria with Kiwi trainer John Wheeler’s horses two years ago.
He stayed when trainer Ciaron Maher suggested he could help him with track work at Caulfield.
The 183-centimetre tall Cully said it was a good decision, also picking up work for Payne.
“I wasn’t loving it when I was in the sauna this morning,” he said.
That stint came after he spent 90 minutes in the sauna on Wednesday before yesterday’s 11th hour sessions.
“That’s me bottomed,” he said of making the 64-kilograms for the ride on Chaparro.
“I wouldn’t do 63.8, 64 is it. When you have a decent chance it’s worth doing.”
Chaparro’s victory gave former group one winning jockey Payne, of Plumpton, about 30 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, his second Grand Annual triumph in three years.
Payne said the seven-year-old gelding’s career looked over about two years ago when he had a wind operation.
“I think he only works on 80 per cent capacity but he just kept coming,” Payne said.
“He still makes a bit of turbulence noise and he’s got to deal with that but he’s got such a good engine.”
He said it was fantastic to claim another Grand Annual and his plan with Chaparro, a noted wet-tracker, had been successful. He revealed he was only able to gallop Chaparro for a lap in track work, such was his wind issues.
He knew Palmero and Rangatira would be too brilliant for his runner and instructed Cully to be patient, despite being more than 15 lengths off the lead at times.
“I can’t believe it came off, it’s unbelievable.”
Payne said the Grand Annual’s history made the win special.
“My father (Paddy) was a jumps jockey and he was always watching them and we were watching them as a young kid so we have grown up with jumps racing,” he said.
The win denied Winslow trainer Ciaron Maher and Palmero a slice of jumps racing history. Palmero came within three quarters of a length of becoming the first horse in history to win the Von Doussa Steeplechase at Oakbank, the Brierly and Grand Annual in 12 days.
Maher said Palmero’s 69 kilograms, five more than Chaparro, was the difference. He was delighted with Palmero’s effort, having been settled on the heels of bold front-running Kiwi Rangatira.
Jockey Steven Pateman said Palmero would be back next year.
“I’m just so proud of the horse and so sad for him at the same time,” Pateman said.
Palmero ($3.30) was later found to have suffered a strained muscle near his girth.
Payne’s $2.50 favourite, Great Eastern Steeplechase winner Lord Of The Song, was 15 lengths away in third.
The race went without incident but the drama of the finish brought the crowd of more than 14,000 to its feet.
Murray Bridge jumper It’s The Truth was eased out of the race after tailing the field following the Tozer Road double the last time.