What a difference a year makes.
Bob Charley stood on the hill watching last year’s Grand Annual Steeplechase and when his runner Man Of Class galloped by with only 150 metres to run he was convinced he was about to achieve long-held ambition of becoming a winning owner.
But the chasing horse Banna Strand edged ahead and claimed a famous victory.
Yesterday, the 75-year-old, who drives the 1600-kilometres from Port Macquarie each year for the past 12 carnivals, was in a similar spot on the hill. This time his horse Chaparro looked gone when he wearily trudged by him. But somehow the Patrick Payne-trained gelding kicked again and edged ahead of a brave Palmero with 25 metres to run.
Instead of trudging from the Hill, Charley bounced down towards the mounting yard with tears of joy in his eyes.
“We are all really delighted about it,” he said.
“It’s like eight birthdays rolled into one.
“It’s the crowning achievement of my involvement in the racing industry.”
That’s a big statement. Charley was the chairman of the Australian Jockey Club in Sydney for five years, he received an Order of Australia in 2001 for his lifetime contribution to racing and is chairman of the Australian Hall of Fame selection committee.
Charley’s long-time wish has been to claim the Grand Annual.
He had hoped to have three runners yesterday but the Ciaron Maher-trained Man Of Class was bitten by a white-tailed spider and missed a key period of training. He won’t run again until next season. His other hope, the John Wheeler-trained Seeking The Silver, also went amiss.
An emotional Charley ranked Chaparro’s win alongside his group 1 victory of Jymcarew in the 2005 Canterbury Guineas.
“I’ve been lucky to have owned various horses that have won races but I rate the win of Chaparro as a highlight,” he said.
“The Grand Annual is such an iconic race. I rate the Grand Annual as one of the most spectacular races in the world.
“I love the Warrnambool carnival.”
Charley described yesterday’s Grand Annual as a “fantastic spectacle”.
“I’m a self-confessed jumps fanatic. I just can’t wait for next year’s carnival.”