First step to Grand Annual

RESPECTED jumps trainer Fran Houlahan hopes to use a benchmark 120 steeplechase (3450 metres) at Warrnambool today as a stepping stone to next year’s Grand Annual Steeplechase.

Houlahan, who trains in partnership with her husband Brian Johnston, said jumper Hempstead could be headed to the famous race if he does well in today’s race.

“Hempstead’s had a few jumps races around Warrnambool and schooled well,” she said.

“He’ll be better suited to marathon races like the Grand Annual. He stays all day.

“He failed in the Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank over Easter because he had the wrong bit. He’s a young horse who should derive plenty of experience from running in another steeplechase around Warrnambool.”

Houlahan, the daughter of the late jumps legend Jim Houlahan, has two other runners in the two jumps races on the 10-race program. 

She saddles up Redevelop in a benchmark 120 hurdle and Red Eye Special in the maiden hurdle and believes both will run forward races.

“Redevelop is running in a very strong race,” she said. 

“I would say on paper it looks a tough race to win but Redevelop has had only the one jumps race in this campaign last week at Hamilton and I’m sure there’s plenty of improvement in him after that run.

“Red Eye Special is a nice type of horse. His effort to run third at his jumps debut last week was very good. I rate him as an exciting jumping horse.”

Clayton Douglas is the son of Grand Annual Steeplechase-winning trainer Vic Douglas. Clayton has done extensive schooling on the three horses and rides them in their respective races with the luxury of a three-kilogram claim.

“Clayton’s doing a great job,” Houlahan said. 

“He’s been schooling horses for us for a fair while. His career has not been rushed. He’s a good kid who listens to what he is told. 

“I’m sure he’s got a bright future in front of him. 

“Clayton is still learning the jumps riding caper. I’m sure he will go well as he’s keen and willing to learn and listen.”

The first of 10 races, a maiden hurdle over 3200 metres, is scheduled to start at 11.30am with the last race at 4.45pm.

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