A TRAINER with six decades’ experience achieved a May Racing Carnival high when Bold Zamour finished runner-up in the time-honoured Grand Annual Steeplechase on Thursday.
John O’Connor cast an excitable figure in the grandstand at Warrnambool as the seven-year-old gelding gave his all in finishing second to No Song No Supper.
The Murray Bridge-based veteran was thrilled to give the Patrick Payne runner a scare in the 5500-metre, 33-fence classic.
“You have dreams, you make plans and sometimes they nearly come off,” he said.
“It is my best result in a Grand Annual and you know, it’s a wonderful story about the horse.
“You might think there is a letdown but no – I couldn’t be more proud of the horse.
“He came to me as an idiot, a fair dinkum lunatic he was.
“He was on the way to the knackery and I said ‘let me have a go at him’ because of his pedigree.”
O’Connor, 78, said he let himself think he might have scored a breakthrough Grand Annual triumph with Bold Zamour in contention at the top of the straight.
“I thought I had it. He’s a tough horse but the other horse was tougher, that’s all,” he said.
Bold Zamour almost didn’t run in the famous race.
But a strong showing at Gawler last week when he posted a track record in the steeplechase encouraged O’Connor to make the trek from South Australia.
O’Connor’s wife Merike, a school teacher, stayed home and was quick to call him after the strong finish.
“She had a free afternoon so she said to the principal ‘I’m going to watch the Grand Annual' and he said ‘I’m coming with ya’,” he said.
O’Connor, who is considering running Bold Zamour in the Grand National, said he’d had “six or seven” runners in the Annual over his training career.
He wants to keep chasing the Annual dream.
“I thought I had it won about three or four years ago when the boy fell off on Cash Advance,” he said.
“He was three in front and he was looking back at the others and the horse took off.”
O’Connor, who went to school at Hamilton’s Monivae College, started his training career as a teenager, in an era vastly different to the modern game.
“In those days there were a lot of unregistered meetings throughout the Western District – Lismore, Derrinallum, Meredith, Cressy, Birregurra – and it would see blokes pull up from Melbourne,” he said.
“They used to bring them to those places to give them a run – one horse would be Billy Blogs one day and Joe Blow the next.”