RUNAWAY horse Banna Strand came from nowhere. One minute, the spectators were watching the thrilling Grand Annual Steeplechase from Warrnambool's Tozer Road, the next they were screaming in terror and running for safety.
With their attention fixed on the race they had no idea that riderless Banna Strand had slipped away from the pack and come around almost behind them before leaping a two-metre-high fence straight into their midst.
Barrier attendant Denis Slattery, who was positioned on the back straight, saw the seven-year-old gelding leap over the fence.
"I just heard the screams and (saw) people running everywhere," he said.
Fellow barrier attendant Brendan Bell said: "The screams were shocking. It was unbelievable."
"I didn't realise there were people there. I just heard the screams."
Warrnambool brothers Tim and Mat Morse were standing on a neighbour's front lawn near the crowd.
Both brothers said it was a sickening sight as Banna Strand ploughed into the crowd.
"From where we were standing it looked like it just jumped into the crowd of people," Mat said.
"I thought someone was going to be killed.
"It just appeared out of nowhere. You could see the horse come down (the track) but it was way off line (for the jump) then you couldn't see it until it came over the fence.
"I was amazed it could jump that high and it cleared the police car."
Tim said spectators often gathered on the road to watch the race and he chose to stand on the elevated lawn area near the fence, believing it was a safer spot.
The Standard photographer Angela Milne, who was at the jump, described the scene as "chaotic".
"Everyone just screamed and then started ringing ambulances," she said.
"It was really hard for the ambulances to get there because the race was still going."
Rachael Bell and Thalia Gore were among the spectators who rushed to the aid of the injured and were clearly in shock after the incident.
"I'm still shaking. My legs are jelly," Ms Bell said.
Rock anthem Running on Empty blaring from a backyard stereo made for an ironic soundtrack as Banna Strand continued his stampede through the nearby residential neighbourhoods.
Over the fence, children playing in a suburban parkland between Whitehead Court and McGregors Road heard the rumble of hooves on turf and asphalt.
Sebastian Wright, 8, said he was sitting in the back seat of a car when he saw the horse coming.
He said he ducked behind the front passenger seat as the horse kicked in the side of the vehicle.
He was startled but not hurt and later regaled primary-school friends about his lucky escape.
"I didn't notice anything until I heard a big thud on the roof of the car," Sebastian said.
"It was pretty scary. I didn't know what was going on but I just hid between the two seats. Only a couple of seconds and it was gone."
The agitated gelding then made its way through the playground.
Children on the playground set and wandering across the reserve were fortunate not to be in the path of Banna Strand.
Eight-year-old Tori Parsons and her younger brother, Dylan, were walking between the jungle gym and Ngarrakeetoon Community House only metres away.
The seven-year-old boy said he managed to push one of his young friends out of the horse's path.
"I saw the horse run straight through. It left these big hoof marks," Dylan said.
"(My friend) Riley was nearly hit by the horse. I pushed him out of the way and he fell on the ground but he wasn't hurt."
Community House supervisor Michele Featherby missed witnessing the horse cutting through the park but was alerted to the incident only seconds after the event.
She said the near-miss proved that containment lines to keep racehorses within the course were not adequate.
"I'm still in shock, I just cannot believe what's happened," Ms Featherby said.
"I know the races bring thousands of people to Warrnambool and all the revenue that comes with it but surely they (the event organisers) could have proper barriers or fences in place to stop this sort of thing occurring."
By TINA LIPTAI, ALEX SINNOTT and GREG BEST.