AN early wade in Warrnambool’s icy Lady Bay this morning will help determine whether yesterday’s 3YB Scotty Stewart Brierly Steeplechase winner Palmero backs up in tomorrow’s $250,000 Grand Annual.
The Ciaron Maher-trained gelding produced a bold front-running performance to win the feature jumps event on the opening day of Warrnambool’s May Racing Carnival.
But Maher, who grew up at nearby Winslow before becoming a jumps jockey riding in races like the Grand Annual, will wait and see how the gelding pulls up before making a decision on a start in tomorrow’s 5500-metre marathon that includes 33 obstacles on a cross-country course.
Palmero, ridden by champion jockey Steven Pateman, led home a quinella for locals, with last year’s winner, the Warrnambool-owned and ridden Cats Fun, second.
The Brierly victory was Maher’s third in seven years and came 10 days after Palmero won the Von Doussa Steeplechase at Oakbank in the Adelaide Hills.
Maher was delighted with the result but his celebrations were low-key.
“Relief,” he said of his emotion when Pateman guided Palmero across the finish line more than three lengths ahead of the Darren Weir-trained Cats Fun.
Maher was anxious because the eight-year-old had never raced around the tricky course.
The first time Palmero had set foot on the track was early on Sunday when Pateman schooled him over the notorious Tozer Road double. He then cantered Palmero back up the hill for a second look.
It paid off yesterday. Palmero, the $1.80 favourite, spaced his rivals in the Brierly paddock and by the time he cleared the Tozer Road double he was more than five lengths in front.
But he almost clipped the wing on the fourth-last jump and lost momentum.
Maher said his charge suffered “white line fever”.
“He’s pretty bold,” he said.
“Top ride by Steve. He takes a bit of riding this horse, he is very aggressive.
“He just sat on him and was very patient, he was able to get it done.
“He seems to have a really good cruising speed. He made a mistake there the other day at Sandown and he can recover. He has that inner strength.”
He said horses tended to sharpen their focus after a stumble.
Maher, who won the race in 2008 and 2009 with Al Garhood, which went on to win two Grand Annuals, said Palmero was better than his retired champion.
“This horse is probably a little bit better horse than Al Garhood — he was tough and extremely good around this course. This horse is very adaptable.”
Maher was a little worried about how Palmero would handle the heavy going after 24.2mm of rain fell in six-and-a-half hours on the course up to 11am yesterday.
But one of his owners assured him he had a victory over jumps in New Zealand on a heavy track.
The victory was a big thrill for Palmero’s owners who include Melbourne Racing Club chairman Mike Symons and former Moonee Valley committee man Craig Opie.
All of them experienced a win at the carnival with Black And Bent in the Galleywood Hurdle in 2012 and most were involved with former Brierly and Galleywood winner Some Are Bent.
“We are lucky enough to be a group of mates, group of good friends, and today is probably the top of the tree for us and we will take it to our graves,” Opie said at the presentations.
He said the plan to win the Brierly was hatched 12 months ago and he credited Maher for achieving it.
Opie said he was thrilled with the triumph: “I jumped every jump with him.”
Palmero denied Warrnambool jockey Brad McLean back-to-back victories on Cats Fun.
“I was just so confident in the run but Palmero just kept running and we couldn’t catch him,” McLean said.
Darren Weir’s other runner in the race, Via Savoia was a further two-lengths away third in a good trial for tomorrow.