IT'S a race in two.
That's how leading players are billing today's $150,000 Flying Horse Bar and Brewery Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m).
Tuesday's Brierly Steeplechase winner Vindicating, which is undefeated in three jumps starts this season, squares off against Great Eastern Steeplechase winner, Kiwi raider Petushki.
It could also be billed as a race between Cranbourne trainer Robbie Laing who has three runners, Vindicating, Plumtastic and The Member, and New Zealander John Wheeler, who prepares Petsuhki and Banna Strand.
While Vindicating won the Von Doussa at Oakbank ahead of Petushki, Laing opted to bypass the Great Eastern to have him cherry ripe for a crack at the Warrnambool double.
Vindicating stormed to victory on Tuesday in the 3450m Brierly and was in fine fettle at Warrnambool's beach yesterday as Laing cast a close eye on him ahead of today's famous race.
Vindicating waded in the icey waters and then galloped on the beach from the yacht club to beyond the surf club and back twice.
Petushki, which won the 4950-metre Great Eastern by five lengths, was all the rage...until Tuesday.
Wheeler's stable foreman Brett Scott, who has overseen Petushki's build up this week, could see why.
"He was pretty good, it looks like he will stick on," Scott said of his stable's rival.
He said the fact that Vindicating almost fell after another horse stumbled on landing and lost momentum in the closing stages, made the win more meritorious.
But he said the question remained on whether Vindicating could run out the 5500-metres after clearing 33 obstacles.
"The thing about Petushki, he's got a bit of form over 4000 metres-plus and Vindicating still has to do that.
"He (Petushki) doesn't spend a penny in the run, he's so relaxed."
Winslow's Ciaron Maher, who trains Al Garhood agreed.
"You know Petushki will run the distance but Vindicating gives every indication he will," he said.
Maher believed Petushki and Vindicating would fight it out.
Scott said the worry for Petushki was the ground.
"He's not really that happy in the heavy," he said.
Scott said last year's winner Al Garhood was a grand old campaigner and would be in the mix. But he said Mali Juraj, a horse he rode to second behind Al Garhood last year, was no where near as good as Petushki.
Laing said his three runners had pulled up well and would run big races today.
He said the trio was trained to run the 5500 metres.
"They will get the distance," he said.
He said Vindicating was bright yesterday morning at the beach.
Laing predicted The Member would be the big improver, saying he had given jockey Ken Whelan poor instructions in the Brierly.
"I said to him to follow Vindicating but I never expected him to be so far back so they were last," he said.
"Effectively he has had three trials, last Wednesday, Sunday and Tuesday."
Rockbank trainer Patrick Payne said he had set his jumper Awakening Dream for the Annual.
He trialled at Warrnambool last week before giving him a run at Pakenham on Monday over 2428 metres.
Murray Bridge trainer John O'Connor is hoping Fasilenko, a $2000 horse he bought as a birthday gift for his wife, can deliver him his first Grand Annual success.
Fasilenko was third in the Great Eastern and indicated he could stay the 5500 metres.
He will be joined by stablemate Cash Advance which was seventh in the Brierly on Tuesday.
In early fixed odds markets, TAB Sportsbet had Petsuhki a $2.10 favourite ahead of Vindicating ($4.40) and Awakening Dream ($8).
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