It takes a lot to upstage Ciaron Maher when he wins a Grand Annual Steeplechase in his own backyard, but he had to take a back seat to his winning jockey Chris McCarthy after he led throughout to win the 5500m marathon on Rockstar Ronnie.
It was the tall 32-year-old Irishman McCarthy who was the focus of the crowd’s attention. He was even hoisted on the shoulders of his mates and taken back to the jockeys’ room after the race.
There were chants of “There’s one Chris McCarthy”, there was cheering and clapping. McCarthy even did a Frankie Dettori star jump when he returned to the mounting yard.
For Maher it was his third win in a row in the Grand Annual Steeplechase with co-trainer Dave Eustace. Maher took his own tally to seven winners, and he has eclipsed his previous record of six wins.
It was McCarthy’s 11th win over the jumps and his first this season from 21 rides over the obstacles.
“I can’t believe it. I have to thank Ciaron Maher and Declan Maher from when I schooled him and I put my hand up," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he was a cheeky fella and that's why he asked for the ride.
"They probably wanted someone better but I will gladly repay them,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy led throughout on the Irish import Rockstar Ronnie and said he had never felt as alone as he did in the closing stages when he was in front.
“I haven’t been here for a while and it is good to be back. What they’ve done for us - look at the crowd and the cheers when we got back. You can’t put words to it. It was the best feeling in the world," he said.
“From the whole way up the stands, everyone is roaring.”
McCarthy said during the first lap Rockstar Ronnie wanted to go a bit quicker so he decided to lead. The horse jumped absolutely super. Full credit to the horse,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy was riding trackwork and only decided to take up riding in 2019 when Big Blue won the Galleywood Hurdle.
Maher said he was pleased McCarthy had ridden the winner as he had worked for him for a lot of years.
He also thanked his team and his brother Declan who runs the jumping arm of his stable. He said Rockstar Ronnie’s ownership group who were avid jumps supporters had bought the horse from Ireland specifically to win the Grand Annual Steeplechase.
The win was Maher’s 14th feature Warrnambool jumps winner and he equalled the legendary Jim Houlahan’s tally.
The odds-on favourite, the stablemate of the winner, Stern Idol, was in the leading division but dropped out with 800 metres to go and was eased out of the race by Steve Pateman.
“He hit a couple of jumps. Because we were trying to hang on to him to run the trip, but he didn’t run it. There have been plenty of times I’ve ridden the boom horse but it hasn’t worked out,” Pateman said.
The Simon Ryan trained Police Camp finished second in the race for the second year in a row and the trainer said he was proud of the effort.
Ryan said he would set Police Camp for the 2023 Grand Annual Steeplechase next year.
Rockstar Ronnie ($6.50) defeated Police Camp ($21) by three and a half lengths with Crosshill ($10) trained by Aaron Purcell was two and a quarter lengths away third.
Champ Novice Hurdle (3200m).
On the other side of the coin Circle The Sun is trained by one of jumps racing’s stalwarts in Eric Musgrove who first had a runner at Warrnambool in 1981 and he was quick to praise Rawiller’s ride.
“Campbell couldn’t have ridden him any better. He rode him a treat. He’s a star of the future,” Musgrove said.
Circle The Sun took his record to two hurdle starts for two wins and Musgrove said he exceeded his expectations with the victory.
“He was pretty impressive. That was a good field today. I thought if he runs in the first three he’ll have done a good job,” he said.
Musgrove said he would now aim the five-year-old gelding at better hurdle races.
Circle The Sun ($7.50) led throughout and was challenged by the $1.95 favourite Nelson with 600 metres to go but he left him in his wake as he went on to win by five and a quarter lengths with Furioso ($10) running on to gain third placing.