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What a day! Jumps racing goliath Stern Idol, carrying the grandstand on his back.


Jumps racing goliath Stern Idol, carrying the grandstand on his back, has risen like the phoenix to lay claim as victor of arguably the greatest Brierly Steeplechase of all time.

Seemingly out on his feet, carrying a record 73kg and under immense pressure, Stern Idol courageously staved off the fast-finishing Instigator in a memorable finish.

Winning jockey Willie McCarthy, who has ridden all over the world, declared: “He’s the best I’ve ever ridden. He’s just an amazing horse. Today truly shows that.”

The Irishman said the win had even greater merit because Stern Idol “never got to race in his fashion”.

“His jumping was so electric," McCarthy said. "He winged every fence, he was so quick in the air. “He’s a huge horse, but what a big heart he showed after the last when they came for him.”

Ecstatic trainer Ciaron Maher thought the unyielding pressure had brought his champion undone. “As Dec (brother Declan) said, it was dead-set like the Cox Plate of jumps racing. The pressure was on right from the start,” Maher said.

“I actually thought they had him. But Willie, he rated him well. He used his action. It was beautiful to watch.” Maher said despite Stern Idol’s obvious strength advantage, he still had to negotiate the tricky contours of the Warrnambool course. “He (McCarthy) got him in a nice rhythm. It’s a good effort for a big horse like him to get around there,” he said.

The win enabled the champion trainer to surpass the legendary Jim Houlahan as the greatest winner of feature jumps races at the carnival with 15.

“That’s amazing. Jim was one who I really looked up to,” Maher said. “I took a lot from him. I went down and worked for him. “He’s a phenomenal horseman, a phenomenal trainer, a phenomenal person.” Maher also paid homage to his staff and all the work behind the scenes which made moments like this possible. “You don’t get anyone more passionate than Dec and Willie McCarthy and the team there,” Maher said. “They just love him (Stern Idol), and they had him spot on today.”

Tommy Ryan, rider of brave fourth placegetter Mighty Oasis, was in awe of the winner.

“It just shows how good Stern Idol is,” Ryan said. “With 73kg and to go such a helter-skelter gallop. We couldn’t get within shouting distance of them.”


It was billed as the race of the carnival, but what transpired went beyond all expectations in the 19-fence, 3450m thriller. McCarthy admitted little wen to plan, with Stern Idol never allowed to settle into his usual rhythm and sneak the occasional breather. Tactically, his rivals knew they had to pressure the favourite. Kiwi jockey Aaron Kuru pushed Britannicus forward from the outset to shadow Stern Idol with every stride.

It was only when climbing to Brierly Paddock that Stern Idol was finally able to stretch the elastic band and establish a two-length lead. Stern Idol would maintain his advantage re-entering the course proper after the Tozer Road double. It then developed into a two-horse dogfight, with a brave Britannicus hot on the heels of Stern Idol every inch of the way until the home straight.

Eventually, he would yield, allowing Instigator and Luke Dempsey to have one final dip.

But the champ would not be denied.


New Zealand’s Aaron Kuru further underlined his credentials as an exceptional horseman with consecutive wins on the jumps program.

The second leg of his personal double was extra special, with the Kiwi connection running deep - trainer Mark Walker, of Imperatriz fame, prepared Leaderboard to win race three.

Known for his tactical nous, Kuru blanketed favourite Irish Butterfly before taking control of the contest at the top of the straight.

“I thought we had a kind time throughout and I knew I had a strong galloper underneath me,” Kuru said.

Owner John Galvin, one of 50 in the horse, was the lone representative, having made the journey across The Ditch for his first visit to Warrnambool.

“There are over 50 owners in this horse, but I’m the sole man standing here today,” Galvin said, who raced two-time New Zealand Horse of the Year Melody Belle.

“I think (Leadership) is a lovely galloper, lovely jumper, who will get better over the bigger jumps.

“Today was a wee bit of a test… the dry track. He loves it heavy. But he took no prisoners here today, didn’t he?”

Kuru was elated after the race, paying tribute to trainer Walker and the success with his first foray into the jumps caper.

“He wanted to give jumping a try. Extremely proud of what he has done and the team,” Kuru said.


Sometimes the racing gods can be cruel. Braidon Small was attempting to complete a fairytale comeback after going through a tough time with his health last year and subsequent recovery.

When Small and the heavily tried favourite Wilewink entered the home straight in front, the crowd sensed the moment.

But wasn’t to be. The Symon Wilde-prepared Bazini would steal the limelight.

Wilde understood the magnitude of the occasion post-race when he said: “It’s probably a little bit bittersweet as everyone was barracking for Braidon.

“It would have been lovely to see him win, but this has been a long-term plan.

“He’s (Bazini) has been jumping for 18 months. We’d done all the schooling; we had planned this for so long.”

Wilde said jumping was always in play for the six-year-old, initially purchased with a Derby in mind, as his “medium size” made him a perfect candidate for hurdling.

It was a copybook ride by Kuru, who stalked Wilewink into the straight before unleashing a powerful finish on Bazini.


McCarthy and the Maher-trained Alakahan put on a clinic for the early arrivals.

The Irishman, with Alakahan relaxed in the run, waited patiently before ranging up alongside second favourite Dubai Moon with 150m to go.

From there, he allowed the well-backed favourite to have his head for a comfortable victory, much to the joy of a large, boisterous group of owners.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Maher said. “We bought him a couple of years ago.

He’s been a well-credentialled stayer.

“He hit a bit of form on the flat which delayed his jumping, but that was firmly the plan this year.”