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Are you ready for it? Grand Annual Steeplechase Day


Every once and a while a horse trainer needs every conceivable mechanism to click into place in their pursuit of success. Henry Dwyer will be hoping this is his time when Budd Fox and Brungle Bertie put it all on the line in the $400,000 Brandt Grand Annual Steeplechase.

Although contrasting styles, comeback jumper Budd Fox and reigning Grand National champion Brungle Bertie present as a formidable pair for the Ballarat trainer.

“I reckon I am going in with two live chances. They are both in terrific order,” Dwyer said.

“They’re both obviously been set for it. No setbacks, just at the peak of their powers.”

Both excel with opposing skillsets, comeback fencer Budd Fox more versatile and nimbler across the top of the ground and Brungle Bertie a stay-all-day type who likes some serious give in the ground.

This presents a dilemma this week for Dwyer, who is constantly monitoring weather updates, with prevailing conditions currently favouring Budd Fox. “I came here struggling to split them and it was going to be track condition,” he said.

“Wet I would have preferred Brungle Bertie and dry probably Budd Fox.

“Looks like Budd Fox might have the slight edge.”

Weather aside, both horses have presented their fair share of challenges to Dwyer.

Brungle Bertie, a long-time stable favourite, doesn’t have too many options available these days and Dwyer admits the Grand Annual and the Grand National are the only races on his radar.

“There are only two races which really suit him,” Dwyer said.

With such a small window for success, keeping the eight-year-old’s mind focused and maintaining his fitness for rigours of racing is always at forefront of Dwyer’s thoughts.

“He’d like it a bit wet to slow down some of the faster ones,” Dwyer said of Brungle Bertie’s chances on Thursday.

“He’s not going to get that, but he won the Grand National on a soft five, so hopefully it’s a repeat of that.” Budd Fox has long been a work in progress, with Dwyer resigned to sitting it out when the eight-year-old Foxwedge gelding was off the fencing scene for almost two years. Patience is a necessity when training jumpers and, for Dwyer, Budd Fox’s appearance on Thursday will be a testament to his dedication. “He’s had a long time off with a few niggling little injuries,” he said. “He’s always had a bit of an interrupted campaign. “But we finally got him to the races at Pakenham and he showed what he could do, and what he is still capable of doing.

“Given that was his first jumps run for a couple of years, he is going to be improved by it.”

The way Budd Fox’s brushed aside his rivals at Pakenham must have excited the stable, with Dwyer at the time saying: “He’s pulled up super, he’s fit enough. Straight to the Grand Annual”.

Buzz Fox’s performance also was not lost on man of the moment Willie McCarthy either.

With the newly crowned Brierly Steeplechase champion touting the horse as a genuine hope long before Tuesday’s feat.

McCarthy said getting in on the minimum weight in Thursday’s classic would make Budd Fox a knockout chance. “It’s a huge advantage for that race over 5500m,” he said.

“He (Budd Fox) didn’t have to do all that much to win at Pakenham.

And if anyone is questioning his staying capabilities, a second place in the Jericho Cup over 4600m at Warrnambool before his series of setbacks sticks a fork in that notion. “He’s got good heart, he stays very well,” McCarthy said. “I think he is coming into the race very well.” But Dwyer had the final word about Budd Fox’s capabilities.

“He’s an incredibly natural stayer. He conserves his energy and he’s terrific jumper,” he said.