The first week in May in Australian racing signifies the trek to the Victorian coastal town of Warrnambool for a three day carnival featuring one of racing’s greatest spectacles – the running of the 5500m Grand Annual Steeplechase on the final day.
Warrnambool is a stunning town on the Victorian coastline at the end of the Great Ocean Road. A 3 hour drive from Melbourne on one of Australia’s most picturesque coastlines, passing the famed Bell’s Beach and Twelve Apostles, and ending on the shipwreck coast of Warrnambool.
The town is synonymous with grueling sporting events hosting the annual Melbourne to Warrnambool bike race for many years but now all feet and hooves head to the racetrack with rolling paddocks and spectacular racing.
The first Grand Annual Steeplechase was run back in 1872 (only 11 years after the first Melbourne Cup) and won by a horse named Prior. In recent years it has created some of racings unique stories. Who can forget Galleywood who had a “green screen” around him one year and survived to come out and win later in his career, or Banna Strand who created one of the most iconic photos in racing history jumping a “7ft” wall out of Brierly paddock.
My top photo from the decade, Banna Strand as he famously jumped into a crowd of onlookers at Warrnambool. Luckily no one was seriously injured and Banna came back 2 years later, defying the odds to win the Grand Annual @wboolracingclub pic.twitter.com/d5YLyyA8FX
— SHARON CHAPMAN (@FastTrackPhotog) January 1, 2020
It is not only the horse flesh that needs stamina to survive the three day test that is Warrnambool. It is also a staying test for punters with capacity fields and even racing over the carnival.
HOW DO WE SURVIVE THE THREE DAYS
When you ask the locals the best way to get through the Warrnambool May Carnival their advice is “Don’t arrive Monday”. I wondered the wisdom of that advice until I rocked up Monday afternoon and enjoyed the local hospitality a little too much the night before Day 1 at the races. By the time the Thursday came around I was like many of the boats around the coastline – Wrecked.
— Punters.com.au (@Punters) May 2, 2021
Finding a winner on the first day of the carnival is not as easy as finding a drink. Historically, some big plunges have been pulled off in maidens with trainers such as Robbie Laing and Darren Weir setting horses perfectly. The Brierly Steeplechase is the highlight and often gives an insight for those backing up in the Grand Annual two days later.
Capacity fields will mean difficult punting but one of the tried and true theories is to stick with local trainers. The Warrnambool trainers identify this meeting each season and this is their “Spring”. If playing the exotics like a quaddie load up your legs with locally trained horses no matter what odds they maybe.
Hopefully the pockets are loaded and the head is somewhat clear for Day 2 and the running of the Wangoom Handicap and the Galleywood Hurdle. The Wangoom is run over the 1200m but it can be a testing 6 furlongs especially if the rain arrives. Look for strong 1400m to a mile horses who can sweep wide and be strong over last 200m.
Day 3 Grand Annual Steeplechase Day is the highlight and a spectacle for racing fans to experience at least once in their lifetime. Again it is a wonderful punting day that offers capacity fields and generous odds.
If the rain has arrived (as it consistently does) stick with wet trackers only. The Warrnambool soft and heavy tracks are some of the most testing surfaces and only those with heavy form will handle it. Remember the previous advice, local trainers must never be dismissed.
There is only one place to watch the Annual on track and that is making the trek up the “Hill” at approximately 200m mark. That enables the best view as you can see the entire track and open paddocks over the grueling 5500m.
Wherever you find yourself over the first week in May make sure you sit back and enjoy one of Australian racing’s most popular and enjoyable race meetings of the season.
Good luck punter!