Day 2 of the revamped Warrnambool Carnival saw Warrnambool’s very own Ciaron Maher claim his 5th Grand Annual, riding superstar horse, Ablaze, in the 5500m challenge.
Maher’s 5th Grand Annual win was sealed in convincing fashion, as Ablaze fired past reigning champion Zed Em (under Arron Lynch) just after the last jump to seal what turned out to be a comfortable victory. Veteran horse Gold Medals finished well, passing Zed Em to take 2nd place.
Ablaze went into the race as the odds-on favourite to win, being pitted ahead of reigning champion Zed Em, with age and weight on working to Ablaze’s advantage. Ablaze was carrying 66 kilos, 7 kilos less than Zed Em’s 73. With Zed Em getting a bit long in the tooth, few expected the veteran horse to be hot on the heels of Ablaze, an 8 year old stallion. Zed Em was also subjected to a late change in jockey, as Arron Lynch stepped in to replace Stephen Pateman, who was badly injured in a fall earlier in the day.
Following the race, Maher said winning his 5th Grand Annual at Warrnambool was “unbelievable”, claiming that the Warrnambool Carnival is one of the main events he eyes up on the racing calendar each year. He was also full of respect for last year’s winner, Zed Em, referring to the veteran as “an old war horse”.
If there was one thing to quieten the hype of Maher’s 5th Gran Annual victory, it was the absence of the crowd – most notably Maher’s mother. Races at the Warrnambool Carnival are normally watched by a 12,000 strong roaring crowd, but today Maher’s victory was sealed in front of an empty trackside hill. Maher described racing at a major event without a crowd as being “a bit surreal”, adding that he would’ve liked them to have been there to experience the win with him.
There was one absent fan that Maher missed more than anyone else however, his ever supportive mother. As a Warrnambool native, Maher’s mother is a regular face in the stands when he races in his hometown carnival. “Mum would be up there in the stands doing 15 laps of the rosary beads.” said Maher of her absence, however he took some comfort in the fact he was confident she would be doing the same at home.
While horse racing has been allowed to continue in here in Australia amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, fans have been prohibited from attending race days since mid March. Keeping races behind closed doors has been an essential condition of horse racing being able to continue, as it’s one of the only sports that can comply with social distancing measures.
Unfortunately a cloud hung over the Warrnambool Carnival prior to Maher’s winning race, due to the fall and subsequent euthanisation of 8 year old stayer, Sir Isaac Newton, earlier in the day. Jockey Stephen Pateman suffered a concussion as a result of the fall and was taken to hospital, forcing him to pull out of the 5500m, where he would’ve been racing against Maher and Ablaze.