A horse who did his best to end jumps racing in Australia two years ago has breathed new life into the sport with a stunning win in the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool.
Banna Strand (by Danasinga) made headlines around the world in the 2011 Grand Annual when he jumped the outside fence, causing mayhem as he landed among spectators.
The spectators had gathered on Tozer Road, beside the barrier, where they could watch the racing without entering the ground.
Banna Strand had lost his rider early in the race and continued on his run. He eventually veered left from the course and headed for the barrier, in place to prevent horses jumping from the confines of the race grounds.
However, Banna Strand cleared the barrier and landed among the crowd. The crowd would not have seen him coming because of the height of the barrier.
This year Banna Strand remained on the racecourse, grinding home along the outside fence to score a victory for the game and for mediocrity.
“He’s not a very good horse, he never won a race on the flat,” said trainer John Wheeler.
“It just shows you, if you’ve got no ability you can still win. That’s what this business does; it gives horses like him a chance to do something.”
Despite the limits to Banna Strand’s talents, Wheeler is now considering taking him to England for the world’s greatest jumps race, the Grand National Steeplechase.
“There’s a chance I might go further and do something stupid,” he said. “If I can get five or six horses together and a sponsor I’d give it a go.”
Banna Strand’s infamous excursion into the crowd injured seven people who were watching the race at the point where the horses cross a road and jump back onto the racecourse.
The incident strengthened the consistent call for jumps racing to be banned and also had lawyers urging the injured to sue.
But Wheeler helped defuse the situation by contacting all of those who had been hurt.
“One had a broken arm and one kid had been knocked out of its pushchair,” he said.
“But in the end none of them wanted to go on with it. They accepted they were there to watch a spectacle and some even appreciated that the horse had tried to avoid them.
“This is what this place is all about – the real people.”
Banna Strand, somewhat overlooked in the betting at $7.50, plodded the best at the end of the 5500 metres, getting the better of the equal favourites Man Of Class (With Class) and Dhaafer (Nayef ) in the final 50 metres. The nine-year-old also provided Wheeler, who has trained 25 Group One winners on the flat in Australia, with his sixth Grand Annual since he first won the race as an owner in 1993 with Straight And True (NZ) (Straight Strike).
He has both owned and trained the next five.
“I just train because I love it,” he said, “and I love it more and more.”
The Grand Annual was run to the accompaniment of loud protests from animal liberationists outside the racecourse. But their dire warnings thankfully failed to materialise with one of the seven runners suffering a harmless fall and another losing its rider. It contrasts with last year, when only two of eight starters finished the 5500-metre course. During the race, two horses fell, two were brought down and a further two dislodged their riders.