Kiwi galloper wins three-mile “war horse” race in Australia

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Luke Williams celebrates as he guides Count Zero to victory at Warrnambool.
Luke Williams celebrates as he guides Count Zero to victory at Warrnambool. © Reg Ryan/ NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

Australia’s longest thoroughbred race run in honour of the war horses of World War 1 has been won by a New Zealand bred galloper for the third successive year.

The $A300,000 4600m Jericho Cup run at Warrnambool in Victoria is a revival of the three-mile race held in the desert in Palestine during World War 1, where 102 years ago the original Jericho Cup was won by famed Australian war horse Bill The Bastard.

This year’s race, on November 29, was won by Count Zero, who won for local trainer Symon Wilde, with Luke Williams in the saddle. Count Zero carried 66kg to victory.

The Jericho is the brainchild of philanthropist and historian Bill Gibbins, who wanted to commemorate the three-mile race held in the desert in Palestine during World War I. The Warrnambool raceday pays tribute to the heroic servicemen and women and their magnificent mounts, The Walers, for their heroic deeds in the Middle East from 1915-1919.

The race is open only to New Zealand and Australian bred horses, and is restricted to jumps jockeys. It was launched in 2018 to mark the anniversary of the original Jericho Cup, and was won by the Anthony Freedman-trained High Mode (by Redwood) in 2018. Last year it was won by the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Ablaze (by Raise The Flag), who went on to win Warrnambool’s Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) earlier this year.

Starting at $26, Count Zero landed the fourth victory of his career, winning by a comfortable 4½ lengths from Dambulla (Fastnet Rock) and Wil John (Reset), and fulfilling his trainer’s ambition. “In this race’s short history, it has been a bit of an aim of ours,” Wilde said.

“I love the concept. I think it’s a fantastic race. It’s got real meaning to it. It’s not a pop-up race or money grab like some of the other ones are. It’s got real depth and meaning and it’s a real honour to win the race.”

Jockey Luke Williams and trainer Symon Wilde are all smiles at the presentation of trophies for the A$300,000 Haymes Paint Jericho Cup (4600m).
Jockey Luke Williams and trainer Symon Wilde at the presentation of trophies for the $A300,000 Haymes Paint Jericho Cup (4600m). © Reg Ryan/ NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

It is yet another accolade for Count Zero’s unheralded sire, Zed, a son of Zabeel who stands at Grangewilliam Stud. Zed previously stood at Erewhon Station in the Canterbury high country, where he was put over the station’s Clydesdale and Clyde-Gisborne cross mares.

But since his return from the back blocks, Zed sired six-time Group One winner Verry Elleegant (NZ), in addition to Ballarat Cup hero Irish Flame (NZ), and champion jumpers such as Zed Em (NZ) and venerable Group One winner Survived (NZ).

Wilde paid tribute to Bill Gibbons for getting the concept off the ground. “I think Bill’s created a fantastic raceday — probably one of the biggest racedays on the country circuit in years to come,” Wilde said.

Count Zero was bred by Wanganui farmer Peter Smith and hails from a family that features 1936 Melbourne Cup winner Wotan, who was raced by Smith’s uncles Bob and Pat. It is also the family of Smith’s Gr.1 Wellington Cup (3200m) winner Willy Smith (NZ) (Volksraad), in addition to recent Group Two winner Albarado (NZ) (Savabeel).

Peter Smith said Count Zero’s granddam, My Governess, was a very good race mare, winning the 2003 Listed Feilding Gold Cup (2100m).

“We have still got the dam of Count Zero and we didn’t breed from her this season, but we have done up until now.

“If you want to breed good horses, you have got to go to good sires and Zed is certainly turning into that.”

Reporting: NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

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