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Rising star Ablaze wins Grand Annual Steeplechase

(Ablaze clearing a steeplechase fence)

By Jonny Turner


White Robe Lodge bred stayer Ablaze confirmed his status as Australia's next jumping star when winning the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool on Tuesday.

The 8yr-old son of Raise The Flag and Personal Escort mare, Alight, produced an emphatic victory when bolting away with the 5500m staying test by an impressive eight lengths.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of Ablaze's impressive victory, for trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, was that it came in just his fourth jumping start.

After riding a patient and pinpoint race to win aboard the North Taieri export, rider Shane Jackson declared Ablaze was the next big thing in Australian jumping.

"He's a good horse and he's the star of the next few years," he said.

"It'll take a damn good one to come out and beat him."

Going head-to-head with established Australian star and defending champion, Zed Em, meant there was no easy road to victory for Ablaze.

The pair eyeballed each other around the home turn, before Ablaze got the measure of his older rival and raced away to win the Grand Annual Steeplechase.

Maher heaped praise upon Jackson after the win for his handling of his talented, but inexperienced jumper

"That was fantastic," the trainer said.  

"They rolled along at a brilliant tempo, he is inexperienced, so full credit to Shane Jackson."

"He got underneath a couple [of jumps] early, but I thought the horse was clever enough to go in a race like this."

Ablaze has banked his two biggest winner's cheques over the longest of staying tests.

Victory in the $315,000 Grand Annual Steeplechase took Ablaze's career earnings to $425,940.

His win in Tuesday's 5500m feature came three starts after taking out the $304,000 Jericho Cup flat event over 4600m.

"To win the Jericho and to come back in his fourth start over jumps to win a race like this is phenomenal," Maher said.

Ablaze provided Maher with his fifth Grand Annual win following his victories with Regina Coeli (2015 & 2017) and Al Garhood (2010 and 2011).

Maher is now eying a tilt at the Grand National Steeplechase at Ballarat on August 23 for Ablaze, before the 8yr-old attempts to defend his Jericho Cup title.

"Jumping-wise the world is his oyster."

"He'll tick through the winter, we'll keep him warm and fed through the stable, so the [Grand] National is probably a likely plan."

"He doesn't need a lot of runs and maybe he might come back for another crack at the Jericho."

Ablaze (Raise The Flag - Alight) was bred by White Robe Lodge proprietor Brian Anderton in partnership with Mickle Weastell, of Christchurch.

Alight is by Personal Escort from the 11 race winning Noble Bijou mare, Bi Light.

Bi Light won 11 races when trained by Brian and Shane Anderton, including one at listed level.

Bi Light is from three race winning Mellay mare, Lamp Light.

Ablaze was not the only horse to help continue his sire's incredible run of Australian success at Warrnambool on Tuesday.

Earlier on the jumping card, Riding High remained unbeaten over fences when winning a novice hurdle event.

Ablaze and Riding High have both contributed to Raise The Flag's phenomenal statistics during the current racing season in Australia.

The White Robe Lodge sire has seriously punched above his weight in Australia.  From 30 runners, he has produced 23 winners (includes 5 stakes winners)  for $1,922,867 stakes.

Raise The Flag's results are spear-headed by Etah James' group 1 Sydney Cup success.