Ablaze stamps class in Grand National
By Jonny Turner
Raise The Flag's superstar stayer Ablaze stamped himself as Australia's best jumper and set up a shot at a historic jumping double when taking out the Grand National Hurdles at Sandown on Sunday.
The 9yr-old, born at White Robe Lodge and bred by Brian Anderton with Mickle Weastall, produced the toughest of efforts to lead all of the way to win the A$250,000 feature for rider Steven Jackson.
Ablaze's winner's cheque took his career earnings to the massive tally of A$742,990.
Banking that much prize money has been no fluke, with trainers Cairon Maher and David Eustace seeing the quality in the ex-Brian and Shane Anderton trained galloper and aiming him at Victoria's rich staying and jumping features.
"This horse has just been phenomenal since coming over here," Maher said.
"We wanted to run him in the best races for the best purse because we knew he was going to be a neat horse and we didn't want the weight to catch up with him."
"It has been a great job by the team and a fantastic ride by Shane Jackson."
Maher and Eustace will immediately switch Ablaze's focus towards the Grand National Steeplechase at Ballarat on August 23, where he will compete for an epic Grand National double.
The Raise The Flag jumper has already completed one pairing of big wins, with his Grand National Hurdle victory coming just weeks after his Grand Annual Steeplechase win at Oakbank.
Ablaze went about winning the second leg of that double a little differently than the first.
Jackson elected to make the pace with the Otago-bred star on Sunday, rather than sit him off the speed like he did in his Grand Annual win.
"These horses come along once in a lifetime and I'm very lucky to have thrown my leg across him," Jackson said.
"He's so versatile, he can do anything."
"He's won the longest flat race in Australia, the longest steeplechase and the longest distance hurdle race in Australia."
"He loves his jumps and you can ride him whatever way you think the race will suit."
Jackson has no doubt it will take a big effort from another horse to stop Ablaze from completing a Grand National Hurdle and Steeplechase double, later this month.
"This fellow he just keeps fronting up and the bigger the task you set him, the bigger he provides."
"The bigger fences - he jumps very neatly and it will take a very good one to beat him."
A Grand Annual Steeplechase win would add another big race to Ablaze's already bulging resume.
The Raise The Flag already has two Jericho Cups, a Grand Annual Steeplechase and Grand National Hurdles to his name in just nine starts in Australia.