Kiwi trainer John Wheeler had to make a detour to see a great mate before embarking on his latest pilgrimage to Warrnambool for this week’s May Carnival.
Wheeler headed to the Mornington Peninsula to see former champion jumps jockey Brett Scott, who is home recovering from serious head injuries sustained in a stable accident.
Scott and Wheeler teamed up for many Warrnambool triumphs, including four wins in the Grand Annual Steeplechase between 1997 and 2006.
But Wheeler and Scott still talk about the one that got away in 1995.
“I was talking to Scotty about how he fell off Light Hand when he was going to win by 100 miles. He slipped on the last right hand corner and ended up seventh,” Wheeler said.
But Wheeler was also part of one of the most bizarre incidents seen on a racetrack when his charge Banna Strand achieved worldwide fame when he leapt into the crowd in 2011.
Banna Strand dropped jockey Richard Eynon before leaping a containment fence, ending up on Tozer Road.
“We teach our horses at home to jump anything. We don’t just have normal racecourse jumps, they jump bathtubs and anything we can find,” Wheeler said.
Brett Scott (left) and John Wheeler celebrating their win in the 2006 Grand Annual with Real Tonic. Pic. Nicole GarmstonSource:News Corp Australia
“When he came down the hill to that big fence that was used to corral horses that were loose, I could see him in the binoculars, and saw he had no rider on him because Richard Eynon had fallen off.
“I could see him prick his ears and I thought, ‘shit, he’s going to jump this’, but I didn’t know how close the crowd were on the other side.
“His ears were like antennae so I knew he was going to jump it.
“The fence was seven-foot-four high. I know because I measured it.”
Amazingly, Banna Strand returned to win the Grand Annual two years later.
Wheeler is back for a crack at another Grand Annual win with Heistheone and Macklemore. The pair are in the field for Tuesday’s Brierly Steeplechase but Wheeler said they would find the 3450m too short but would leave them spot-on on for the gruelling 5500m of the Grand Annual.
Wheeler owns Macklemore but sent the gelding to the Patrick Payne stable for his latest campaign, which began with a win in a Murray Bridge steeplechase last month.
Heistheone is building fitness after more than four years off the scene through various issues. The 10-year-old finished fourth in a Warrnambool trial on April 23.
“They are both prepared for the Grand Annual and both will be competitive if they run,” Wheeler said.
Originally published asMate visit before Warrnambool for Wheeler
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