Trainer Emma-Lee Browne has had her first taste of the famous Warrnambool jumping carnival and she can’t wait to get back to the “Bool” for another crack at the lucrative spoils on offer.
Browne and husband David took the plunge with last year’s northern jumping find, Monarch Chimes, who won his first three hurdle starts in New Zealand before finishing a game fourth in the Great Northern Hurdles (4190m) at Ellerslie in September to round out his season.
Based on those results, the Cambridge couple were eagerly anticipating the 2018 jumping season with the six-year old Shinko King gelding.
However, the renovations currently being undertaken on the Ellerslie track threw a spanner in the works. “When he made such good progress through the grades last year we really thought he would be set for a big winter this time around,” Emma-Lee Browne said.
“Our initial thoughts were to tackle most of the feature Ellerslie hurdle events, however when they moved those to Te Rapa it put up a bit of a red flag for us as that is a track where he has gone his worst races in the past.
“He just doesn’t seem to handle the kick-back from the sand-based surface there so we had to sit down and think about what could become Plan B. We had a look around and thought why not take the plunge and set him for the two big ones at Warrnambool.”
Monarch Chimes thrived in his four New Zealand runs on the flat in preparation for the Australian sojourn and was sent across the Tasman after finishing second at Matamata in late March. “He settled in beautifully at Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young’s Cranbourne base and won a jumping trial before taking out a steeplechase at Pakenham at his first start.
“Everything was going to plan with him although he was still pretty fresh. We decided to trial him at Warrnambool and then bring him back for a flat race at Cranbourne before tackling the Brierly Steeplechase on the first day of the carnival.
“Of course, the worst that could happen did when he slipped and fell on the flat after jumping beautifully during the trial which meant the stewards made him trial again before they would let him race at the carnival.”
That setback forced Monarch Chimes to miss the run at Cranbourne, a factor that Browne believes contributed to her charge peaking in the final stages of the Brierly to finish third after looking a distinct winning prospect when hitting the front over the last fence.
“I think he was still a little too fresh for a tough run on a track that was probably too good for him,” she said.
“I think if we could have had a hard run on the flat instead of having a jump-out 48 hours prior to raceday to satisfy the stewards, he might have had a bit more of a kick at the finish as he did over- race throughout the Brierly.
“In saying that, the firmish track also didn’t help as he much prefers it deeper than what was on offer.
All the locals kept telling us it always rains at the Bool in May, but it was just our luck it didn’t this year.”
Browne decided to have a go at the famous Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase two days later and once again Monarch Chimes performed with distinction when finishing a close fourth in the 5500m event.
“He went a beauty and it convinced me he has what it takes to compete against the best in Australia, especially if he could get a favourable track,” she said.
“When we reflected on what he achieved at such a young age for a jumper I think we can definitely look forward to next year with some real anticipation.”
Given it was her first time at the famous carnival, Browne was struck by just what a community event it was.
“Everyone in the whole place was involved and it had an electric atmosphere on every day,” she said.
“Everyone you spoke to was so excited about the racing and the events in and around the week, it really gave you a lift.”
Monarch Chimes returned to New Zealand last week and will spend some time in the paddock before being set for the Wellington Hurdles (3400m) in July.
“He travelled beautifully and has been tearing around his paddock ever since he got back,” said Browne. “He can have an easy time of it for a week or so then he will go back into work with a shot at the Wellington Hurdles his main priority.
“We will focus on that one for now, but there are is also the option of Riccarton after that for the Grand National if things go well for him.”