Maher has Grand Annual thoughts for Ablaze

Ablaze (left) clears the last fence with race favourite Northern Voyage as he heads to victory at Ballarat  - AAP
Ablaze (left) clears the last fence with race favourite Northern Voyage as he heads to victory at Ballarat


A boozy night in a pub in the South Island of New Zealand has resulted in Ablaze making his way to the stable of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and two hurdle victories.

Making a winning jumps debut at Coleraine a week ago, Ablaze backed that up with success in the J J Houlahan Hurdle at Ballarat on Sunday.

Part-owner Rod Lyons, who has a share in Group One-winning sprinter Nature Strip, said a trip to May's Warrnambool carnival sparked an interest in securing a jumper.

"A couple of the owners of Nature Strip are from New Zealand and they were at Warrnambool for the carnival this year," Lyons said.

"They said 'we've got to buy a jumper'.

"They were in a pub down in the South Island when a fella came in and said 'I've got a jumper for you'."

Lyons said the asking price was $25,000 while his New Zealand connections did not know what the horse looked like or whether it could jump.

"Under the influence they said 'no that's too cheap, so we'll toss you, 20 or 40 (thousand)' and we lost the toss," Lyons said.

"Then they rang me to say we've bought a hurdler."

Unbeaten in two runs over jumps, Ablaze will now be set for an assault on the Grand Annual Steeplechase at next year's Warrnambool three-day carnival.

Maher said the work for the gruelling 5500m-race would begin in October.

"He's very clean-winded," Maher said.

"The ground was pretty testing there today and he wouldn't have blown a candle out.

"He'll have a couple of months off now and start getting ready for the Annual.

"It's all about the conditioning. You don't need any time off, that's when things can go wrong."

The stable brought up a race-to-race double with Ascot Red in the Cheap As Chips Steeplechase after Maher gave jockey Clayton Douglas some sage advice.

"Sometimes later becomes never, do it now," he told the jockey.

Maher explained he wanted Douglas to be aggressive aboard the jumper right from the outset which led to Ascot Red recording a three length win in the 3200m race.


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