Battle intensifies to claim a place in the Jericho Cup

The battle to secure a place in the nation’s most unique flat race, the $300,000 Haymes Paint Jericho Cup at Warrnambool on 28 November, reaches its crescendo this weekend.

With under three weeks until the fourth edition of Australasia’s longest flat race, just two qualifying heats remain for horses to secure a spot in the 4600m contest that honours the Australian Light Horsemen and their World War One heroics.

Eight guaranteed start races have already been run and won, with The Valley set to host the penultimate qualifier over 3800m this Friday night (12 November), two days before a Benchmark 85 Handicap (3400m) at Thoroughbred Park in Canberra provides the final opportunity for connections to secure a start. 

The partnership of Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, who claimed the 2019 Jericho Cup with Ablaze, will again have a strong hand this year. They saddle up topweight Raise You Ten in the Ladbroke It! Jericho Cup Qualifier at The Valley, a horse that has already secured its place at Warrnambool after winning the Gawler qualifier on 22 October.

Warrnambool trainer Symon Wilde, who won last year’s Jericho Cup with Count Zero, already has two spots secured for his title defence with Only a Mother and American in Paris assured of starting berths in the 2021 Jericho Cup courtesy of their respective wins in the 2020 Jericho Cup Consolation (4065m) and the Road to the Jericho Benchmark 70 (3300m), both held on their home track last season.

Outside of the ‘win-and-you’re-in races’, qualifying points have been awarded to the first three Australasian-bred horses across the line in any race run over 3000m or further at TAB meetings held in Australia and New Zealand since 18 November 2020.

Currently leading the way on eight points apiece are Budd Fox (trained by Henry Dwyer) and New Zealand visitor Border Leicester (Emma-Lee and David Browne), both of whom will be among the contenders in the 6.15pm (AEDT) qualifier at The Valley on Friday.

The Kiwis are already guaranteed at least one runner in this year’s edition of the Jericho Cup, with six-year-old mare Sulu Sea – trained by Daniel Champion and Kezia Murphy – winning the automatic qualifier at Riccarton Park on 23 October.

The race is also likely to feature interstate representation, with Queensland galloper Tides Of Jupiter – who was sired by Lonhro – earning his place in the race for Gold Coast trainer Jay Bellamy via the Jericho Cup QLD Qualifier (3200m) at his home track on Melbourne Cup Day. Tides Of Jupiter finished second in the race to Hamilton Place, who is ineligible to compete as he was conceived in the UK.

South Australian-based Zabextra, prepared by father-son training combination Bob and Kane Post at Mount Gambier, is another guaranteed a start after her longshot win in the Road to the Jericho SA Qualifier (3160m) at Naracoorte on 26 September.

The modern-day Jericho Cup, which is the brainchild of philanthropist Bill Gibbins, was established in 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the original Jericho Cup run in the desert sands outside Palestine. The inaugural contest was won by Bill the Bastard, with Gibbins reviving the race to honour the bravery of the Australian Light Horse brigade and their mounts in World War One. 

The modern race follows the path of the Grand Annual Steeplechase through the paddocks at Warrnambool and will this year feature on the final weekend of the 2021 Victorian Spring Racing Carnival.

“Thanks to support from local, interstate and New Zealand trainers and owners, the Jericho Cup now draws interest from more than 6,000 kilometres of the earth’s surface, from Albany in WA to the Gold Coast in Queensland and over to New Plymouth and Canterbury in New Zealand,” said Gibbins. 

“Fortunately, COVID and the border restrictions haven’t impacted the support and interest we have received for this year’s Jericho Cup, for which I am very grateful, and we are now looking forward to another exciting edition of the event at Warrnambool at the end of the month.”  

The deadline for horses to earn points is this Sunday, 14 November, two weeks before the 2021 Jericho Cup. Nominations for the race, which carries a first prize of $150,000, will close next Tuesday, 16 November with final acceptances taken seven days later on Tuesday, 23 November.

Should there be a sufficient number of acceptances, Racing Victoria (RV) will again program a $60,000 consolation race on Jericho Cup Day for any horses balloted out of the final field.