High Mode (NZ) ridden by Clayton Douglas wins the The Haymes Paint Jericho Cup at Warrnambool Racecourse on December 02, 2018 in Warrnambool, Australia. (Alice Laidlaw/Racing Photos)
By any measurements, Sunday’s inaugural running of the Haymes Paint Jericho Cup (4600m) at Warrnambool was a resounding success, with the raceday delivering an abundance of stories and drawing close to 5,000 racegoers.
Jumps jockey Clayton Douglas reaffirmed his affinity with ‘The Bool’, following up his Grand Annual Steeplechase victory on Gold Medals with a masterful ride on the Anthony Freedman-trained High Mode to claim the spoils in the marathon contest.
The plot to target Australia’s longest flat race was first hatched by one of High Mode’s part-owners, Darren Costigan.
Realising that the Kiwi galloper’s staying ability was perfectly suited to such a test of endurance, Costigan suggested to the Freedman Racing team that he should be targeted at August’s Riverina Cup in Wagga, one of the Jericho Cup’s ‘win and you’re in’ qualifying races.
The plan worked to perfection, as High Mode followed up his Riverina Cup success by taking out the race which was first run 100 years ago on the desert sands of Palestine.
In what turned into a tactical affair, Douglas refused to panic when Tom Sadler made a mid-race move on the Henry Dwyer-trained The Dominator, gradually easing his mount into the race before taking off at the 400m mark.
High Mode effectively put the race to bed in a few strides, surging clear of his rivals before being eased down near the line to win by three lengths from Bryce Stanaway’s evergreen 11-year-old Crafty Cruiser, who took his career earnings to within $2,000 of the $1m mark.
Still basking in victory’s warm glow on Monday morning, Douglas spoke of his delight at becoming the first jockey to have his name etched on the Jericho Cup trophy.
“It’s always nice to achieve firsts in your career, and I’ll definitely look back on this one when my racing’s done,” he said.
“To pick up like the horse did when I turned back onto the course proper was just an unbelievable feeling. He put the race to bed pretty quickly, and I was even able to enjoy the last 100m. When I pulled him up after the line, he was still so fresh I felt like he could go round again.
“We were thinking he was going to make a jumper, then the Jericho Cup came up and the plan to target the race worked out perfectly. Hopefully we can bring him back to Warrnambool for the May Carnival, and then freshen him up for another crack at the Jericho Cup.”
One horse who has already secured his place in next year’s renewal is Hello My Friend, the winner of Sunday’s 4065m consolation race for his Cranbourne Trainer, Charlotte Littlefield.
The former Off The Track eventer was initially disappointed to have missed out on a run in the main event, but could not hide her delight after Hello My Friend – one of two winners on the day sired by Melbourne Cup winner Americain – took out the OTI / Second Freight Highweight under Lee Horner.
“Obviously we would’ve loved to run in the Jericho Cup, but winning the consolation is definitely the next best thing and we’ll gear his whole campaign next season towards the race,” she said.
“It’s a great concept and even though it’s 12 months away, we’re already excited to be involved in the race next year.”
That enthusiasm for a fixture still in its infancy must be music to the ears of Jericho Cup founder Bill Gibbins, whose three-year project to revive the race a century on from its inauguration came to fabulous fruition.
Given its successful launch and the levels of support shown by the local community, expect the Jericho Cup to grow in the coming years and become a permanent fixture on the racing calendar.