Heberite may be considerably slower than Nature Strip, but he will always hold a special place in the heart of Rod Lyons after he delivered a second victory in the revered Grand Annual Steeplechase for his prominent owner.
Lyons will have 24 hours to kill on his upcoming flight to the United Kingdom, where he will witness his star sprinter Nature Strip thunder down the famous Ascot straight, and you can bet your bottom dollar he will spend a fair chunk of it watching (and rewatching) the replay of Heberite’s courageous win in the feature race of the Warrnambool May Racing Carnival.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Lyons from being trackside to witness his versatile jumper Ablaze claim the Grand Annual two years ago, but even wild horses couldn’t have stopped him from making the pilgrimage to ‘The Bool’ for this year’s festivities.
Lyons’ week hadn’t got off to the best of starts, with Elvison just going down by the barest of margins to Once Were Lost in the opening steeplechase race on day two of the carnival.
But any lingering disappointment was swept away just over 24 hours later, when Heberite - at only his fourth start over the fences - put in a near faultless display of jumping and showed plenty of courage to hold off the late challenge of the fast-finishing Police Camp to prevail by one-and-a-half lengths.
It marked a sixth Grand Annual win for master trainer Ciaron Maher, who also saddled Ablaze to glory in 2020. Maher labelled the Grand Annual “the best race on the whole calendar” and whilst he may have got swept up in the emotion of the occasion, there’s a very good chance the 5500m test of endurance would also figure prominently in the list of Lyons’ favourite races.
To own arguably the world’s fastest horse and Australia’s best jumper is quite some achievement for the 72-year-old, who calls the Mornington Peninsula home.
Throw in progressive stayer Through Irish Eyes, who took out the Listed VRC St Leger (2800m) at Flemington earlier this year, and it’s very easy to see why the horsepower currently at Lyons’ disposal is the envy of owners right across the country.