The 2024 Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool, Australia, will be remembered for the remarkable victory of Count Zero, which was a testament to strategy and resilience.

Local trainer Symon Wilde secured his third win in this iconic race thanks to a bold change in tactics and an outstanding performance by Count Zero.

A Form Reversal

Count Zero’s journey to victory in the Grand Annual was nothing short of dramatic. He finished last in the Brierly Steeplechase, trailing more than 35 lengths behind the winner, Stern Idol.

This disappointing performance prompted Wilde and jockey Darryl Horner to rethink their plan. They decided to ride Count Zero more aggressively in the Grand Annual, a move that proved to be pivotal.

On race day, Count Zero was positioned prominently from the start. Wilde’s decision to push the horse to the front allowed Count Zero to jump more confidently and stay engaged throughout the race.

The gelding’s improved jumping and aggressive positioning helped him navigate the 33 obstacles efficiently, contrasting sharply with his lackluster performance in the Brierly.

Performance and Conditions

Count Zero thrived over the 5500-meter distance of the Grand Annual, relishing the challenge of Australia’s longest horse race.

The firm ground conditions played to his strengths, as he is known to perform better on top of the ground.

This combination of favourable conditions and strategic riding culminated in a thrilling finish, with Count Zero outlasting the more highly fancied Bell Ex One by a narrow margin of just 0.15 lengths.

Wilde credited the win to the change in tactics and the horse’s innate staying ability. “He didn’t jump well in the Brierly because he was out the back, but today he was up front and jumped beautifully,” Wilde remarked.

This victory marked Count Zero as the second horse to win both the Jericho Cup, Australia’s longest flat race, and the Grand Annual, following in the footsteps of Ablaze, who won this race in 2020.

Excitement Beyond the Track

The excitement of the Grand Annual Steeplechase extends beyond the race itself.

For many fans, the thrill of horse racing pairs perfectly with the enjoyment of other gaming activities.

Whether at the track or from the comfort of home, enthusiasts can immerse themselves in the racing spirit in various ways.

One popular pastime among racegoers is to play Lightning Link online pokies free, adding an extra layer of entertainment to the day’s events.

It’s a really great game that has become a firm favourite with slots and pokies lovers because each link slot stands on its own while seamlessly integrating with the others to create a progressive jackpot.

After all, who doesn’t love the idea of winning a huge jackpot? And if Count Zero can win the Australian Grand Annual, anything is possible!

The Grand Annual: Australia’s Answer to the Aintree Grand National

The Grand Annual Steeplechase, held at Warrnambool, Victoria, during the annual May Racing Carnival, is a pinnacle event in Australian horse racing.

Known for its grueling 5500-meter course and challenging obstacles, the Grand Annual is often likened to the Aintree Grand National, both in prestige and difficulty.

It’s a completely unique course that is run through open paddocks with 33 obstacles to navigate plus a change in direction halfway through the race.

It is the longest horse race run in Australia on a public course, and unlike conventional racetracks, includes sections that run through open paddocks with minimal or no fencing, providing an additional layer of challenge.

The 33 obstacles are more than in any other steeplechase worldwide and primarily consist of brush fences, which are designed to be safer and more forgiving compared to the formidable fences found at races like the Aintree Grand National or the Velka Pardubicka.

While these fences are considered relatively tame, they still require significant skill and precision to navigate successfully, particularly given the variety of terrain over which the race is run.

Clockwise and Counter-Clockwise Running

One of the Grand Annual’s most distinctive aspects is that it involves clockwise and counter-clockwise running at different points of the race.

Horses start by turning left on the first lap and then switch to a right turn on the second lap when re-entering the racetrack.

This change in direction has historically caused confusion and has led to some dramatic moments when horses, out of habit, attempted to veer left again on the second lap.

Given the complexity and length of the course, both horse and rider must possess extensive knowledge of the terrain because the Grand Annual is not just about speed.

Knowing when to conserve energy and how to navigate the trickier sections of the course can make the difference between winning and losing.

Brief History

The Grand Annual Steeplechase dates back to its inaugural race on Thursday, June 13, 1872.

Established by stewards Francis Tozer, Henry Phillips, Samuel Macgregor, Anthony Mackenzie, and John Russell Evans, the race featured a unique steeplechase course incorporating paddocks adjacent to the Warrnambool racecourse.

This event laid the foundation for the Warrnambool Racing Club (WRC), officially constituted after the 1873 meeting.

The first race saw Prior, ridden by William Harden, claim victory. The race quickly grew in popularity, expanding to a two-day event by 1878.

The course itself evolved, with the Warrnambool Racing Club acquiring additional land to accommodate the growing event.

The early 20th century featured legendary jockeys like Dan Coleman, who holds the record with seven wins. Controversial moments, such as the disqualification of Pick Me in 1929, added to its storied history.

Post-World War II, the Grand Annual gained prominence, with increased prize money and larger fields.

Significant course changes in the 1970s and modern safety improvements have ensured its continued success.

Recent years have seen memorable rivalries, such as those between Gold Medals and Zed Em, keeping the race exciting and competitive.

The Grand Annual Steeplechase has thrived through its 150-year history, maintaining its status as a premier event in Australian horse racing, and is a delight for racing enthusiasts.