Champion hurdler Black And Bent made his last appearance of the 2011 jumping season a winning one and will now embark on an ambitious campaign to contest this year’s Emirates Melbourne Cup.
The Robert Smerdon-trained six-year-old tightened his grip on favouritism for the Australian Jumper of the Year title when he won his fourth consecutive jumping race in the $100,000 JJ Houlahan Hurdle (3400m) at Betfair Park (Sandown) on Sunday.
The victory, his 10th in 16 jumping appearances, took his earnings over the obstacles past $500,000 and set up his assault on the race that stops the nation at Flemington on 1 November.
The Grand National Hurdle winner is yet to pass the first ballot clause for the $6m Melbourne Cup (3200m), but will be given his chance to do so in one of three races in a month’s time.
Victory in either the Listed $100,000 Ansett Classic (2400m) at Mornington on 1 October or the Listed $200,000 The Bart Cummings (2500m) the following day at Flemington will see him pass the ballot and further his claims for a Cup start.
The Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap (2400m) in Sydney on the same day as the Ansett Classic is also earmarked as an option with a top five placing enough to see him pass the first ballot.
“We’ll just take the weakest option,” managing part-owner Mike Symons, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on Sunday, explained post-race.
“We’ll have him really cranked up for whatever race we select,” he added.
Beyond the Melbourne Cup, Symons said Australia’s pin-up horse is likely to be given his chance against the world’s best jumpers in the next year or two.
“We would love to run in the Champions Hurdle at Cheltenham (UK) or the Grand Jump at Nakayama (Japan),” Symons said.
“I’ve seen horses like St Stevens and Karasi go there and perform very well. You would like to think he’s on a par with those horses.”
Ridden patiently by Steve Pateman, Black And Bent sat a distant third off Phaze Action ($17) who set a frantic pace before making his move ahead of the second last jump.
After claiming the tiring leader, Black And Bent ($1.16) and Our Chateau ($26) headed to the final jump together before Pateman said ‘go’ and the champion raced away to an eight length victory, with Half Moon Rising ($18) a further seven lengths back in third.
Pateman said he never had a moment’s concern.
“He’s just a real professional,” he said. “It’s been a great preparation and I’m just go privileged to be a part of it.”
Retired jockey Brett Scott had special reason to celebrate Black And Bent’s victory with connections donating $5000 of their winnings to help in his recovery from recent back surgery.
The third hurdle racing fatality of the season was recorded in the race when Fergus McIver fell at the final jump. The incident has been referred to the Jumps Review Panel with the horse sent for an autopsy.