Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase

By Mark Freeman

Mid-afternoon on the first Thursday of May through the 80s and 90s was always an important fixture on my sporting calendar. Slip down the tote, chuck on a 50c box trifecta and settle in for the fascinating spectacle that is Warrnambool’s Grand Annual Steeplechase.

Such a gruelling test … up the hill through Brierly Paddock, over the Cox’s Hill double, down through Granter’s Paddock to the Tozer Rd double, out over Mantrap, up the straight the opposite direction and around they go again.

I had to get out there to have a look myself. So in 2000 I did. Took off to the ‘Bool. Just wanting to boot home the winner at my first Annual, I had a tenspot on the 5-2 favourite, a beast trained by the great Jim Houlahan by the name of Cool Groom.

I marched up the hill with the other punting pilgrims and once there, pulled out my hidden can from under the coat and looked out on what must be the grandest vista in world sport.

It’s just colossal in scale. They travel miles away up the back, tiny dots hopping up and over the sticks. Then they career down Granter’s paddock towards the Tozer Rd double, with all observers’ hearts in mouths. Then they always jump beautifully down the straight in front of the big crowd, up the hill and down again to Tozer’s, where on the second lap they put in the big right-hander – where the race is usually won or lost – before returning to the course proper for the final exhausted strides.

Cool Groom led all the way. All the way until the second last jump, where he came a cropper. He hopped up and dusted himself off luckily, and although I’d done my dough, I remember thinking to myself that the tenner represented the best value sporting six minutes I’d ever witnessed.

I was hooked, and when a few months later I met a kindred spirit in Mick Geary, we became part of the faithful ‘Bool throng year in, year out. We’ve had a stack of laughs, some great times out there, and some very ill mornings. This will be our 10th on the trot, and we can’t wait as usual.

We’ll be down there from Wangoom/Galleywood day (middle day of the carnival, the Wednesday, with the Wangoom being the ‘Newmarket of the bush’, the Galleywood the carnival’s feature hurdle).

This year Crio is swinging the bag with bookie David McLauchlin, and fellow Knacker Peter Flynn is set to appear on course.

Knacker punters are urged to meet at the Royal Hotel (Timor St) on the Wednesday evening from 7pm for dinner, or at the back bar on course straight after the third on the Thursday (Warrnambool Cup/Grand Annual day), before launching an assault on Crio at his stand.

Good luck and happy Bool carnival, punters.

Mark Freeman mob 0422 002 368


  1. Peter Flynn says

    One of the great vantage points in sport.

  2. Rob Clarkson says

    Sounds magnificent, Makybe!

    Wish I could be there. Good luck and I look forward to reading all about it on the other side of the carnival.

  3. In position Freeza and just going down to check out Monday night beers at the Vic!
    I think the phrase fitting those here at the Park is “palpable excitement”!

  4. mark freeman says

    Excellent Crio, looking forward to catching up and getting the early skirmish news. We’re all set for the early train Weds morning.

  5. johnharms says


    The very first time I met Mark Freeman was AT THE WARRNAMBOOL CARNIVAL. And he was with MICK GEARY. Looking for a greasy breakfast.

    It left me to ponder that age-old philosophical question: when a hungover person sees another hungover person through hungover eyes, do both appear normal?

    Warrnambool is a brilliant few days.

    And I concur with the vantage point. ON an 8 degree sunny day where every has smoke breath and is sipping from the drink they snuck past the security zombie it is a fine thing to watch the horses hit the big right hander for the second time.

    This is horsemanship.

    And punter-dom.

    Good punting MAPF. You might have a Beaver-like battle with taht notoroius bag-swinger, Crio.

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