By Gavin Stubbs
Without doubt in any sporting event and perhaps even more so in racing, it is the pivotal decisions at pivotal moments that can so often define the difference of victory or defeat.
Split second decision making, the heartbeat moment of when to make your move or when to wait, when to use guile and stealth or when just plain luck may play its part.
These are just a fraction of the multitude of thoughts that await participants this coming weekend as the field lines up for the running of the Alex Scott and Staff Woolamai Cup, the flagship race for the Club and one of the most anticipated events on the picnic racing circuit each season. The Cup carries a long tradition and rich history that started well before the years of the Second World War (1939-1945) and continues to this day, developing into a highly sought after and prestigious prize.
The Woolamai and District Race Club is over 150 years old and has seen many top horses, both at metropolitan and provincial level, grace the course during its time. One such tale revolves around a horse named Wollamai, who carries a strong Phillip Island connection and went on to win the 1875 Melbourne Cup.
Cleeland had a strong love of racing and would often walk his horses to Flemington to race, which he did with Wollamai. Arriving a few days before the Cup was run, the horse went on to write itself into the history books that year and reportedly provide owner and trainer Cleeland with a small fortune off the Cup win.
In recent years, the race has attracted quality fields and produced some ripper finishes. Four of the last five Cup winners have prevailed by a mere short half head, causing the judge to work overtime as he desperately sought to find a margin that would split the place getters. The exception to these tight finishes was in 2017 when Cranbourne trained mare Jilly Blu upset more fancied rivals to stroll home by several lengths in a canter, when ridden in copybook style by jockey Grant Seccombe.
In 2016 it was the Mornington stables of Bec Waymouth who took home the Cup with Keep Happy. Trained by Bec and with mum Debbie having the race day reins, Keep Happy was patiently and perfectly ridden, playing a waiting game back in the field before coming with a withering burst of speed to reel in the others and snatch the win. The year before and it was the Sale trained Lardner Lou, ridden also by Grant Seccombe, who stole victory when least expected and returned to stunned silence from the big crowd.
Reflecting back to last year and it was the Pakenham trained Rileys Rocket and champion Bendigo rider Courtney Pace who combined for an outstanding win. Utilizing dash and dare, Pace was able to navigate a path to the finish line before gaining the slenderest of ascendancies over the concluding stages to surge home in the final bound. The performance was a masterclass in big race riding and proved that tactics are always at a premium.
Once again, the Club will have one of the country’s finest race callers in Adam Olszanski to call the seven-race card in front of what is expected to be a bumper crowd. Adam has called approximately 18 Woolamai Cups in the past and commented that he is looking forward to adding another to the list, with the race and its history holding many fine memories.
Race Club president Rob Carmichael has had a long association with the Woolamai Club and was anticipating another exciting day on Saturday.
“The Cup is something we look forward to each year and it should be another outstanding meeting. The track, in spite of recent hot conditions, looks in superb order and the race itself should attract a quality field,” he said.
“The Club has put in a lot of work into preparations and we are hoping to build on the success of our Cup days in past years.”