By Gavin Stubbs
It was a golden day for picnic racing on Saturday afternoon as Woolamai and District Turf Club held their flagship race day on the calendar, hosting another action-packed edition of the Alex Scott and Staff Woolamai Cup.
Fiercely competitive on-track competition, elite riding skills, a picnic racing equine star and a young jockey living his dream all contributed to a racing showcase, highlighted by the John Price trained gelding Gee Whizzer streaking away to win the Cup.
Ridden superbly by twenty-one-year-old jockey Max Keenan, Gee Whizzer was able to stalk the speed throughout and then pounce on the leaders upon straightening for home to win by two lengths. This completed a winning double for Keenan on the day, as well as making it back-to-back Woolamai Cup wins for the Bayles based rider.
Warm conditions and the ever-present ocean breeze were the conditions that greeted patrons, who flocked to the course in their thousands for the bumper seven-race program. With the first race underway, seven-year gelding Jocks found the finish line to win comfortably for jockey Leigh Taylor and Pakenham trainer Kasey Wilson.
Race two over 2300 metres saw an astonishing effort from Diamond Geyser, trained at Bass by Belinda Simpson. Rider Tim Grace was trapped three- wide for much of the trip, however still managed to not only win, but had a length to spare in a stellar staying performance.
Race three on the card over 1600 metres saw jockey ‘Daring Dani’ Walker take up the running aboard Cranbourne trained Stagecraft, employing catch-me-if-you-can tactics to perfection. The copybook ride saw the pair go on to win with ease.
The first of the riding double for Max Keenan came about in race four, when Derek the Viking found plenty under pressure on his way to victory.
It was a family affair as the seven-year-old gelding is trained by father Alan Keenan at Cranbourne. In race five, talented jockey Caitlin King rode with confidence aboard Tycoon Felix, who dashed from rivals to win by a space.
Race six was Woolamai Cup time and a moment that Max Keenan decided to leave an indelible imprint. Taking full advantage of a draw close to the rails, Keenan and his mount Gee Whizzer tracked the leaders till the home turn, then made their move.
Rounding up adversaries upon straightening, the shadows of the winning post were in their sights and the pair darted away to Cup glory. This meant consecutive Woolamai Cup wins for Keenan, after scoring last year on Zontario.
Reflecting on the win the next day, Keenan was happy to convey his thoughts.
“The race was run according to script. I knew my horse was hard and fit and during the running I was always confident,” he said.
“The pressure went on at the 800 metres, but I just stuck to the plan. Upon turning for home, I knew we had them covered and my horse wanted to attack the line.
“From then, I just wanted to enjoy the moment. This race is a dream of mine to win and it’s just a huge thrill.”
Keenan now has a handy lead in the riding premiership, but is quick to add that much of it is due to the support of father Alan. Already with four country cups on the mantelpiece, a training career beckons for Max as weight issues begin to burden his fledgling career.
The final event witnessed picnic racing’s most exciting horse in sprint sensation Nankervis, who continued his winning ways. The flashy chestnut made it five wins from as many starts this season, with Mornington trainer Bec Waymouth proud of her charge. Dubbed the “Woolamai Wonder” by race caller Ben Sporle, Nankervis appears destined for greater riches.
Of note also was a fundraiser on the day, held in conjunction with the Race Club, raising valuable funds for two-year old Mikaylah Moore of Cranbourne as she continues her significant health battle. This was all possible through the support of many who kindly contributed through various ways and their efforts are greatly appreciated by Mikaylah’s family.
A further highlight on the day was a stirring rendition of the National Anthem prior to the running of the Cup, performed by Phillip Island’s Imogen Price. Family members, including grandfather and Woolamai training legend Cefn Price were on hand to witness the event and could not have been prouder of Imogen.
This rounded out another highly successful day for the Club, whose volunteer committee worked tirelessly to bring the event together. Without doubt however, it’s a day Max Keenan will remember forever as his name, alongside Gee Whizzer, is etched into racing’s history books.