Former West Australian galloper Ciugar Express leaps to victory in the Grand National Hurdle at Sandown.
Although he has been associated with many of the major victories of Darren Weir, trainer Jarrod McLean has stepped onto the big stage in his own right preparing Cougar Express to win the Grand National Hurdle at Sandown.
McLean prepares a team of 60 horses at Warrnambool for Weir and also trains a stable of 20 horses in his own name.
Cougar Express had three trainers in Western Australia before being transferred from Lindsey Smith to McLean for a jumps career.
Backed from $15 to start at $8.50 in yesterday's A$250,000 feature, the Shane Jackson-ridden Cougar Express scored a 12-length win over the $2.05 favourite Self Sense, with Bit Of A Lad ($4.60) another three-quarters-of-a-length away third.
"It's a huge thrill to get our turn in a big one today," McLean said. "It's six years ago that Youbolt won the Palmerston Sprint (in Darwin) which was probably the biggest win of my career and I think this tops that today.
"He's an incredible horse and it's testament to the trainers who had him before me."
Despite setpping up to 4200 metres for the first time, McLean was confident the gelding would have no problems handling the trip.
"Speaking to Lindsey during the week he said he'd be surprised if he wasn't the toughest horse in the race," McLean said.
"It was always the plan to sit in the slipstream which is the way it panned out and I was supremely confident getting to the second last knowing how tough he was, but we were running against a quality horse in Self Sense."
McLean said with the jumps season nearing an end he may freshen the gelding for a shot at December's long distance Jericho Cup at Warrnambool.
Jackson believed the solid tempo suited Cougar Express. "I was left to ride him with an open copy book," he said.
"I could lead if there was no speed, but the speed was good and the pressure was put on early and it suited me just towing in behind them."
Trainer David Brideoake was proud of the performance of runner-up Self Sense, who attempted to lead throughout under 69kg. He went into the race unbeaten in three starts over hurdles.
"I thought he went beautifully," Brideoake said. "He's a fast horse that probably wasn't quite ready for this marathon trip, but I thought he was strong and with Bit Of A Lad at his girth the trip, it softened him up a bit."
Meanwhile, stewards questioned John Allen about his tactics on Bit Of A Lad before adjourning the inquiry to examine betting on the race.
After victories at Casterton, Warrnambool and Bendigo, the Darren Weir-trained Bit Of A Lad was sent out second favourite behind runner-up Self Sense who was the $2.05 favourite.
Rob Montgomery, who presided at yesterday's meeting, said Racing Victoria stewards wanted to examine betting records from corporate bookmakers before continuing the inquiry.
He said stewards had spoken with Weir, who is in Darwin for the Cup meeting.
"He said he didn't tie down Mr Allen with instructions other than not to let Self Sense out of his sight," Montgomery said. "The only way to beat him was to pressure him."
Allen said he had ridden Bit Of A Lad in a bid to give the gelding every chance of toppling the favourite. He added the way he thought the race would unfold was that he would sit outside the leader, whether that was Self Sense or Cougar Express.
"I thought I gave him every chance and I rode my horse the same way as last time," Allen told the inquiry.
Winning jokcey Shane Jackson was fined A$500 for standing in the saddle in a celebratory gesture before the finishing line.
Last season's champion jockey Craig Williams was suspended for 10 meetings on a careless riding charge after his win on Smart Elissim. The suspension begins immediately and he can return to riding on August 16.