Robert Smerdon has forgotten more about jumps racing than most of his rival trainers know. A number of top-liners have passed through Smerdon’s hands, including the likes of Zabenz (who subsequently campaigned successfully in the US and England) and current-day champion Black And Bent, with whom he has established an Australian record of 10 consecutive wins over jumps.
Smerdon is saddling Black And Bent and stable companion Brungle Cry in the $100,000 Brendan Drechsler Hurdle at Bendigo on Sunday and the Caulfield-based trainer, who did so much to keep jumps racing viable during its recent dark days, says that Australian steeplechasing and hurdling has never looked to have more potential.
For so long it was difficult to persuade owners to jump horses because of their concern over anti-jumps protesters and the opposition of the Labor government.
But now, says Smerdon, ”it’s not quite, but it’s bordering on trendy to have a jumper.” Much of that, says the trainer, is due to the support of Premier and Racing Minister Denis Napthine, who has always backed the jumping fraternity.
”It’s like a lot of things in racing: you make a decision, and it usually takes two or three years for it to work through,” Smerdon said.
”The decisions made a couple of years ago to improve the sport and make it safer have started to bear fruit. I think it’s in the best position it’s been in for a long time.”
The death of Reckless Rat at Warrnambool last week brought the number of fatalities this season to two. But proponents argue that the improved safety measures are starting to have an impact.
”If you look at when Black And Bent began jumping as a late three-year-old (in the autumn and winter of 2010), we extended his season because I was worried that there might not really be any future for him,” Smerdon said.
”But the support from the current government was the turning point, and the checks and balances Racing Victoria put in place have also been effective.
”There were a stack of horses at the Werribee trials a couple of weeks ago and that’s when I felt that things were really starting to change and it could be taking off again.”
(At that session 71 horses competed across a dozen trials. Werribee racecourse will stage jump racing for the first time in six years at its June 25 meeting).
Of course the increased competition will make life harder for Smerdon – his Caulfield neighbour Peter Moody, for example, has got in on the act with his flat stayer Macedonian looking like a smart recruit to the winter game with a pair of wins in the past month.
”Well, it will be tougher,” Smerdon said. ”But that’s what competition is about and it’s good for jumping.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.