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Jumps villain becomes Grand Annual hero
Mike Hedge
18:05 AEST Thu May 2 2013

A horse who did his best to end jumps racing in Australia two years ago has breathed new life into the sport with a stunning win in the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool.

Banna Strand made headlines around the world in the 2011 Grand Annual when he jumped the outside fence, causing mayhem as he landed among spectators.

This year his jumping proved equally effective, but he remained on the racecourse, grinding home along the outside fence to score a victory for the game and for mediocrity.

"He's not a very good horse, he never won a race on the flat," said trainer John Wheeler.

"It just shows you, if you've got no ability you can still win. That's what this business does, it gives horses like him a chance to do something."

Despite the limits to Banna Strand's talents, Wheeler is now considering taking Banna Strand to England for the world's greatest jumps race, the Grand National Steeplechase.

"There's a chance I might go further and do something stupid," he said.

"If I can get five or six horses together and a sponsor I'd give it a go."

Banna Strand's infamous excursion into the crowd injured seven people who were watching the race at the point where the horses cross a road and jump back onto the racecourse.

The incident strengthened the consistent call for jumps racing to be banned and also to lawyers urging the injured to sue.

But Wheeler helped defuse the situation by contacting all of those who had been hurt.

"One had a broken arm and one kid had been knocked out of its pushchair," he said.

"But in the end none of them wanted to go on with it, they accepted they were there to watch a spectacle and some even appreciated that the horse had tried to avoid them.

"This what this place is all about, the real people."

Banna Strand ($7.50) plodded the best at the end off the 5500m, getting the better of the equal favourites Man Of Class and Dhaafer in the final 50m.

The nine-year-old also provided Wheeler, who has trained 25 Group One winners on the flat in Australia, with his sixth Grand Annual since he first won the race as an owner in 1993 with Straight And True.

He has both owned and trained the next five.

"I just train because I love it - and I love it more and more," he said.

The Grand Annual was run to the accompaniment of loud protests from animal liberationists outside the racecourse.

But their dire warnings thankfully failed to materialise with one of the seven runners suffering a harmless fall and another losing its rider.