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A Brilliant Musgrove Season
by Zeb Armstrong for AJRA
Posted January 4, 2016

Sometimes the old master, the sensei, the doyen, the one whose prowess all others have tried to emulate, well sometimes this man or woman pops their head up just to remind the up-and-comers who is boss. For the 2015 jumps season it was Eric Musgrove who just ever so slightly reminded the likes of Peter Moody, Darren Weir, Gai Waterhouse and Ciaron Maher that he is still the man to beat when it comes to sending horses over obstacles for prize money. Of course all of these great trainers have been training jumpers for years, maybe even decades, but for the 2015 season Eric Musgrove, the man who has them all covered in the experience ranks, again rose to the top of the jumps premiership in two states and the old master even took out the leading trainer award within the prestigious J.J. Houlahan Championships. Eric never actually went away, however jumping has got more popular, and the bigger Group 1 stables are too now chasing the riches that the jumps industry provides.

Eric was this season’s leading trainer within the J.J. Houlahan Championships; he also trained the leading horse in the championships, the warrior Thubiaan. Eric was South Australia’s leading trainer of jumpers of 2015, together with Victoria’s leading jumps trainer and overall, Australia’s leading jumps trainer for 2015 jumping season. Eric’s standout jumper of the year, the eight-year-old gelding Thubiaan won the Von Doussa at Oakbank, the Brierly in Warrnambool and the Australian Steeplechase in Ballarat and more than deserved to be the top horse of the 2015 J.J. Houlahan Championships.

However Eric's stable, this season, did not just consist of the one superstar jumper, but several. In fact most of Eric’s winners this season were not superstar jumpers (although they certainly have potential). Eric rather just did what he does well and has been doing well for a long time - he simply got the best out of each and every one of his horses. Placement was the key to Eric’s stellar season; take Urban Explorer for example. This gelding ended his season by winning the Grand Nation Steeplechase in Adelaide, but prior to this he beat Thubiaan in the Yalumba Classic Hurdle at Oakbank over the Easter Carnival. These two wins were five months apart, but Eric, in all his wisdom, kept this gelding fresh and happy in between these two stunning victories. To go with these two abovementioned victories, Urban Explorer also finished a brave 2nd in the J.J. Houlahan Hurdle behind the former Group 1 winner Vatuvei. The gelding also won a hurdle race nicely at Gawler and held on for 3rd in the rich Lafferty Hurdle at Warrnambool behind the very in-form Arch Fire. This was a great season from a horse that more than anything was well placed by his trainer. Horses can’t win every time they step out; even Bashboy has been beaten, however Eric again this season showed that keeping a horse happy and healthy is the key to getting it to run well consistently over a long period of time. Urban Explorer, like Thubiaan enjoyed great success this year and while the horse does the jumping, the trainer has to get the horse ready to complete these gruelling journeys. Eric did this better than most this season. Urban Explorer is by the great Zabeel and with the passing of the generation defining stallion it was great to see one of his progeny thriving on the track.

Zataglio, prior to this season, had been a flat horse that had reached his peak. With more money than ever on offer over the jumps, Eric quickly got the son of Savabeel (grandson of Zabeel) ready for a career over the jumps. This gelding is only a six-year-old and this was his first season over the jumps. He indeed looks a jumper for the future considering he won his first start over the hurdles, and ended his campaign with a 12 length romp in a good steeplechase race at Casterton. In between these two great wins, Zataglio consistently performed well in both hurdle and steeplechase races. The gelding finished 2nd to Urban Explorer in the Adelaide Grand National Steeplechase, he won the International Jumps Challenge Steeplechase (Irish series) in Adelaide, as well holding off all late comers in a very deep benchmark 120 steeplechase in Ballarat. There may not be a more exciting young jumper in Australia than Zataglio and we have Eric to thank for identifying this grandson of Zabeel as a potential jumper very early.

These are just three of the many nice jumpers Eric produced during the 2015 jumps season. Then as an added cherry on top of this award winning season, Eric dominated the International Jumps Challenge series at Morphettville. We have discussed above the performances of Zataglio at Morphettville on International Jumps Challenge day (winning the Steeple), but the champion trainer also trained the quinella in the hurdle on this great day at Morphettville. Agreement and About The Journey finished 1st in 2nd in the William Hill Irish Hurdle which was race 2, then not long after (race 4), Zataglio won the William Hill Irish Steeplechase. A great day to end a stellar season.

Old dogs can learn new tricks, but in the case study of Eric Musgrove and the 2015 jumping season, the master trainer more adapted than changed. There are lots of good jumps races spread across two states that are worth a lot of money. Eric this season identified the horses that suited particular races at certain parts of their preparation the best; this in turn led to more wins and better results. Forever the conservative, Eric would be the first to tell you that yes Thubiaan can compete with the best i.e. Bashboy (and almost beat him in the Grand National at Ballarat), but others cannot. There is nothing to be gained by having a horse in a race it can’t even go close to winning (within reason) when said horse can win and make a good profit in a different race somewhere else. With a good army of troops this season, Eric spread his means across all the meetings and the preparation, the calculations and the persistence has indeed paid off.

Congratulations Eric Musgrove being the Australia’s leading jumps trainer (again!) in 2015.

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