Brisbane trainer Steve O’Dea’s past two trips to Grafton have paid off handsomely and his stable looks set for further success at the Clarence River Jockey Club’s seven-race meeting on Monday.
O’Dea could have six runners at the Grafton meeting – Chappo (race two, $4.20 on TAB fixed odds), first-starter Navy (race four, $2.80 favourite), Setoka (race five, $6), Savvy Rock ($3.30 fav) and Divina (race six, $8.50) and The Socialist (race seven, $3 fav).
The Eagle Farm trainer struck at his two most recent trips to Grafton, notching a treble at the April 30 meeting and backing up with a double on May 20.
In-form three-year-old Savvy Rock, a winner at both those meetings, heads the stable's chances again on Monday. Savvy Rock won his Maiden over 1710m on April 30 then took out a Class 1 over the same trip on May 20. He chases his Grafton hat-trick in Monday’s Clarence Valley Sheds Class 2 Hcp (1720m).
O’Dea sees no reason why the beautifully-bred son of Fastnet Rock and the Encosta De Lago mare Zavana can't get the job done again.
“This is his first campaign for me - he started off in work with Gai Waterhouse and then had a couple of runs for Toby Edmonds. He's done the job well this prep now that we've been able to step him up in trip," said O'Dea.
"The one query is that he's on an eight-day back-up for the first time, but he's very well, has drawn perfectly (barrier three) and will roll forward. I expect him to be very hard to beat again. He's a very well-bred horse who's been a bit immature mentally, so I expect he'll keep improving into his four-year-old season."
Ben Looker has ridden Savvy Rock at his past two Grafton wins, but Paul Hammersley takes over on Monday. Looker will ride leading contender Penny Fling, having his first start for Port Macquarie trainer Matthew McCudden: "Last week I wasn't sure I'd be backing Savvy Rock up on Monday, so Ben took the other ride," said O'Dea.
O'Dea will make a decision on race morning whether Divina lines up with Savvy Rock in the Class 2 after she came up with an awkward gate. O'Dea is also expecting a strong showing from The Socialist, who tackles the Grafton Hire Class 1 Hcp (1215m).
The Socialist's overall record is very consistent with a win and five placings from his eight starts. The Snitzel three-year-old is coming off second placings at his past two runs at the Sunshine Coast (April 27) and the Gold Coast (May 12).
"His last two efforts have been two of his best runs," said O'Dea. "He's presented to win but is still learning how to put a race away. But he's heading in the right direction and I think he'll be hard to beat at Grafton, although Tony Gollan's runner (All Important) does look the one to beat."
O'Dea said first-starter Navy, a winner of his only two barrier trials - the most recent at Deagon on May 15 - was working along nicely for his debut. A three-year-old by Commands, Navy lines up in the Cansdell Signs C,G&E Maiden (1115m): "He's had a few issues with shin soreness and has just needed a bit of time," he said. "His work has been solid."
O'Dea is hoping Setoka and Chappo can both bounce back from epic last-start failures. Setoka drops back from Listed company to tackle the More Ice Benchmark 61 Hcp (1420m) while Chappo runs in the Kev's Cleaning Service Grafton Guineas Prelude (1420m).
Setoka had won two of her previous three starts – a Grafton Maiden and a Sunshine Coast Class 1 – before O’Dea decided to test her in the Listed $100,000 Princess Stakes at the Sunshine Coast on April 14. The Sebring filly finished a distant last, some 20 lengths behind the winner Improvise, but was found to have suffered cardiac arrhythmia. She has since had a barrier trial at Deagon on May 15, finishing second to Able Engine over 1000m.
"Her overall form was pretty good before her last run at the Sunshine Coast but there was a genuine excuse that day," he said.
O'Dea also has his fingers crossed that Chappo will show his true ability when he lines up in the Guineas Prelude, but admits the Fastnet Rock three-year-old is a bit of an enigma. Chappo has always shown potential, winning impressively on debut at Doomben in January, 2017, but has failed to put two good runs together in his six starts to date.
He resumed in good fashion at Grafton on April 30, easily winning a Class 1 over 1206m by 2.5 lengths. But he then went to the Sunshine Coast for his next start on May 16 and dropped out quickly after leading into the straight, finishing last of 11 runners behind Constant Flight.
"He seems to either win or finish last," said O'Dea. "He had trialled well before he resumed for a good win, but I was very disappointed with his effort last time at the Sunshine Coast - he was entitled to show a lot more than he did "But he pulled up fine and I'm happy enough with his work. Hopefully, he can bounce back on Monday. Stepping up to the 1420m, he should be able to get a comfortable lead and roll along in front."
Monday's Prelude winner is exempt from the ballot for the $80,000 Grafton Guineas (1600m) on July 11.
The three-year-old to beat in Monday's Prelude looks to be I Am Impinge, trained on the Gold Coast by Toby Edmonds who will be looking to replicate last year’s result. Edmonds won last year’s Guineas Prelude with Sneaky Glance who went on to win the Grafton Guineas two starts later.
I Am Impinge, by I Am Invincible, has won two of his nine starts and underlined his potential over the summer when fourth to top Sydney galloper Pierata in the Group Three $200,000 Vo Rogue Plate. I Am Impinge tackles Monday’s race second-up after resuming for fifth to Constant Flight over 1200m at the Sunshine Coast on May 16. Glen Colless will partner I Am Impinge, his only ride at the seven-race meeting.