By Tony Megahey
The spectacular winning form of regional rider Ben Looker and rising young local trainer Stirling Osland provides a compelling combination and push for punters at Sunday’s Armidale TAB meeting.
Looker was superb riding the Jenny Graham-trained Victorem to win the prestigious $500K Country Championships Final at Royal Randwick last Saturday, and he partners Osland’s city-placed, in-form mare Prada Miss in Sunday’s historic Guyra Cup (1400m).
The $30,000 feature is sponsored by Watson, McNamara and Watt Solicitors.
The underrated Looker rose to prominence near a decade ago, apprenticed to Gai Waterhouse when she entrusted him on the mighty mare More Joyous. The country winners have been prolific ever since as Ben rides three of Osland’s runners on Sunday.
At present Looker is second only to the great Greg Ryan in the country jockeys premiership.
Looker rides Prada Miss in the feature, and stablemates Bridgetta Rose and Lady Cromac for Osland who is coming off a recent Armidale winning double. All are recent winners in the region as is promising stayer Exilia Miss, Stirling’s other contender in the Cup.
Looker also rides leading contenders for other stables throughout the booming seven-race Armidale program, leading into the upcoming lucrative Tamworth Gold Cup, also targeted by Osland.
“We’re going into the day with some confidence; if there’s a preference in the Cup it’s Prada Miss- she trialled super at Tamworth recently, she flies at the track, is city-placed and we thought she was a genuine Country Championships contender,” offered Osland, who burst to prominence with a treble on Armidale Cup day last year.
“They’ve drawn wide and will need luck, but they’re race-fit, in-form and I’m happy with both. My leaning is towards Prada Miss, she’s got some quality and she’s more suited at the 1400m.
"Exilia Miss is coming back off 2000m form, but we needed another run off near a month’s break towards Tamworth and this was most suitable.
"The barrier isn’t as important with her as she’ll get back at 1400m, and needs a really strong tempo so she can be strong late. But she’s a really consistent mare and thrives home track.”
Osland’s recent winners Lady Cromac and First Family contest the fifth event for Looker and Josh Oliver respectively: “First Family can be quirky, likes it his own way, but he finally put it together with good speed to win at Tamworth and he can be effective again.
“Lady Cromac was really strong winning at Moree. Bridgetta Rose got caught in a hot speed and pressure race at Tamworth and she can bounce back. She showed good speed to win her maiden at home.”
Armidale officials are anticipating a bumper crowd with the present track rating a good three and fine weather predicted.