By Ray Hickson
Jockey Aaron Bullock could almost go by the nickname ‘the Qualifier’ such have been his deeds in the Provincial Championships series this year.
Bullock has yet to miss in the four Provincial heats, getting a horse through to the Final each time, and he’s hoping those powers transfer to the country sector as he rides Most Exalted in Sunday’s $50,000 Country Championships Wild Card (1280m) at Muswellbrook.
Most Exalted was a beaten favourite in the Central Districts heat at Mudgee on February 25, the race run in trying conditions due to rain, and Bullock is keen to have a second chance on the gelding.
“To come from the back with rain and mud in your face is nearly impossible, he hadn't raced for a long time and it was a complete forgive run,’’ Bullock said.
“He travelled well and as soon as I asked him to improve into the race at the 600m I felt like I had a good horse under me, which he is, but his wheels were spinning and he couldn't produce a turn of foot.’’
Trainer Mack Griffith sent Most Exalted to Sydney for a benchmark race at Rosehill on March 17 and he caught the eye running fifth behind Peacock.
Bullock wasn’t on board that day but he watched with great interest.
Most Exalted charges home from the back at Rosehill on March 17
“He was phenomenal there, he was probably 10 off them coming around the corner and was beaten 2.5,’’ he said.
“On the Punters Intel he's run the fastest 400m of the day (22.14) and it was a Group 1 day so going into Sunday you'd be confident.’’
Most Exalted is on the $15 line with TAB in the Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick on April 7 and is $5.50 second favourite for the Muswellbrook race.
Bullock said he believes things are falling into place for the talented five-year-old to qualify by drawing exactly where he wanted – closer to the outside than the inside.
“Drawing out, which I wanted, is perfect,’’ he said.
“From that gate I'll be able to position him, it wouldn't worry me if I'm wide, with no horses to my outside.
“When he hits the bridle mid race I can go for him. If I try hold him up and go for him at the top of the straight one or two will be too nippy for him.
“If I can have him a couple off them on the corner he'll be hard to beat.’’
Bullock has ridden in four of the seven Country qualifiers with Awesome Pluck (second at Port Macquarie) his only result. Unfortunately that three-year-old had a setback and has to miss the final.
At the Provincial level, he’s converted rides on Just Dreaming (won Wyong heat), Bastia (third in Hawkesbury heat), Serene Miss (won Gosford heat) and Tawfiq Boy (third in Kembla heat) to starts in that series’ Final on April 14.
On Saturday he partners Reach For Heaven ($8 TAB) in the $150,000 Polytrack Provincial Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Newcastle and is somewhat confident of a clean sweep.
The four-year-old, one of seven Kris Lees-trained horses in the qualifier, won at Rosehill on February 28 then ran fifth in the Hawkesbury heat two weeks ago.
“He got back out of his ground the other day and didn't run on,’’ Bullock said.
“But he can mix his form now he's up in grade. He races better at home and you can see a big turnaround.
“He needs a few things to go his way so it's a good thing he's drawn well and he will have all the favours.’’
As for Bullock’s pick of who he’d like to be riding in the Final, he doesn’t hesitate in nominating Serene Miss.