Back to back Country Championships would be the ultimate swan song for veteran trainer Greg Bennett.
The day after the $400,000 race is run, he is shutting down his Scone stables to take up a role at Queensland-based breeding facility, Aquis Farm, and he’s keen to make some noise on the way out.
Bennett has three strong changes for the Hunter and North West Country Championships qualifier at Scone on Sunday – a race he won last year with Clearly Innocent who went on to claim victory in the final.
Leading the charge is All Summer Long who is back for a second tilt at the title.
The Snippetson gelding qualified for the final after finishing 2nd behind Clearly Innocent last year, but was scratched the day before due to stone bruising on his hoof.
“It will be poetic justice if we get there this year,” Bennett said.
“We decided straight away we’d like to target this race again so he has been held back on purpose. We gave him a good long spell after his last preparation and I am very happy with where he is at now.”
All Summer Long ran a strong race for second in the Country Championships Prelude at Scone on 17 February.
He lumped 62kgs in that race and won’t know himself when he drops down to 56kgs as a class three horse in a set weights race.
“He gets in good at the weights and with a trial and two races under his belt, he is cherry ripe,” Bennett said.
“All we need now is a soft surface and a barrier inside 8 to give him the best chance.”
The track is currently rated a Good 4 and with 1-5mils of rain expected daily, that could be downgraded to a Soft 5 by Sunday.
Invienna is also back for round two after finishing 4th in the Scone qualifier and 5th in the wildcard at Muswellbrook in 2016.
“She was really unlucky not to get into the final last year,” Bennett said. “Obviously she had Clearly Innocent and All Summer Long to contend with at Scone and was caught wide at Muswellbrook.”
Invienna was only a length behind the winner in the Country Championships Prelude while carrying 61kgs. In the start before that she recorded an impressive win in a Class 3 1100m race at Scone while carrying 62kgs.
She too will appreciate a turnaround in the weights, dropping to 55.5kg in the Country Championships.
“She’s race fit and is deserving of a spot in the final,” Bennett said.
“She needs a good surface and will try and settle midfield but that plan might have to change when the barrier draw comes out.
“She is raced by a great group of loyal owners and I’d love to see her do well for them.”
Sassaby rounds out the Bennett trio and although the trainer concedes his last run yielded a disappointing result, he says it should be forgotten.
“He ran a good 1200 but the rider had to check him in the straight to keep him out of trouble,” Bennett said.
“Had he not been interfered with, he would have performed better. He’s stripped fitter for the run and I’m happy with him.
“It’ll be a good strong race though. There are more than a few smart horses in the mix.”