By Tony Megahey
From the back of Bourke, Stoneyrise and hobby training farmer James Hatch captured racing’s imagination in the Country Championships final last season and Dubbo’s Connie Greig is hoping to defy similar long odds with her first Highway starter from regions even more remote.
Connie’s seven-year-old gelding Rising King contests Saturday’s TAB $60,000, 1500m episode at Rosehill Gardens after starting his career on the north Queensland tablelands. He won with big weights at non-TAB meetings at Atherton, Mareeba, Innisfail and Townsville.
Since joining Greig’s stables, successive strong Dubbo placings confirm he is up to TAB level. On Saturday, Rising King carries the minimum of 53.5kg reduced by a 2.5kg claim for James Innes jnr.
The immensely popular Highway series continues to reveal compelling anecdotes from far and wide and Rising King provides the latest.
Connie’s contact was distant and minimal with Rising King’s owners and complicated by his several stable changes but eventually the giant galloper was sent down to the former Western Districts Trainer-of-the Year.
“Way back I sent his owners, the Hardy family up there, a lovely brood mare and they said they’d eventually send me something that could maybe win in town,” Connie said. “But when they’ve been through several trainers, it usually means issues. “But he had no problems at all, he was sound, had good form, and is just a lovely horse to train. “It just took him well into his first prep down here to settle into new surroundings and show some of his old form. “It’s hard to get a guide on any non-TABS, especially way up there, but his latest placings at Dubbo have been really solid.”
Connie isn’t fazed at the depth of opposition on Saturday and she offers sound logic.
“It’s still a country class 2. He’s won four races with big weights and if he’d won at Dubbo and not finished second he wouldn’t have been eligible for a Highway. “I understand it’s a lot tougher race, but we’re in on the limit, he’ll run the distance and he’s a real honest trier. “If we weren’t confident he’d put in, we wouldn’t be coming. And he’s in off two solid placings. “He’ll get back, that’s his racing pattern, but he’ll get a solid ‘1500m’ because I think he can get 1600m.”
Rising King (Hidden Dragon) has the highly creditable record of four wins, albeit non-TAB, and three placings from just 14 starts.
Multiple Highway winner Danny Williams is “flying” with a treble at Goulburn on Monday and Don’t Give a Damn will start favourite on the strength of a photo second to highly rated Suncraze in a Highway three weeks ago.
Don’t Give a Damn and stable-mate Arrondissement were nominated for the Highway, but the latter won impressively at Goulburn.
The multitude of country trainers are striving for contenders for the $200,000 Highway Anniversary over the Spring Carnival at Royal Randwick.