By Doug Ryan
Taree trainer Cliff Bashford has meticulously prepared his galloper Ever So Natural to avenge close defeats a year ago in The Country Championships by winning the $150,000 Qualifier at his home track on Sunday.
He wants to erase the memory of his $2.20 favourite Ocean Grand finishing second last in the 2016 qualifier, by having stablemate Ever So Natural go one better than her second place finish in the same race.
Ever So Natural was then a most unlucky for third in the $400,000 Country Championships final at Royal Randwick.
“The winner (Clearly Innocent) had all the luck and my horse had to make a long run from the back,” Bashford said. “It was a great run under the circumstances.”
Bashford also believes Ever So Natural has developed into one of the best racehorses he has ever trained. He pulled up well after lumping 61.5kgs to score by just under a length over 1208m at Port Macquarie on 11 February, beating many of the rivals he will face on Sunday.
He has engaged ace Sydney jockey Glyn Schofield to continue his quest.
“My horse has had a better preparation than last year, keeping him fresh and not overly doing it.”
Bashford’s biggest hurdle on Sunday could be Shotgun Roulette. Her trainer,Wayne Wilkes, reckons she is ready to outgun the opposition.
“There is not much between the two (his and Bashford’s) and the result might depend on which horse gets the best run,” Wilkes said.
He certainly means business and has engaged former Wingham, international and now Sydney top jockey Corey Brown to ride his mare.
“She had a track gallop on Tuesday and is in great fettle,” Wilkes said. “She is jumping out of her skin.”
Wilkes was impressed with the mare’s solid win in the $70,000 Arrowfield Queen Of The North over 1200m on 17 February and he has kept her fresh since as she races best that way.
Race times can often be misleading, but Ever So Natural over 1208m ran about the same time as Shotgun Roulette over 1200m at Port Macquarie. Ever So Natural drops 4kgs but the mare rises 1kg.
To promote Shotgun Roulette’s form, Tamworth trainer Sue Grills’ galloper Fickle Folly was sixth in the Queen Of The North and then came from a wide barrier to lead most of the way to win the TAB Highway Handicap over 1100m at Rosehill last Saturday. Three-year-old Port Macquarie colt Cogliere, trained by Marc Quinn, also won a Highway race over 1400m in Sydney before its 8th behind Ever So Natural on 11 February.
Quinn had the colt scoped and blood tested after the last run and nothing was found amiss. After studying the run, he said there were three negatives accounting for the out of character run.
“The track was shifty, he was back in distance and up in class,” Quinn said.
Quinn gave Cogliere a track gallop with smart Coffs Harbour sprinter Plateau Gold between races at the Coffs meeting on Monday and was happy that his colt was able to work on “fresh grass”.
Former Port Macquarie and now top Sydney apprentice Andrew Adkins renews his association with his former master on Cogliere this Sunday.
Milligan, the trainer of last year’s winner of the qualifier, hasn’t given up on repeating the dose and has four-year-old mare Capital Magic (emergency) and three-year-old Valbeata ticking along nicely.
Port trainer Jenny Graham has three runners Portatorio, She’s Invincible and Gold Torque, all on the improve. . Leading Port trainer Neil Godbolt is hoping for improved runs with prolific winner last campaign, Hippy High Ho, and three-year-old filly Artova. She won four races as a youngster and showed a glimpse of form with a second to seasoned Not Doubtful at Tuncurry last Saturday.
Another Port trainer, John Sprague, leans towards mare Jemily over mare Bold Beginning as his best chance.
Track specialist, three-year-old gelding Dubai Sights with two wins and a second from three starts, was touted by Taree trainer Matthew Robinson as the best horse he has trained.
It had a minor setback with blood issues late last year but has won two races since from its past three starts.