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Grafton's $2000 Country Championships Hope

By Julieanne Horsman

As a foreman for Gai Waterhouse in the mid 2000s, Scott Henley rode Hard Drivin’ Mama in trackwork every day.

When her gelding son turned up in an online auction at a bargain price years later, Henley, who has been training in his own right since 2014, couldn’t resist.

“I snapped him up for just $2000,” he said.

“He was in a paddock in Brisbane and I had to do a fair bit of work to get him ready for the racetrack.”

On Monday that horse, who is now named Hotel Drive, will start in a race worth 75 times his purchase price.

The $150,000 Northern Rivers Racing Association qualifier for The Country Championships attracts the best horses from the local area and Henley is confident Hotel Drive is a red hot chance.

“He is jumping out of his skin, all we just need a dry track,” Henley said.

“We’ve had so much bad luck with the weather.

“He’s ready to go but hasn’t much of an opportunity to race.”

Hotel Drive was set to start in a BM75 race over 1200m at the Gold Coast late January, but was scratched when the track was downgraded to a Heavy 8.

Henley instead opted to send him to a barrier trial at his home track at Grafton the next day.

He pinged out the gates, led all the way and won by five lengths.

“I thought it was a very nice trial,” he said.

“I especially liked the last furlong. He’s fit and well.

“The time was good too. 33 seconds for the final 600m.”

Henley insists his previous run on the Gold Coast last month where he finished 12th of 15 should be forgiven and forgotten.

“He was caught on the fence on the worst part of a soft track,” he said.

“The wet tracks wreaked havoc on him last year too.

“We chose to forgo the opportunity to run in The Country Championships and aimed him at the Ramornie Handicap but the weather destroyed his preparation and he ended up running in a 1200m class 6 race on Grafton Cup day in which he came second.”

Talented jockey Ric McMahon has been riding Hotel Drive in trackwork for the past three months and has been booked to pilot the horse for the Country Championships.

Between now and then, Henley plans to simply keep him ticking over.

“He likes variety so he will swim, canter and do a bit of pace work on Saturday,” he said.

“He’s a great horse and does whatever you want him to.

“He basically does his work, comes home and licks the bin clean.”

Hotel Drive will carry Grafton’s hopes into the NRRA Country Championships Qualifier with most other horses expected to come from neighbouring areas.

Each of Hotel Drive’s owners are coming to town for the race, flying in from locations including Brisbane, Narrabri, Gunnedah and one is even travelling from Tasmania.

“They all love the horse,” Henley said.

“It’ll be a big one if he qualifies.”

Grafton trainer Alan Ryan won the NRRA Qualifier with Redwolf in 2015 but the home track runners missed out on a top two finish last year.

“It’d be great to win a big race with all the owners here,” Henley said.

“It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”

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