Coffs Harbour trainer Joanne Hardy has already provided the biggest shock of this week's Grafton Carnival so isn't prepared to write off the first-up chances of her imported galloper Collaboration in Sunday's $30,000 Maclean Bowls Club Maclean Cup (1400m).
Hardy left most punters stunned during Thursday's Grafton Cup meeting when she landed the Benchmark 65 Hcp (1000m) with $151 rank outsider Chilli Zaim.
Chilli Zaim finished last of 14 at Coffs Harbour when he resumed on a heavy9 track on June 25 but turned that form right around on a good track on Thursday.
Hardy is not a punter, but several of her friends had a nice collect on Chilli Zaim who, in hindsight, was way over the odds. He has a terrific record at Grafton (now four wins from seven starts there) and remains unbeaten in three starts over the track and distance.
"I thought he was probably a 20-1 chance really and the $151 was a silly price," said Hardy. "His first-up run on the heavy track had to be completely overlooked. Hindsight's a great thing, but if you had looked at his stats at the track and at the distance he had to be in Thursday's race with some chance.
"I don't bet, but if I'd seen he was that price ($151) I'd probably have thrown $5 each-way on him." Hardy is also expecting a strong showing from Collaboration on the final day of the carnival on Sunday, but expects the 1400m of the Maclean Cup will be a shade too short for the six-year-old.
Although his first-up statistics show three wins from six starts, those fresh wins were in England when he resumed in middle-distance races.
Collaboration began his career in the UK with Andrew Balding where he showed staying promise, winning five races. He put together successive wins at Windsor, Epsom and Chester in 2015 and was later purchased by Australian interests and sent to Chris Waller.
Collaboration was unplaced in four starts for Waller in the autumn of 2016 before Hardy purchased the galloper for $22,000 on behalf of Malaysian-based owners, the D'Great Stable.
Collaboration won at his fourth run for Hardy, making a one-act affair of the Lismore Cup (2100m) last September, scoring by a massive 10.5 lengths. He finished off his last campaign in Victoria with Mornington trainers Mitchell Beer and Max Hinton and was spelled after his one southern run when unplaced run in the Kyneton Cup last November.
"There was a bit of an ownership dispute after he ran in the Kyneton Cup and that's the reason he's been off the scene since last year," said Hardy. "I got him back in April and had hoped to set him for the Grafton Cup, but ran out of time to have him ready for the 2350m.
"The horse is fit and well and looks well weighted in Sunday's race after Carla's (Doughty) three-kilo claim but the 1400m may be a bit short for him.
"I think he'll still run very well and you just never know - look what happened yesterday (with Chilli Zaim).
"I always planned to kick off this campaign in Sunday's Maclean Cup, but I'm aiming him towards the Ken Howard Cup on Coffs Harbour Cup day and he'll run in the Sawtell Cup prior to that.
"He'll also probably have another crack at the Lismore and Port Macquarie Cups and we'll also look at a suitable race for him in Brisbane - there are some good races coming up for him."
The $25,000 Sawtell Cup (1400m) is at Coffs Harbour on July 23 and the $35,000 Ken Howard Cup (2000m) is at the same track on August 3.
Taree galloper Single Spirit will line up in the Maclean Cup searching for his first win at the Grafton Carnival at his sixth attempt.
The Ross Stitt-trained seven-year-old has been a regular visitor to the carnival since running second to Kurtley in the 2013 Grafton Guineas. Since then he has run in three South Grafton Cups, finishing third (2014), sixth (2015) and 10th (2016). Single Spirit also lined up in last week's John Carlton Cup, finishing ninth to Termele.
Wyong trainer Damien Lane has already had a great week at Grafton and will be looking to finish on a high with last-start winner Hellensburgh Ham in the Maclean Cup.
Lane won last Sunday's $52,000 South Grafton Cup (1600m) with Mr McBat ($11) and Thursday's $50,000 Sir James Kirby Hcp (1000m) with Johnny Roo Boy ($16).