By Julieanne Horsman
Sentimental favourite, Stoneyrise, has begun his 1,000km journey to Sydney to compete in the Country Championships Final.
He and owner/trainer James Hatch set off down the dirt road from Hungerford on the NSW/QLD border in the early hours of this morning and will spend tonight in Eugowra.
Tomorrow they will push on to The Oaks on the outskirts of South Western Sydney where they’ll stay with friends until Saturday.
“I’ve been itching to get going and I’m really looking forward to Saturday,” Hatch said.
“Stoneyrise’s stablemate, Nice One Son, travels everywhere with him and has come along for this trip as well.”
Stoneyrise won hearts from the scrub to the city last month with his upset victory in the Western Region Country Championships Qualifier at Dubbo. With Jake Pracey-Holmes aboard, Stoneyrise came from behind to beat favourite La La Loopsy by a length. It was the most significant win for the horse, the trainer and the jockey who had recently recovered from a bad fall.
Since then it’s been a whirlwind of interviews, media visits and phone calls. No one could get enough of the horse “from the back o’Bourke.”
“I never knew I had this many friends,” Hatch joked.
Hatch took Stoneyrise to Charleville races in outback Queensland on 11th March where he was given an exhibition gallop between races.
“I’ve been pretty careful with him these last six weeks,” Hatch said. “I usually use him for stock work but haven’t this time. He has done a bit of track work but that’s about it.”
Stoneyrise has stepped up to every challenge throughout his career recording six wins and five places from 14 starts. He will face the biggest test of his life in the $400,000 Country Championships Final at Royal Randwick this Saturday but will have the comforting presence of regular jockey, Jake Pracey-Holmes.
“I had to be loyal to Jake after he qualified us for the race,” Hatch said. “He’s won on him twice and does have experience riding at Randwick. I could never replace him for the big dance.”
Hatch won’t decide on tactics until the barrier draw has taken place but he’s hoping for a gate between five and nine and a soft track.
Regardless of the result, he’s happy to be part of the series and is bringing his whole family to Sydney with him.
“The qualifier was my first time at Dubbo as a trainer and to get the win was special,” Hatch said. “I never imagined I’d be a trainer of a runner at Royal Randwick on Derby Day.”
Back home there’ll be plenty of people cheering Stoneyrise on from their local pub. The Port Of Bourke Hotel is holding a special screening of the race on Saturday afternoon and is expecting a full house.