By Julieanne Horsman
Unwavering favourite, Pumpkin Pie, is off to Royal Randwick after a dominant win in the Goulburn heat of the Country Championships.
The Danny Williams-trained mare overcame a wide barrier to greet the judges one and a half lengths ahead of Anne-Marie Ruttley’s Steel Frost – an outside chance at $13.
Jumping from gate 14 Pumpkin Pie fought forward to eventually settle in second place behind Quietly Brilliant.
As they turned for home jockey Jay Ford popped the question and Pumpkin Pie kicked away.
Steel Frost with Matthew McGillivray aboard gave chase, but Pumpkin Pie was too good.
Joe Cleary’s Chaquinta, ridden by Bobby El-Issa, was four lengths away third.
“What a relief,” Danny Williams said after the race.
“I’ve been on eggshells the past couple of weeks. I’ve chewed all my fingernails off and almost my toenails.
“Everything had gone our way leading into the race but I had the natural jitters something could go wrong."
Williams had a runner in the Country Championships final last year after Ashjata finished 2nd in the wildcard qualifier at Muswellbrook, but this is the first time he has qualified a horse at his home track.
“I’m over the moon,” he said.
“In the last 150m she pricked her ears and floated home.
“Provided she pulls up well will race her at Randwick next week which will be a step up in class but she is still so untapped.”
He also thanked everyone for coming and supporting the event and declared The Country Championships a great initiative to afford bush trainers the opportunity to be a part of The Championships.
Pumpkin Pie’s part-owner June Baker was on hand to accept the trophy.
“This is certainly a highlight in my life,” she said.
“I was lucky enough to win last year’s Grafton qualifier, but to win at her home track is something special.”
She acknowledged her long time friend, Garry Burgess, who selected the horse on pedigree not type and revealed an interesting story about how Pumpkin Pie got her name.
“Her dam is Thanksgiving and we couldn’t call her turkey,” she joked.
Anne-Marie Ruttley was quietly confident her gelding would be a strong chance today.
When he won his third race in a row at Kembla Grange in November, she decided to aim him at The Country Championships.
“I haven’t had a horse good enough for The Country Championships before and I’m so excited to get in,” she said.
“I wanted to give him a run over 1600m so I took him to Randwick earlier this month in preparation for this race.
“I want to give him a run between now and the final but I haven’t decided where I will take him yet.
“We will see how he pulls up.”
Pumpkin Pie and Steel Frost will now represent the South East Racing Association in the $400,000 Country Championships Final at Royal Randwick on Saturday 1, April.
They’re the third and fourth horses to qualify, with Perfect Dare and Free Standing securing their starts at the Grafton heat last Monday.
Dubbo hosts the Western Region Racing Association heat tomorrow.
Perfect Dare and Pumpkin Pie now hold equal favouritism for the final. Both are at $4.60 on fixed odds with the TAB.