By Doug Ryan
Two grey geldings could fight out a memorable finish to the $150,000 Newhaven Park MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier at Manning Valley Race Club’s $370,000 “Showcase” TAB meeting at Taree on Sunday.
Will it be “senior citizen” seven-year-old Subtle Grey, trained at Port Macquarie by Allan Kehoe, or the touted rising middle-distance star, three-year-old Casirini, trained at Taree by Ross Stitt.
It is a curious scenario as both greys have vastly different form lines with Subtle Grey having its first start since running second behind Tarbert in the Hopkins-Livermore Cup over 1400m at this track in August 2019 whereas Casirini notched its second win at the same track only late last month.
Serene Bloodstock’s Les Tinkler owns the Murtajill gelding Subtle Grey, from the family’s Subtle Miss, the horse having had 17 starts for four wins, whereas Casirini is by illustrious sire, Casino Prince and has had only eight starts, its first win being over1700m at Muswellbrook last August.
Subtle Grey has been in work nearly 20 weeks but Tinkler’s hand doesn’t end there. His Serene Bloodstock also has six-year-old gelding Lord Heron engaged, it also trained by Kehoe, it being by in-form All Too Hard.
“The grey horse should be too good for them,” Kehoe said despite Subtle Gray having its first run since being beaten by Grafton galloper Tarbert. Tarbert won 11 races, three of them since that race and has been retired.
Subtle Grey will only be having its 18th start on Sunday and has been brought to prime fitness with three barrier trials, winning two of them from Kehoe’s In Ya Skyrocket, another Qualifier hope, with the other resulting in a second behind Lord Heron at Port Macquarie on February 7.
Before Subtle Grey’s last race start it was always near the lead to score by 1.4 lengths in the Wingham Cup over 1600m at Taree on June 7, 2019: “The horse has had a good long spell and has good grounding for this race,” Kehoe said.
Casirini’s trainer Ross Stitt said he was “more than happy” with his gelding’s work since scoring with race jockey Robert Thompson over the distance of the Qualifier’s race of 1400m at Taree last start: “He has been given light work to keep him fresh an interested,” Stitt said.
Kehoe has a strong hand not only with the two mentioned but also handy In Ya Skyrocket to be ridden by top country jockey, Ports Ben Looker.
Stitt believes his opposition will come from five-year-old mare Bellastar, trained by Wauchope’s Colt Prosser, it being a fast-finishing second behind Wyong’s Elusive Eagle over 1200 at Port Macquarie last start.
“She is looking forward to every inch of the 1400m and hasn’t put a foot wrong since,” Prosser said.
Last year’s top country jockey, Newcastle’s Andrew Gibbons, has chased the ride on Kendall’s “pride of joy” and Prosser said she is ‘spot on” for the race.
Gibbons has had plenty of success on Bellastar which according to one of the head part-owners, Michael Coman of Kendall, was brought out of possible retirement for another campaign.
A big team of owners in the $4000 buy, many of them are owners for the first time, have enjoyed the experience and have rocked the Kendall Citizens and Servicemen’s Club after the mare’s wins. The mare was beaten less than a length in last year’s Qualifier behind Magnalane.
The family of Taree trainer Bob Milligan bought four-year-old mare Charmmebaby for $14,000 to be their championships hope and according to his son, Glen, she has won about $85,000 since and goes into the race ready to “fly”.
“She has won four and placed four times with one of those wins being over 1500m in a Highway race in the heavy on November 7 so she will have no worry with the distance,” Glen said. “Our Another Valley won a championships heat and was then fourth in the final and the mare might be a good replacement.
Top country jockey Grant Buckley rode Another Valley and he has been booked for Charmmebaby: “I was happy with her last run at Port as she was coming off a freshen up and kept getting to the line.”
Another Taree mare, Monica’s Star, trained by Joel and Wayne Wilkes, has only had nine starts for three wins and four placings, the horse also having won in soft ground.
Persistent rain in the last week is likely to have a wet track but most of the gallopers assessed here can handle those surfaces in what should be a great race capable of springing a surprise.
RACE 1: The Night Train 1, Jazirat 2, Layla Of Monaco 3.
RACE 2: Areya Tuchuzy 1, Arewerichenuff 2, Pandora Blue 3.
RACE 3: Em Em D’Ar 1, Krayzelburg 2, Sancta 3.
RACE 4: Admiral Ash 1, My Sonny’s Faith 2, Ramsey’s Law 3.
RACE 5: Dr Demon 1, In A Step 2, Tallis 3.
RACE 6: Zizania 1, Talladega Knight 2, Jahbath 3.
RACE 7: Subtle Grey 1, Casirina 2, Bellastar 3.
RACE 8: Jaja Chaboogie 1, Sequana 2, Hold All Tickets 3.