By Graeme White
There might be only one person who wants to win the Coffs Harbour Cup more than local trainer Brett Bellamy, and that's jockey Raymond Spokes who'll handle Bellamy's Northern Knight ($14 on TAB) in Thursday's $150,000 feature.
"Every trainer has got that ambition to win your hometown cup and I've been close a couple of times but haven't quite been able to get the job done," Bellamy said.
"He's probably up there as one of my best chances I've ever had in it."
In 2009, Bellamy and Spokes just missed when Fiori was beaten a neck by Legendary Man, back when the Coffs Harbour Cup was worth less than half what it is today.
"I know Ray is yearning to win it more than me. He's gone close on a fair few occasions but hasn't quite been able to get the job done," Bellamy said.
Northern Knight is coming off a seventh in the Sawtell Cup (1515m) at Coffs two Saturdays ago, just over two lengths behind Greek Hero who Bellamy expects will be tough to beat again in the Carlton Dry Coffs Harbour Cup (1605m).
But from barrier two, dropping 5kg on that last run, and with the sting out of the track, the trainer is happy with Northern Knight heading into the big day.
"He's as well as can be. I couldn't be happier with him," Bellamy said. "I'm not altogether convinced he's a mile horse but he's in there with a good barrier and it's the old story - if you're not in there, you've got no chance.
"He's in there and he's well and happy. The rest is up to him and Raymond ... he knows him so the ball's in his court."
Greek Hero ($5.50), trained by Jason Deamer in Newcastle, is also down in weight, dropping 6kg.
Kris Lees also has a former Great Britain galloper, Luncies ($3.90 favourite), chasing Coffs Harbour Cup success. Like Greek Hero, Luncies started his career in England, where he won four of his first six starts.
Northern Knight is all north coast rather than northern hemisphere but has been on quite a journey himself. The now eight-year-old opened his career with a bang in 2017, winning a trial, a maiden, a class one and a class two all within his first five weeks on the track.
A fifth in a Highway Handicap in Sydney completed his first preparation, when jockey Hugh Bowman agreed they had a nice horse in the making, and the stable planned for The Championships.
But Northern Knight came out with his head between his legs on the big day and almost had to be pulled up (officially beaten 40 lens). He was sent back to trial, stumbled at the crossing at Coffs Harbour, and tore the ligaments from his fetlock to his hoof. It would be 90 weeks before he'd return.
"He was off the scene for a long time and in the preparation when he was coming back from injury, I think he was looking after himself a bit and didn't quite live up to the expectations we had of him," Bellamy said.
"We put him back in the paddock again and got him back and since last preparation, touch wood, he's getting back to something like the form he always had."
In a family affair, Bellamy has Northern Knight's full sister in the first on Cup day, last-start winner Boncassie ($4.40) in the $30,000 Toormina Hotel 3YO Plate (1205m).
"She's very tough but she's still a working project," Bellamy said. "She won well the other day but meets Buck Pharoah ($1.70 fav) a lot worse at the weights because it's set weights and penalties. I'm hoping she's had natural improvement to overcome that."
Bellamy also has Three Cities ($26) in the nine-horse opening event, among his 11 potential runners for the day.
Four are in the Grant Bastian Memorial Benchmark 66 Showcase Handicap (1005m), including Island Daze ($13) first-up from a spell and Redcore ($81) who will carry 60kg, even after Jayden Barrie's 3kg claim, in his 45th race start.
"He's drawn the right gate (2) to give him a chance," Bellamy said. "Over 1200m they don't go hard enough for him ... he's got the blinkers off and there should be a lot of speed and the two barrier gives him a chance to tuck along in behind."
Supreme Diva ($10) and Venusian (first emergency, $19) are in the Bellbowrie Motors Class 3 Showcase Handicap (1205m) and Bellamy hopes the former will be very competitive.
"Supreme Diva was very gallant in defeat behind The Drake at Grafton over the carnival," he said. "She got to the line really nice and was a little bit interrupted up the straight so she should probably have finished a little bit closer."
Jenny Graham's The Drake ($4.80) is chasing a second straight win a $50,000 feature, lining up as one of the chances in the Daniel Baker Showcase Sprint (1205m) which closes the program. But it's a race Bellamy will hold dear if his runner, Jakuta, (first emergency, $61) can get a run, and deliver a run.
"It's a race, outside the Coffs Cup, that I'd like to win," Bellamy said. "I've won it when it was under a different name but now the Daniel Baker holds special sentimentality.
"Daniel was apprenticed to me and tragically was killed in a race fall at Grafton so it is a race I'd like to win. Since its name change I don't think I've gone close."
The eight-year-old chestnut is also nominated for Saturday's $30,000 Casino Cup although the Daniel Baker Sprint is the trainer's preference.
Jakuta's last win was over 1400m in a benchmark 66 handicap at Grafton in April. He's had two wins in 10 starts since joining Bellamy's stable late last year.
Bellamy said, in difficult times across the nation, the sold-out Gold Cup Day at Coffs Harbour will be something to enjoy.
"Your hometown cup carnivals, it's always a buzz. This one will be a little bit different with restricted crowds and all that sort of stuff but I'm just happy to be racing," Bellamy said.
"At least we have some crowd available. The Cup days are what keep the race clubs alive all year."