By Ray Hickson
It’s almost becoming a pilgrimage for Casino trainer Stephen Bennett and his talented galloper Exclusive to make their way to the Grafton carnival.
For the third year running the five-year-old will attempt to claim a race at the popular carnival, which commences next Sunday and concludes on July 11, and his first mission is to chase back-to-back wins in the $27,000 John Carlton Quality (1175m).
Exclusive has won seven races since joining Bennett’s small team, the first came in a Class 1 on Grafton Cup day in 2019, and five of them have been at Grafton so it’s no surprise he wants to race the gelding there as much as possible.
After winning the John Carlton last year Exclusive earned a start in the feature sprint, the Listed $200,000 Ramornie Handicap (1200m), but a wide gate put paid to his chances and he finished down the track behind subsequent Group 1 placegetter Signore Fox.
“We’re taking the same path as last year,’’ Bennett said.
“He’s going just as well. He’s a bit older and a bit more mature and he races well at Grafton.
Exclusive wins the 2020 John Carlton at Grafton
“There’s always another race like the Maclean Cup if he doesn’t make it (into the Ramornie).”
A year ago Exclusive won the Beef Week Cup (1400m) on his home track and went into the John Carlton with a month between runs.
This time around he’s been off the scene for two months having not raced since finishing midfield at Doomben on April 24.
“I gave him a couple of runs in Brisbane and gave him a couple of weeks off to target Grafton again,’’ Bennett said.
“He does like his runs spaced. He’ll have a good solid gallop on Tuesday and that will just about do him for Sunday.
“Kirk Matheson is going to ride him in the gallop, he’s coming to the races at Lismore and is going to come early to ride him work.”
If Exclusive can continue his strong Grafton form through the July carnival Bennett hopes that will be enough to put him on the radar for The Kosciuszko later this year.
He had that in mind for 2020 but his form post-Grafton, which was solid, didn't attract a ticket winner's attention.
"After Grafton he won the Murwillumbah Cup and ran second in the sprint race on Lismore Cup day, he had 63kg that day, and I kept him in work just in case we got a call up,’’ he said.
The Clarence River Jockey Club’s Grafton Cup carnival comprises five meetings spanning three weekends commencing next Sunday with ‘Prelude Day’ featuring the John Carlton, Grafton Cup Prelude and Guineas Prelude, then a week later the South Grafton Cup takes centre stage.
The two feature meetings, Ramornie Handicap Day and Grafton Cup Day, follow on July 7 and 8 and the carnival wraps with the Maclean Cup meeting on Sunday July 11.