By Ray Hickson
It’s not Tommy Berry’s style to make grand declarations after winning a race but in his eyes Art Cadeau threw down the gauntlet to his rivals statewide with a gutsy win in the South East Qualifier of the Newhaven Park Country Championships at Goulburn on Tuesday.
The win handed Shoalhaven trainer Terry Robinson his first Country Championships finalist with the lightly raced four-year-old being only his second runner in the series since its inception in 2015.
The race was meant to be run on his home track at Nowra on Sunday but wet weather cost him the home track advantage and the meeting was switched to Goulburn.
Berry, who won the $500,000 Final at Randwick in 2016 on Clearly Innocent, is adamant Art Cadeau is the horse to beat in 2021 after he held off the challenges of Leg Work and Rothenburg in the 1400m contest.
“There’s a lot more qualifiers to go until we get to the grand final but they’ll want to be good to beat him,’’ Berry said on Sky Thoroughbred Central.
“He’s a real warhorse. I had to make a run on him early to put him in the race because I was midway back on the fence.
“He got to the 150m and I was out of carrots but he’s such a fighter and when Sam (Clipperton on Leg Work) came to me he didn’t want to get beaten.”
Berry went into the race wary of giving Art Cadeau a hard run as Robinson had told him there was plenty of improvement to come.
It was Art Cadeau’s fourth win from 10 starts, he’s yet to finish worse than second, and it seems TAB agrees with Berry’s estimation as he firmed to a clear $4.50 favourite to win the April 3 Final.
“Terry said before the race he was going to need the run, he hasn’t had a run for a few weeks, and the grand final isn’t for a while so he’s far from screwed down,’’ Berry said.
Robinson plans to send the gelding to his owner’s farm for a week’s R&R before he gets to work on having Art Cadeau at his peak.
The trainer hasn’t had the best of luck in the Country Championships to date with Our Rosemaree, who was a late scratching on race day in her Qualifier in 2019 before contesting the Wild Card, his only previous runner to date.
“You get them ready for the heat then the final isn’t for another six or seven weeks so it is a big ask for a horse,’’ Robinson said.
“I think he is the right sort of horse because whatever happens he’s so versatile. He wasn’t quite, in my opinion, 100 per cent in his work but he’s such a trier.
“I feel sorry for the Nowra club to lose the meeting, it’s bad luck, but it has been great to come here and race and it’s been a great result.”
Leg Work’s trainer Danny Williams was rapt with his charge’s performance after he jumped from the outside alley and was forced to give Art Cadeau a head start.
The gelding charged home in a race best 34.59 for his final 600m (Punter’s Intelligence) and he was the only horse to break 12 seconds for the last 200m (11.79).
Art Cadeau wins the SERA Qualifier at Goulburn on February 16
“It was a sensational run. They weren’t making ground up out wide all day,’’ Williams said.
“I still thought he was going to get there. It was an outstanding effort, both jockey and horse will gain a lot of confidence from that.”
The four-year-old won’t race again until the Final, where he’s now an $8 second favourite, and Williams says he produces his best when fresh and is now crossing his fingers for a wet early autumn.
“We just want him as sharp and as fresh as he was today,’’ he said.
“The wetter the better for us, he can sprint like that on a wet track.”