By Ray Hickson
It wasn’t that long ago trainer Warren Gavenlock’s dream of winning the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final looked dashed but a gear change masterstroke has given Plonka his second chance at “the big dance”.
The Coffs Harbour trainer thought Plonka’s campaign was in tatters when he was beaten out of a placing in the Northern Rivers heat on his home track six weeks ago.
But he credits the addition of a tongue tie for the five-year-old producing his best and racing his way to Randwick by winning the $50,000 Wild Card (1280m) at Muswellbrook on Friday.
Plonka enjoyed a perfect run under jockey Jeff Penza and he swooped on Joe Cleary’s race favourite Rothenburg in the last 50m – both horses booking their places in the Final – with early leader Blue Missile a close third, Blue Missile’s effort made even better after it was revealed he bled in the run.
“We’re back to the big dance, it’s amazing isn’t it,’’ Gavenlock said on Sky Thoroughbred Central.
“That’s the real Plonka. We had a few issues going into the other race and the tongue tie was the answer.
“Gee I couldn’t ask for a better ride from Jeff. The bloke is in form, he’s a strong rider, he’s fit, he’s healthy, and he just put him in such a beautiful position and cruised.”
Plonka wins the Wild Card at Muswellbrook on March 26
The gelding finished third in last year’s Newhaven Park Country Championships Final behind Gracie Belle, who he defeated in winning the Northern Rivers heat in 2020.
Despite the win, TAB only firmed Plonka into a $15 chance after confirming his spot while runner-up Rothenburg is on the $11 line of betting.
Penza is adamant Plonka will be a force to be reckoned with at Randwick.
“He knew what he was here for today and the horse went super,’’ he said.
“He was spot on today and he should be very competitive in the big race. The distance won’t be a problem, everything is pointing in the right direction for this horse.”
The Wild Card has produced two winners of the Newhaven Park Country Championships Final since its inception in 2015 with Artlee winning the inaugural event and Noble Boy’s victory in 2019.
As disappointed as Queanbeyan trainer Joe Cleary was that Rothenburg wasn’t able to hold off Plonka and claim the major end of the prizemoney his eyes are firmly fixed on the bigger cheque when they get to Randwick.
Rothenburg finished third in the South East heat, scheduled for Nowra but run at Goulburn, last month.
“We’re in that’s the main thing, that’s been the plan all along,” Cleary said.
“I’ve got two weeks to get him right and they’ll know he’s there.”
The gelding will spend a couple of days in the paddock before his work is stepped up and jockey Christian Reith believes he’ll be a much tougher rival come April 10.
“He was really gutsy, he’s had a bit between runs and it just showed towards the end,’’ Reith said.
“We hit the front and I thought we were home but just the last 100m I just started to paddle.”