Victorian raider Curragh is primed for a strong showing in Thursday's $80,000 Carlton Draught Coffs Harbour Cup (1600m), although co-trainer Natalie Young admits a bit of rain this week would have enhanced the gelding's chances even further.
Young, who trains Curragh with partner Trent Busuttin at Cranbourne, said the Tavistock galloper had thrived since his last-start win at Warwick Farm over 1600m on July 18 and had travelled up north in fine fettle.
"I'm staying here at Cranbourne and Trent is going to Coffs Harbour for a few days with some of Curragh's owners who have come over from New Zealand. It'll be a nice boys' trip away for them," she joked.
The Coffs Harbour track is currently rated a good 4 and fine weather is forecast for the next few days - not exactly what Young and Busuttin were hoping for.
"We've had the Coffs Harbour Cup in mind for this horse for some time, but part of our thinking was that the track might be a bit on the softer side," said Young.
"But that's not likely to happen with fine weather forecast for the week. It's not that he needs it really soft or heavy to show his best, but being out of a Keeper mare, he does like a bit of give in the ground.
"And he also received a touch more weight (58kg) than we expected but he's still going to be very competitive in Thursday's race. A country cup like that over the 1600m looks ideal and he's really thrived since his last win at Warwick Farm."
Curragh improved his record to five wins and six placings from 24 starts when he returned to winning form last start in a Benchmark 79 at Warwick Farm - his first win since scoring at Ballarat in March last year. "He's probably taken a bit more time to mature than most Tavistocks and he should improve even further over the next six months," said Young.
Top Sydney jockey Andrew Adkins takes over on Thursday and Curragh has drawn barrier nine in the 16-horse field: "From that alley I'd expect him to settle fifth or sixth," said Young.
Darci's Affair and Pelethronius, who both ran in the Coffs Harbour Cup last year with differing results, are the joint topweights this year with 60kg. The David Pfieffer-trained Pelethronius started the $2.25 favourite with 61.5kg in last year's race but finished sixth while Darci's Affair won the race with 57.5kg after jumping from the outside gate.
Darci's Affair was trained by Paul Murray last year but is now under the care of his brother Graeme. Darci's Affair is trying to become the second horse in the past five years to win back-to-back Coffs Harbour Cups following the deeds of Brisbane galloper Pepperwood who won it in 2012-13.
Darci's Affair, who drew gate five this year, will again be partnered by Robert Thompson, while stablemate Sure And Fast (gate 12) will be ridden by Grant Buckley. Also back for another Coffs Harbour Cup tilt is Glitra, who ran a brave third to Darci's Affair and Gold Ambiton last year when trained at Port Macquarie by John Sprague.
Now with Brisbane trainers Peter and Will Hulbert, Glitra goes into Thursday's race at his third run this campaign after finishing third over 1400m in a Benchmark 75 at the Sunshine Coast on June 30 then finishing third again in a Benchmark 75 over 1600m at Doomben on June 21. Glitra, who drew gate six, will be ridden by Matt McGillivray.
Gold Coast trainer Bruce Hill has scratched Bodega Negra, winner of the race in 2016, from this year's race, enabling first emergency American Diva to gain a start. Thursday's eight-race Showcase meeting also features the $40,000 Coffs Harbour Toyota Daniel Baker Sprint (1200m), the $35,000 Eagles Plumbing Supplies Blinkan Missit over the 800m dash, and the $35,000 Jen Whitby Memorial Ken Howard Cup (2000m).
Tuncurry sprinter Arise Augustus is chasing a repeat performance in the Blinkan Missit after winning the race first-up last year. The Terry Evans-trained gelding also resumes in Thursday's sprint and the trainer has booked 4kg-claiming apprentice Kyle Wilson-Taylor, reducing his burden down to 60kg.
The apprentice has also been booked for prolific-winning Grafton sprinter Lucky Meteor in the Daniel Baker Sprint. The youngster was aboard the John Shelton-trained Lucky Meteor at his previous start when he won the Daniel Baker Prelude (1206m) at Coffs Harbour on July 22.
Lucky Meteor, chasing the 14th win of his career, will carry 58kg in Thursday's race after the claim, but does have to contend with one of the outside gates in the 14-horse field.