Taree trainer Michael Byers finished 2018 with a bang and hopes to extend that success into the new year when his in-form mare Port Gold chases four straight wins on her home track on Wednesday.
Byers currently only has three horses in work but has won six races from just seven starters over the past five weeks. Port Gold has played a major role in Byers's current great run, winning her past three starts - all at Taree.
And Byers sees no reason why the mare can't make it four straight when she tackles Wednesday's $25,000 Harrington Hotel Harrington Cup, a Benchmark 66 over 1300m.
The six-year-old Husson mare has won four of her 11 starts since joining Byers's small stable earlier in 2018 after winning three of her first 20 starts. She had never previously been able to string two wins back-to-back, but Byers has her racing in the best form of her career.
"I can't put my finger on exactly why she's racing so well," said Byers. "I think it's just what happens with some of these mares as they get older. They come good and when they strike their best form they tend to hold it.
"She loves it here with us and is just thriving. We've been having a terrific run through December with our horses and it would be great to keep that going into the new year.
"I've won the Harrington Cup three or four times before - most recently with Sheza Gypsy (2017) - and it's always great to win a Cup race on your home track - it makes it all worthwhile."
Port Gold's recent run of wins at Taree kicked off on November 6 when she won a Benchmark 50 over 1400m. She then took out a Benchmark 58 F&M Hcp over 1250m on December 3, then completed her hat-trick with a last-start Benchmark 58 over 1400m on December 17.
Wendy Peel, apprenticed to trainer Sue Grills at Tamworth, has ridden Port Gold at her past two starts and takes the ride again on Wednesday, claiming 2kg on the mare who will carry 56.5kg. Peel has had a pretty good run of her own of late, winning eight races in December, including a treble at Armidale on December 18.
"This mare really runs for Wendy and I'd love to see her make it three straight in the Harrington Cup," said Byers. "They have drawn gate one, so she shouldn't have to do any work to get the lead. The 1300m is an ideal trip, and Port Gold loves it here at her home track, so she looks to have a bit going for her in Wednesday's race."
Port Gold should face stiff opposition from a couple of other Taree-trained contenders in the Harrington Cup which attracted a field of 10. Local galloper Blinkin Artie, trained by Ross Stitt, was allotted the 63.5kg topweight but will carry 60.5kg after Coffs Harbour apprentice Kyle Wilson-Taylor's 3kg allowance.
Blinkin Artie is resuming since August 17 when he finished second to Marathon in the Hopkins Livermore Cup (1400m) at Taree. Although he is yet to win in three previous first-up runs, he does boast an outstanding record over the 1300m at Taree, winning three of his four starts at the track and distance.
Valbeata, trained at Taree by Bob Milligan, looks particularly hard to beat at his third run this time in after producing two good runs at his past two Taree appearances - a first-up second to Silver Melody over 1000m in a Benchmark 66 on December 3 and a last-start second to Traumatised in a Benchmark 66 over 1250m on December 23.