By Graeme White
If Pleased can capture the Lismore Cup it will be the icing on the cake for a group of friends who have had the time of their lives with the well-performed eight-year-old.
Pleased has won two of his past three starts which include the Ken Howard Cup at Coffs Harbour and a feature race at the Murwillumbah Cup meeting. However, such is the quality of horses in the $75,000-time honoured race to be run over 2110 metres he is rated a $16 chance with the NSW TAB.
The top weight Macchina Volante has also won his past two starts which include the Murwillumbah Cup and the Lismore Cup prelude, but he also doesn’t carry the favourite’s tag and is quoted as a $3.90 chance. The race favourite tag sits with Honourable Spirit ($2.30) which has won three of his past four starts for trainer John Smerdon.
Ballina trainer Stephen Lee will have Pleased and also stable mate Sinepari ($81) contesting the Lismore Cup. Sinepari has also won two of his past three starts as has Riot Act ($7.50) giving the Cup five horses with outstanding lead-up form.
Lee has attempted to win the Lismore Cup previously with Scotty Be Gotti finishing second for him in the 2016 edition. Macchina Volante’s trainer Stewart Campbell has also been runner-up previously with Bernie Of Babylon in 2015.
Trainer Matthew Dunn will have three starters in the Cup with Riot Act, Divine Eleven and Head Up High. Lee believes the Cup is wide open and feels Honorable Spirit deserves favouritism after consecutive wins at the Gold Coast and a runaway victory by more than five lengths at Doomben.
“Honorable Spirit won easily last start and has some weight relief for the apprentice jockey so he looks the hardest to beat,” he said.
It wouldn’t matter if Pleased won another race as his owners have experienced years of enjoyment from the prolific winner of more than $270,000 with bonuses. He has been part of the Lee stable for many years after being purchased as a younger horse and is thriving on his training schedule which includes beach work at South Ballina.
“He is still fresh and has an enjoyable time between starts working a bit at the beach which keeps him rejuvenated,” he said. “I have had him since he was a Class 1 horse and he has been able to win two metropolitan races.
“He has done well for the owners who range from a couple of bakers to some other mates and a few local guys.”
Lee agreed it would be a huge thrill if Pleased could win the Lismore Cup from barrier 11 for jockey Ashley Morgan.’ Macchina Volante is a go back type who has drawn gate one, Pleased races on the speed and that is where Lee again wants him ridden.
“He has led and won over a mile at the Sunshine Coast before. He has a tricky draw, but he will roll forward and be right up there,” he added. “He has done well for us over the years and when he won at Coffs Harbour he was going away from them at the end.”
Like every other owner-trainer in then Lismore Cup, Lee would love to tick the race off his bucket list: “The country cups are always great and this is a very strong field, but for sure it would be great to win,” he said.
Pleased’s last start sixth at Doomben was behind London Banker which has won his past four starts. The slow tempo didn’t suit Pleased that day according to his trainer and it will be a different story if the race is run to suit on Thursday.
Lee and Campbell will also be represented in the feature sprint – the $50,000 Westpac Rescue Helicopter Untamed Sprint (1210m). Lee will have the consistent See It Thru, while Campbell has Pride Of Pyingerra – a winner of three of his past four starts lining up.
The topweight Amirykal is in peak form winning his past two starts and will have the services of apprentice jockey Jasper Franklin who will also ride Macchina Volante.
The query runner is Valiant which is having his first start since winning the corresponding last year. Valiant has only raced four times for three wins, but as a six-year-old his career has been extremely restricted by setbacks.