By Ray Hickson
With the seven qualifiers and wild card run and won, here's an update on what the contenders for the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m), run at Royal Randwick on April 10, have been up to and what the plans are in the lead up to the Star Championships.
BAILEYS (Graham Payne, Coffs Harbour)
Probable jockey: Scott Galloway
Since winning the Northern Rivers Qualifier, Baileys finished second in a 1400m Benchmark 90 at Eagle Farm on March 6.
“He was very well outgraded there and he nearly pulled it off,’’ Payne said.
“Scott Galloway got off and said ‘what price would the winner be if they were in the Country Championship Final, we should have beaten it’.”
The plan for Baileys is to have a “nice big jump out’’ on Friday or Saturday at Coffs Harbour and Payne said that will have him just about ready for Saturday week.
“I can tell you he hasn’t gone backwards. He’s looking for a mile and I hope they keep betting 15/1,’’ he said.
TARA JASMINE (John Shelton, Grafton)
Probable jockey: Tim Clark
The lightly raced mare went into her Qualifier at just her fourth race start and since then she's had a couple of tough runs in Brisbane, including last Saturday where she worked triple time in the run before fading to beat a couple home in a three-year-old open over 1350m.
She'll have some blood taken on Wednesday though Shelton said she seems to have come through the Doomben run okay.
"She didn’t have a lot of luck early, she got decked out of the gates and probably should have stayed back there but she elected to push on and she had a torrid run," he said.
"She seems pretty fine within herself. Whether she might be coming to the end of her tether I’m just not sure. We’re marking time for a couple of days to see what the blood picture throws up and will work it out from there."
ART CADEAU (Terry Robinson, Shoalhaven Heads)
Probable jockey: Tommy Berry (or James McDonald)
The South East Qualifier winner stepped out for the first time since his Goulburn win on February 16 in a barrier trial at Randwick last Friday and that was more than enough for trainer Terry Robinson.
He'll do a piece of work on Friday and then Robinson's main concern is whether Tommy Berry is able to ride following his appeal after being suspended at Rosehill last weekend.
"We’re happier with him now than when he won the Qualifier, he wasn’t 100 per cent fit,'' Robinson said.
"It looks like he has pulled up well. He doesn’t have to do a great deal now. Tommy was happy with his trial, he’s a good winded horse and he is on track."
LEG WORK (Danny Williams, Goulburn)
Withdrawn from the Final.
ANOTHER ONE (Gary Colvin, Wagga Wagga)
Probable jockey: Nick Heywood
The Southern Districts Qualifier winner will have a serious hitout on Tuesday at home before travelling to Sydney with stablemate Forever Newyork, who will run at Canterbury next week, and stay at Greg Hickman's stable for a couple of days.
Another One won a barrier trial on his home track on March 25, his first appearance since his narrow win at Wagga a month earlier, and is exactly where Colvin wants him.
"He’ll work before he goes (to Sydney) and we’ll poke him around for a couple of days,'' he said.
"He’s come on very well. He trialled very well, he did what we wanted him to do. He did it pretty easily so we’re happy."
BAUTISTA (Donna Scott, Albury)
Probable jockey: John Kissick
If it happens to be a wet track then Donna Scott is quietly confident Bautista has what it takes to cause an upset despite what his price says.
The four-year-old charged home to be narrowly beaten in an 1175m open sprint at Albury a month after the Qualifier, proving to Scott and any doubters his run was no fluke. He worked at Albury on Tuesday morning and will have another serious gallop ahead of the Final.
"I was filthy when the barriers came out because he’s a horse that normally jumps and puts himself thereabouts,'' she said.
"He came through the races really well on the good tracks. He needed to have a run before he went to the final, I’m surprised at the price but the owners are happy with him so I don’t care.
"He’s always been a horse we’ve had an opinion of. He's showed he has a massive heart and can run on anything but if it rains and we can get some give in the track he will improve a few lengths."
CHARMMEBABY (Bob Milligan, Taree)
Probable jockey: Grant Buckley
Just under a month after her runaway Mid North Coast Qualifier win at Scone, Charmmebaby jumped into a Benchmark 88 at Rosehill on Coolmore Classic Day and hit the line strongly from last to be beaten four lengths by Yao Dash.
"We were over the moon and the sectionals she ran only Nudge went quicker the last furlong,'' Glen Milligan said.
The push back of the carnival by a week has proven to be a bonus for Charmmebaby as she missed almost a week of work when the Taree track was under water during the recent floods.
She worked on Monday morning and will work Friday or Saturday on the grass at Taree. It'll be her last fast work and will have a pretty light week into the Final.
"I think she will be hard to beat, I wouldn’t swap her for anything in the final,'' Milligan said.
"I think she’s as good as them, on her jump out on Monday morning she’s improved since she won her heat."
SUBTLE GREY (Allan Kehoe, Port Macquarie)
Probable jockey: TBC
It didn't come as a big surprise to Allan Kehoe that the grey put in a flat run at his second run back from an 18 month break, having run a brave second behind Charmmebaby, as he battled into eighth in a Benchmark 64 at Wyong on March 9.
He galloped with Jenny Graham's stable star Victorem at Port Macquarie on Saturday and Kehoe said he's back on track.
"He put in a real gut buster first up coming off a long spell. He’s never been real good second-up so that’s good to have it over and done with and his third-up run is usually his best,'' he said.
"Robert Agnew galloped him leading into the Qualifier and galloped him the other day and he reckons on his work he’s a top five chance if he turns up.
"The horse is healthy and bright and the extra week seems to have done him a favour. He has good wet form, so if we can get a wet track it would even the field right up."
HAMOGANY (Dean Mirfin, Bathurst)
Probable jockey: Clayton Gallagher
The extra week's wait into the Final caused a slight tweak to Dean Mirfin's program for Hamogany but he's a horse that is looking for further than 1400m so he's not too concerned about the extra freshness.
He gave the gelding a trial over 1000m at Orange on March 21, finishing second to Ljungberg, and because of the delay it was a slightly stronger trial than first planned.
"He trialled super. I was going to give him a soft trial but I did a little more with him in the trial. He’s a 2000m horse and I have to be mindful of that,'' Mirfin said.
"He had a lovely gallop (Tuesday) morning and will have a light gallop on Saturday. We weren’t too badly affected by all the rain and his work has been kept up to date."
The final gallop will be Monday or Tuesday on the Bathurst course proper.
HEALING HANDS (Gayna Williams, Bathurst)
Probable jockey: Samantha Clenton
Gayna Williams sees gaining a start in the Final when Central Districts Qualifier winner Old Harbour was ruled out through injury as a bonus for the talented six-year-old.
After he ran third at Mudgee, Healing Hands was bound for the Muswellbrook Wild Card but Williams ultimately didn't need to head there. He's just going to be kept ticking over until he goes to Randwick.
"I’m happy with everything, he worked well (Tuesday) morning and everything is progressing well,'' she said.
"He’s the sort of horse that doesn’t have to have a lot of hard work at home, he doesn’t handle a lot of hard work and only has to have maintenance work."
SPIRANAC (Rodney Northam, Scone)
Probable jockey: Reece Jones
The impressive Hunter & North West Qualifier winner has had a "scarily smooth" time since she won at Tamworth and is set for a strong hit out at home over 900m or 1000m on Friday.
"We gave her an easy week last week because it was a bit wet, I needed to give her an easy one somewhere in between now the race is pushed back a week,'' Northam said.
"I'm really happy with her. She'll have a really good jump out on Friday, do a bit of work Tuesday and she'll be right to go."
Northam is showing a huge amount of faith in his apprentice Reece Jones by keeping him on Spiranac as he said it's hard to take anyone who has had six rides for five wins and a second off a horse.
"We had a think about putting a Sydney jockey on but at the end of the day he knows her really well and hasn't done a thing wrong so if it ain't broke don't fix it,'' he said.
PURE FUEGO (Cameron Crockett, Scone)
Probable jockey: Christian Reith
A superb second in the Tamworth Qualifier told Cameron Crockett that Pure Fuego was ready for this year's Country Championships, even though he suspected he might be a year away, but was bitterly disappointed with the horse's subsequent effort.
He was a beaten favourite in a 1280m open at Muswellbrook last Friday, running fourth of seven, and a very frank Crockett said "I wasn’t happy with the run at all".
"I just don’t know about that track, some horses handled it well and some horses didn’t handle it at all,'' he said.
"He pulled up fair. He’ll have a gallop on Thursday and go from there. I needed to do something with him to bridge the gap between runs but I couldn’t say I was overly sold on the run."
ACTIVATION (Kody Nestor, Dubbo)
Probable jockey: Ben Looker
The Western Qualifier winner completed a 1000m jump out on Tuesday morning at Dubbo and Kody Nestor said the gallop told him the horse has progressed since his Coonamble win.
Next up for the gelding is some pace work on Thursday and a gallop on Saturday and Monday before making the trip to Sydney midweek.
"He had a good solid jump out and that will tighten him up well, he’s a genuine miler and the gap between runs won’t hurt him,'' Nestor said.
"I elected not to trial, it worked out ideally to jump out with no travel."
Ben Looker retains the ride on Activation having answered the call to ride at Coonamble when the meeting was postponed for a couple of days due to rain.
"He did me a favour coming up to replace Grant Buckley and I’m a bit of a loyal fellow,'' Nestor said.
WILD ROCKET (Kylie Kennedy, Narromine)
Probable jockey: Mathew Cahill
It was a learning experience for Kylie Kennedy when Wild Rocket ran into second in the Coonamble Qualifier and she hopes keeping her on the fresh side will reap rewards at Randwick.
"Matty said she was a little bit dour on the run, not as good as she can go and I think I overworked her,'' she said.
"If she was just that little bit fresher and if she had the run (Activation) did, she doesn’t like being blocked in between horses, and if she was on the outside she would have gone better.
"It doesn’t matter where she draws we’ll just hook her back and give her plenty of room."
Kennedy said the mare came through the run really well and will have a gallop on Saturday or Monday. It's likely she'll travel to Sydney overnight on Thursday week.
"She’s a really bad traveller so I’m weighing up whether to go the day of the race or the day before but I think we’ll get there on Friday and let her settle in there,'' she said.
PLONKA (Warren Gavenlock, Coffs Harbour)
Probable jockey: Josh Parr
The Wild Card winner will be seeing plenty of the beach in the week leading up to the Final.
Trainer Warren Gavenlock said it took Plonka a couple of days to bounce back from the trip to Muswellbrook and back to Coffs Harbour but feels there's a sense of timing about last year's third placegetter who was a different horse with the addition of a tongue tie.
"I thought he was dominating. He was a little bit slow when we got home on the Saturday night but picked up well,'' Gavenlock said.
"He had a couple of quiet days and pacework on Wednesday. He’ll gallop on Saturday and spend most of next week at the beach. We'll do his final gallops on the beach, it helps switch him on and is a good variation working in a straight line."
He said having to contest the Wild Card might be the making of Plonka this year as it's given him the right platform to produce another big performance at Randwick.
ROTHENBURG (Joe Cleary, Moruya)
Probable jockey: Hugh Bowman
After a couple of days of R&R, Rothenburg arrived back at Joe Cleary's Queanbeyan base on Monday and that's where he'll stay before heading to Sydney on April 10.
Cleary said he believes the 36 days between runs from the South East Qualifier, where he finished third, to Muswellbrook told on him in the concluding stages as Plonka finished over the top of him.
"He just ran out of tickets the last 60 yards,'' he said.
"We have time up our sleeve to pump his tyres up and get him ready for the Final."
Rothenburg worked on Tuesday morning and Cleary said "he’s dead set tap dancing". He's been given use of the Queanbeyan course proper for the horse's gallops and he'll stride out on Saturday and Wednesday.
"He'll work on the grass on Saturday with Up Trumpz then Wednesday with Kiss My Swiss. Two stern hard gallops to screw him right down and he will be spot on,'' he said.