By Ray Hickson
There’s a real feeling from Scone trainer Cameron Crockett that the Newhaven Park Country Championships title is up for grabs in 2021 so his hopes are high for Sunday’s Hunter & North West Qualifier at Tamworth.
Crockett could have up to three runners in the $150,000 feature with Midsummer Rain, Brother Bassy and Pure Fuego all being aimed at the race.
It’s a year that’s notable for the series featuring plenty of up and coming country trained horses and that’s what has Crockett believing if you’re good enough to qualify you’re good enough to claim the $500,000 Final.
“What I’m excited about this year is if you can win a Qualifier you can probably win the Final,’’ he said.
“Most years there’s always been one or two standout horses which, on a level playing field and with the right luck, you can’t beat.
“We’ve had Clearly Innocent (2016) who went on to win a Group 1, Victorem (2018) is a Group 2 winner, Noble Boy (2019) won a Listed race.
“It might depend on how good Art Cadeau is, he’s going to go on to do good things, but there’s nothing that says to me he’s going to win a Group 1 whereas we all knew how good Clearly Innocent was going to be right from the start.
“It wouldn’t matter what happened with the Country Championships this year (mine) are all horses that are good propositions moving forward.”
The Hunter and North West district is regarded as one of the strongest in the state so competition for the final 14 places, with acceptances taken on Thursday, is fierce.
Of his trio Crockett, who won the Central Districts heat in 2019 with Soul Secrets when based in Mudgee, warns Midsummer Rain’s first-up failure should be forgiven after she simply didn’t handle a heavy track at Newcastle.
She’d won three of her previous six starts and shown Crockett she’s well above average and he has Mitchell Bell booked to ride.
“She is a very good horse. Not many horses do what she’s done in six runs, go to open company and beat them easily,’’ he said.
“I have a lot of time for her. She didn’t handle the inside at Newcastle at all, that was the first time she was exposed to wet ground.
“I had no other option because she needed a run before the Qualifier. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have run but it’s something she had to do and she pulled up super so she didn’t take a backward step.”
Quirindi Cup runner-up Brother Bassy, a winner at Tamworth two starts ago, is racing in career best form at present and Crockett said he could well hold the key to the race.
Jake Pracey-Holmes retains the ride on the gelding having developed quite a rapport at his past two starts.
“Depending on how the race sets up he could be the pick of them,’’ he said.
“If they are rolling on the speed and he gets into the right part of the track he won’t be coming back to them. If it rains and it’s a slog he’d be very hard to beat.
“He had to do a lot of work to get across at Quirindi and I reckon he was very gallant. The Qualifier might be a bit better than the Quirindi Cup was but he was in open company.”
It’s clear Crockett also has plenty of time for another lightly raced conveyance in Pure Fuego who won three of his first five starts before a close second over at Newcastle on February 18.
Midsummer Rain wins at Mudgee on December 4
The four-year-old, with Christian Reith pencilled in to ride, has burst onto the scene in the past couple of months and if he does make the final field Crockett won’t hesitate to give him the chance.
“Pure Fuego in all fairness is probably 12 months away from being a Championships horse,’’ he said.
“He came to it a bit quicker than what I expected but if he gets a run he won’t be without a shot.
“A horse with his ability, there’s no point in running around in normal country races. While you are down in the weights and going well you should have a go.”
Midsummer Rain and Pure Fuego are rated $26 in TAB’s all-in market for the Newhaven Park Country Championships Final, run at Royal Randwick on April 3, with Brother Bassy at $101.