By Ray Hickson
Trainer Warren Gavenlock is pinning his hopes on a few gear adjustments to bring out the best in stable star Plonka and win his way into a second Newhaven Park Country Championships Final.
The five-year-old has already had the ‘ultimate gear change’ but when he contests Sunday’s $50,000 Country Championships Wild Card (1280m) at Muswellbrook he’ll race with a tongue tie and a standard bit after Gavenlock elected to remove the lugging bit for his last chance.
Plonka ran third in the 2020 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick but he clearly raced below his best when finishing sixth in the Northern Rivers Qualifier at his home track of Coffs Harbour a month ago.
Gavenlock feels an impressive trial win at home last week has him back on track.
“It was a good trial, we made a couple of gear changes and I thought the horse got through the heavy conditions and got to the line quite nicely,’’ he said.
“We’ll be there at the pointy end if he’s right, I think this gear change is quite significant really. You think things are going along good until you put them in strong competition.”
Matt McGuren, who rode Plonka in the Qualifier, gave the horse the thumbs up after the trial but he won’t be at Muswellbrook to continue his association and Jeff Penza has been booked.
Plonka wins a trial at Coffs Harbour on March 8
Gavenlock said the wide barrier had a lot to do with his failure but is convinced the gear changes will do the trick.
“One came around us at the 500m and fired us up a bit and we went a bit too early, that’s what I’d put it down to,’’ he said.
“He had that three or four strides where he looked like he was going to win then he plateaued out and just ran on fairly.”
Fellow Coffs Harbour trainer Brett Dodson elected to scratch Quadriga the Qualifier on February 16 to give his gelding more time and said he’s ready to give the Wild Card a shake.
Quadriga eventually resumed at Grafton on March 2 and carried 62.5kg into fifth place in a 1206m open and will drop 5kg into Muswellbrook.
“He loomed up at the furlong but his condition gave out, he had a huge weight and he probably needed it so he’s taken a lot of benefit out of that.’’ Dodson said.
“He had a gallop on the course proper on Saturday, as heavy as it was, but that’s trimmed him up a bit more. He’s probably a run off his peak so hopefully he can get in and peak on the big day.”
Wet weather in the north of the state has played some havoc with Dodson’s preparation for Quadriga but isn’t using that as an excuse.
“Luckily I can take him to the beach and iron a few things out down there but it’s not the same as a gallop on the course proper,’’ he said.
Stablemate Pace Stick, also a scratching from the Coffs Harbour Qualifier, took some time to get over an abscess and won’t be heading to Muswellbrook.
“He trialled at Grafton on Sunday, but we ran out of time with him for the Wild Card,’’ he said.
The Wild Card has produced two winners of the Newhaven Park Country Championships Final in its six year history to date – Artlee in 2015 and Noble Boy in 2019 – while After All That (2017) and Don’t Give A Damn (2018) came through the Muswellbrook race to place in the Final at Randwick.