By Grahame Timbrell
Andrew Gibbons knows what it takes to win a Muswellbrook Cup - he has won three of them in the last 12 years. Robert Thompson has a similar record in the race but his three have come over the last 42 years.
On Friday, the Newcastle-based Gibbons will be legged aboard the Kris Lees-trained Sarajevo in the $100,000 MRS Services Group Muswellbrook Cup (1500m) while Thompson, Australia’s number one jockey in terms of winners, will ride the Rod Northam-trained After All That. Both horses are on the third line of betting at $7.50 behind the Paul Messara-trained Caerless Choice (Christian Reith), the $5.50 early favourite and Art D’Amour (Ben Looker) which is at $7.
A win by Art D’Amour would be a huge boost for young Muswellbrook-based trainer Aleacia Bennett who has only been training for two years. The horse stamped himself as a definite cup prospect when he won the Aberdeen Cup at Muswellbrook last month.
This is the first year the Muswellbrook Cup has gone to $100,000 and that, in turn, has attracted a quality field including the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained Dee I Cee (Rachael King). However, Dee I Cee is a proven middle-distance galloper resuming off a spell with one trial under his belt and his main missions are the summer cups in Sydney. Four starts back Dee I Cee won the Listed Premiers Cup at Rosehill which has earned him topweight of 62kg and consequently early markets have him an outsider at $26.
The Lees-trained Bastia is also well in the market but is likely to by-pass the cup to run in the final race at Rosehill on Saturday. Lees also accepted with Feelin The Love in the cup but she is also a doubtful runner.
“She will only start if they get some decent rain at Muswellbrook,” Lee said. “I think Sarajevo is a good chance and he was only just beaten when third in the Mudgee Cup. The fact he is on the minimum weight and over a distance he likes is in his favour.”
Gibbons's three cup winners were Pitt Street for Lees in 2014, Kinetics for Graham Payne in 2011 and the Neil Godbolt-trained Windon in 2005. Thompson’s first cup winner was Gloomy Isle for Albert Collins in 1975 followed by Peshada for his late father, Arthur Thompson in 1981 and Wyngrove for Albert Stapleford in 2001.
Northam and Thompson are close friends but also a formidable combination on the racetrack which gives After All That a distinct edge. Thompson has ridden the horse to four of his five wins and was also aboard when he ran second to Free Standing in the Country Championships Final at Randwick in April after coming from barrier 16.
Paul Messara has put the blinkers back on the lightly-raced but talented Caerless Choice following his first-up sixth at Rosehill last month.
“I want to sharpen him up,” Messara said. “Originally I was disappointed with the Rosehill run but once I went back and looked at it again it wasn’t a bad effort. They ran home in pretty smart time and the horse has done well since. All we want in the cup is some luck and the wide barrier is not going to help. He will be getting back as usual but the long straight will be a help.”
Last preparation Caerless Choice ran fourth in the Hawkesbury Guineas and Sunshine Coast Guineas and while he had difficult runs in both races his second last in the Queensland Guineas at Doomben is the race that still haunts Messara. “He should have won,” Messara said. “Tommy (Berry) could not get a run anywhere in the straight and the horse went to the line on the bridle.”
1-2.05, PRIME7 STARMAKER 2YO, 1000m: WHITELEY 1, Showgals 2, Ragged Rascal 3, Lagarde 4.
2-2.40, TAB.COM.AU COUNTRY MAIDEN, 1280m: COLLISION 1, Peloso Lass 2, The Naked Truth 3, Kadarchi 4.
3-3.15, PUMPS AND PIPELINE SERVICES CLASS ONE AND MAIDEN, 1750m: COONAWARRA 1, Dizzy Success 2, Paris Sizzler 3, Galaxy Jak 4.
4-3.50, WIDDEN STUD BENCHMARK 60, 1000m: REWARD FOR FASHION 1, Star Aspiration 2, Moccasin Miss 3, Magic Beneteau 4.
5-4.25, HORSEPOWER SKELLATAR SPRINT, 1000m: STAR CROSSED 1, Pel 2, Guard Of Honour 3, Mac’s Reward 4.
6-5.00, MT ARTHUR COAL WAYNE HARRIS SHOWCASE, 1280m: STAR REFLECTION 1, Portatorio 2, Roguish 3, I’m Danny 4.
7-5.35, MRS SERVICES GROUP MUSWELLBROOK CUP, 1500m: CAERLESS CHOICE 1, Sarajevo , After All That 3, Art D’Amour 4.
8-6.15, DIMMOCK’S QUALITY MEATS CLASS THREE, 1280m: LOVE NONE 1, Hutcho 2, No Effort Needed 3, Atlantic Sentinel 4.
Best Bets: Coonwarra, Star Crossed, Star Reflection