By Ray Hickson
Trainer Gayna Williams says everything will need to fall into place at Mudgee on Sunday for Healing Hands to become the first horse across the state to win two Qualifiers of the Newhaven Park Country Championships.
Her concerns have nothing to do with the lightly raced six-year-old’s ability but because he’s already won five races he’s forced to carry 59kg and race first-up since he contested last year’s series final at Randwick after a spring setback.
“We intended to start him then but he had a few niggling issues that held him up in the preparation,’’ Williams said.
“We thought we wouldn’t push him too hard, it was getting closer to February so we saved him for the Championship heat.”
The Newhaven Park Country Championships is now in its seventh year and while a number of horses have qualified for two or more Finals none has managed to win two Qualifiers.
Donna Scott’s Bennelong Dancer won the Southern Districts heat in 2019 and finished second in both 2018 and 2020; Pumpkin Pie won the 2017 South East heat and was runner-up a year later; Al Mah Haha won in that district in 2019 and finished second in 2020; Caerless Choice won the Hunter & North West heat in 2017 and finished second in 2018 while Unbiased ran third in that heat in 2019 before winning the following year.
With her three runners Bathurst based Williams is attempting to qualify a horse for the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) for the fifth year running – she finished second with Galaxy Warrior in 2017, Noel’s Gift ran second in both 2018 and 2019 before Healing Hands was successful last year.
It’s a different set up for Healing Hands in 2021, however, as 12 months ago tackled the $150,000 Central Districts Qualifier third-up on the back of wins at Bathurst and Dubbo so it’s hard for Williams to say whether he’s as good or better.
“He’s certainly not match fit at this stage,’’ she said.
“With the 59kg and the fact he is first-up, without galloping him too much he’s had as much work as I can give him to have him ready for the 1400m.
“He’s been in work a long time, he pulled up well from the trial at Hawkesbury and I think the rest is up to him and the jockey.
“We’d have to see him go around a couple of times before we could come to a conclusion if he’s better or not.”
What doesn’t bother Williams about Healing Hands is barrier 13, or 11 if the emergencies aren’t required. He jumped from 10 when winning last year and she said the horse likes a bit of space.
“He’s better out there, he’s not the sort of horse you want to draw inside with,’’ she said.
“I wouldn’t like it if he was held up or ran onto heels, he needs a bit of room so he’s better there.”
Healing Hands was $3.60 favourite with TAB on Thursday, while her other runners Chevconi and From The Bush were $8.50 and $17 respectively.
Nick Heywood, who won last weekend’s Southern Districts Qualifier on Another One, rides Healing Hands while Robbie Dolan partners Chevconi and Grant Buckley, winner of the Mid North Coast Qualifier on Charmmebaby, rides From The Bush.
It’s clear Williams has plenty of time for Chevconi, a veteran of only three starts, but she concedes it’s a throw at the stumps while From The Bush’s best chance would come if the heavens opened any time through to Sunday.
Healing Hands runs second in a trial at Hawkesbury on February 15
“People have said to us Chevconi is 12 months away and that could be the case,’’ Williams said.
“He’s fit and well at the moment, he got in, we’ve thrown him in the deep end which I don’t normally do but I have a bit of faith in the horse.
“I’d be thrilled if he finished top five, he’s a promising horse and needs big tracks. He needs to find his feet early and balance up, to be ridden patiently, and he’s a horse that can go on to better things.”
From The Bush won three straight at the start of last preparation all on soft or heavy tracks and Williams marked his first-up effort at Bathurst, on a good 4, as only fair.
“He’s a horse that needs rain, they might go a bit quick for him on the dry,’’ she said.
“The 1400m will be good for him, eventually we’d like to get him up over 2000m, but his main issue will be the state of the track.”