By Geoff Newling
Geoff O'Brien would "give his right arm to win" next Wednesday's Cactus Wilson Memorial, one of five races on the Quirindi Jockey Club's Boxing Day meeting.
The Quirindi trainer has two chances in the eight-horse field too - last start Muswellbrook winner Dominica and lightly raced Mahlia. Both are mares.
"I'd give my right arm to win it," Geoff O'Brien said of the $6000 Class 1 sprint over 1100m. "I'll be doing my best to win it for him. I knew him for many years, when I first moved to Blandford we became pretty good mates. Helped me out a lot.
"He was one of the old school and had some good horses too. One of his real good ones was Cactus Jack."
O'Brien started his training career in Scone before moving to Wellington and then back to Scone and then out to Blandford. Then it was up to Tamworth.
"I had about 18 months in Geoff Smith's old stables at Duri and then Sinclair (the late, great John "Mouse" Sinclair who was the QJC secretary) bailed me up one day and said I should come to Quirindi. I said they had no stables, he said they'd fix them up. And they did.
"I was there for a few years and then this place (his current stable) came on the market and I've been here ever since. That was 1999."
For Wednesday's edition of the Cactus Wilson Memorial Geoff has engaged rising apprentice star Wendy Peel, who rode a treble at Armidale earlier this week, to ride Dominica and Vad Bolozhinskyi to ride Mahlia.
"She (Wendy Peel) is in form," Geoff O'Brien said. "And Vad will get the best out of the mare. She needs a rider who can sit down and ride her."
While a "quinella would be nice" Geoff said he's not confident. "Never had a quinella before," he added but he's also worried about a few others in a race where Dominica is returning from a spell.
Her last start was a good win over 1750m at Muswellbrook when she came from worse than midfield to win. The four-year-old daughter of Choisir is "pretty much a stayer", he said.
"I'd have liked a bit more ground for her but there was nothing around so it's 1100m first-up, it is a little bit short for her."
Then there is Mahlia, a daughter of Foxwedge with one win at the Tomingley picnics in her seven starts: "I thought I could make a stayer of her. She's by Foxwedge, a big leggy thing."
He thinks being at home will be an advantage and "she goes pretty quick" but believes "there are a couple of others that go pretty good" in the race.
The Cactus Wilson Memorial has drawn the biggest field of the day (8) on a day more famous for its social atmosphere and big crowd.
The track is also in excellent condition, O'Brien said. "We had another 20mm last night as well," he said. "Had a wild storm too, one of the wildest I've seen for 20 years but the track will be perfect.
Feature race on Wednesday is the $7000 White Hart Hotel Murrurundi Cup (2000m). It has just three runners, Recent Quirindi winner Mishani Istana (Stephen Dixon) is the topweight whilst Armidale trainer Robert Knight starts Whakatane and Gunnedah's Sally Torrens starts Stirling Shadow. Wendy Peel will also unite with Torrens' gelding and claims 2kg off his 54kg.
Inverell Jockey Club also races Wednesday with its Goodwood Cup meeting. Rolling Roman will run in that feature for Inverell trainer Wayne Oakenful, who started Puzzling Wonder in today's Christmas Cup at Lismore.