By Colin Hodges
As the countdown gathers momentum for the $1.3m The Kosciuszko at Royal Randwick on Saturday, the fine-tuning of the four-year-old mare Press Box is in the expert hands of Bathurst trainer Dean Mirfin.
Last season with his relatively small team of 10 horses, Mirfin won 30 races and at 25% is believed to have achieved the second-highest winning strike rate of Country trainers with a minimum of 100 starters for the season.
Employed by legendary trainers Bart Cummings and TJ Smith, he had gathered knowledge from the best however Mirfin gave the racing game away for 20 years before becoming a trainer at Bathurst eight years ago.
His first winner was Sparton in an 1800m race at Bathurst and in hindsight, Dean felt he was fortunate to win as the runner-up trained by the late Guy Walter won the following start in Sydney while Sparton ended up as a hurdler in Victoria.
Some of the early good performers from the Mirfin stable were Oywotzy, Dash Express and Oceanic and the winners have continued to flow on a regular basis with the likes of Alcatran, I Am Capitan, I Am Magnificent, Art ‘N’ Ollie and Jetgirl in good TAB company.
Placing a horse to advantage is also a skill and last year he took Skipper Joe to the Boorowa Picnics for a confidence boosting win.
A major win for Dean Mirfin was the $150,000 Central Districts Heat of the Country Championships run in torrential rain at Mudgee and won by Cosmologist owned by a prominent client of the stable Ross Williams who races his horses in the well known cerise and blue Superhorse colours.
At Mudgee, Cosmologist was ridden by Eleanor Webster-Hawes who regularly travels from Cowra to ride trackwork at Bathurst for Dean Mirfin and Don and Andrew Ryan.
Eleanor Webster-Hawes is very well liked by the racing fraternity and all were thrilled when she rode her first Sydney winner, this year, on the Dean Mirfin-trained Worldly Pleasure owned by the Deal family and friends, from Bathurst.
Now back to Press Box, the representative for Dean Mirfin and the owners Tony Muollo and family, in the richest race in the world for country-trained horses.
Press Box came to Bathurst earlier this year from the Chris Waller stable in Sydney as a Maiden Class performer.
At her first three starts for Dean Mirfin, Press Box won at Bathurst (twice) and Parkes and when resuming from a spell ran third at Randwick.
At the most recent outing, Press Box dashed to the lead in the straight when an impressive winner against a strong field in the inaugural Ray White Emms Mooney-The Panorama (1300m) on Bathurst Cup day.
“I feel privileged to train Press Box, a beautiful mare with a lovely nature who almost falls asleep on raceday when waiting for her race,“ said Mirfin.
“Press Box also does not realise she is worth a fortune as a future broodmare, being a full sister to Press Statement, winner of the Group 1 JJ Atkins in Brisbane and the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas in Melbourne and other Group races," Dean added.
Press Statement (by Hinchinbrook from Kaaptive Empress) now stands at Vinery Stud in the Hunter Valley and is much sought-after by breeders with his first crop of foals being greatly admired.
Dean Mirfin is under no illusions that Press Box faces a big task but knows the talented mare is improving with every run and he is confident she will be a worthy representative for Bathurst and the central west in The Kosciuszko.