Grafton trainer Nev Stewart had a winner with his final starter for 2017 and is looking for the same result with his first runner of the new year when Push The Sky Away lines up at Murwillumbah on Tuesday. Push The Sky Away chases her seventh win since joining Stewart's stable about 16 months ago when she tackles the KBBC.Com.Au New Year Hcp (1530m).
Stewart wrapped up 2017 with Cantillate, who scored in the final event at Ballina on Boxing Day. He is looking to kick-start 2018 with Push The Sky Away - his only runner at the seven-race Murwillumbah meeting.
"It'd be nice to start the new year off with a win and I think she'll be very competitive in that race on Tuesday," said Stewart. "She might be looking for a bit further now and I'm planning to step her up to 1900m at Kempsey next Tuesday. But looking at the (Murwillumbah) race on Tuesday I think she'll still run very well in that, especially on a soft track which will really suit her.
"She's been competitive in just about every race we've run her in and we've certainly had a lot of fun with her since we've had her. I think she'd had just the one placing from her first eight starts in Victoria but has won six races for us up here."
Push The Sky Away, who began her career with Victorian trainer Henry Dwyer, was purchased for only $6000 by Stewart in August 2016. She has been a consistent performer around the Northern Rivers since joining Stewart, winning six of her 20 starts and earning connections just over $90,000 in prizemoney. The Reset mare has won on five different tracks - Port Macquarie, Ballina (twice), Grafton, Murwillumbah and the Gold Coast.
Push The Sky Away's most recent win was three runs back at Ballina on November 27 when she tackled an Open Hcp over 1260m second-up from a spell. Sent out the rank outsider in the eight-horse field at $31, Push The Sky Away led most of the way and battled back strongly in the dying stages to hold on for an upset win. She then went around at huge odds in the Listed Just Now Quality (1350m) at Doomben on December 9, finishing last behind Sylpheed. At her most recent outing, Push The Sky Away finished sixth to Hippy Hi Ho in the Hannam Vale Cup (1614m) at Taree on December 18.
"Her recent form has been pretty good," said Stewart. "I thought she'd run well in that Ballina race while she was fresh, even though it looked a bit short for her, and then she just found the Brisbane race too hot. She was trapped a bit wide at Taree the other day. She's got an awkward gate (barrier 11) on Tuesday and she'll definitely go forward from that draw."
One of Push The Sky Away's rivals who could improve sharply on Tuesday is the Gold Coast mare Moon And The Stars. The Harold Norman-trained mare has a good record at Murwillumbah with two wins and a second from her three runs at the track. And she has run in the New Year Hcp at this corresponding meeting in the past two years - winning in 2016 and running second behind wet-tracker Champagne Rock (also lining up again on Tuesday) in heavy conditions last year.
Murwillumbah-based trainer Matt Dunn, fresh from a big day at Doomben on Saturday, will be represented in the New Year Hcp by Contralto who looks hard to beat stepping up to the 1530m at her third run in. The mare has won her two previous runs over 1500m.
Contralto has had just two runs for the Dunn stable, resuming at Ipswich on November 22 with a second to Zendaye in a 1200m Class 5 Hcp, then last start finishing fifth to stablemate Pegapus over 1350m at Doomben on December 9. Contralto has drawn the inside gate in the nine-horse field and will be ridden by Robbie Fradd.
Jockey Jeff Lloyd, who combined with Dunn to win two features with Care To Think and Don'tbabylon at Doomben on Saturday, will ride four of the stable's other key runners on Tuesday - Indian Rocks (race two), Spanish Hurricane (race four), Fear Factor (race six) and Major Luck (race seven).
New apprentice Leah Kilner, who rode a winner at her first day of riding at Ballina on Boxing Day, will partner the Dunn-trained Pegapus if she lines up with her big weight in the Benchmark 55 Hcp (1010m). Kilner, the 19-year-old daughter of Grafton trainer Greg Kilner, rode a winner at her third ride at the Boxing Day meeting, booting home the Terry McCarthy-trained Paroo River.