By Rod Fuller
Following a sizzling trial win at Taree on Monday, Victorem ($2.15 favourite on TAB fixed odds) looks poised for glory in the $150,000 Country Championships qualifier at Port Macquarie this Sunday, although the final decision to face the starter is set to be determined by stewards. The gelding was scratched from a race at Gosford in January after an elevated white cell count was discovered in a routine pre-race blood sample.
The Jenny Graham stable advised that a laceration in the horse’s mouth was discovered and treated with antibiotics, but an engagement in the Championships Preview was curtailed following a low red blood cell count reading. The final outcome will be made by stewards after Victorem arrives at the track on Sunday with an extremely encouraging trial performance at Taree during the week putting the writing on the wall for a forward showing, if leave to race is granted.
After being allowed to settle near the tail of the field early in the barrier trial, Ben Looker made a move approaching the home turn on the I am Invincible galloper to race past Northern Knight for a comprehensive victory by over two lengths. The most impressive part of the work was the way Victorem settled early and was allowed to cruise past the leaders with ridiculous ease despite being nursed along for the majority of the journey.
Looker would have been encouraged by the development in stark contrast to the initial run at Casino when he rode an immature debutant, who buck jumped at the start and made up many lengths to be beaten just behind the placegetters. The Jenny Graham-trained gelding has been unbeaten at all of his next runs, including victory at Randwick in Highway company, and looks to have recovered from the slight setback which prevented a start in the prelude a couple of weeks ago.
The stage is set for Ben Looker and Victorem to continue their great association with victory in the Mid North Coast Country Championships heat and commence the road to the $500,000 Country Championships climax at Royal Randwick over 1400 metres on Saturday 7th April.
The Graham stable has a further strong hand in the race with Portatorio ($9) and Awesome Pluck ($3.30) also engaged, with both having undeniable chances following wins at their most recent outings. Portatorio landed the prize at Taree in open company in January and it is significant that champion jockey, Robert Thompson, has been engaged for the ride on the Oratorio gelding, while Awesome Pluck was successful at his home track a couple of weeks ago.
The depth of the competitors is significant with last year’s district representative, Cogliere ($13), having a recent win in a Port trial over Portatorio in preparation for the assignment. Marc Quinn has engaged dual Melbourne Cup-winning rider, Corey Brown and there is a great deal of confidence for the Pluck gelding, who was responsible for competitive performances in town during his previous campaign.
Popular Taree trainer, Wayne Wilkes, has a couple of real chances headed by the 2017 Queen of the North winner, Shotgun Roulette ($13), and Fuel ($16) engaged together with the first emergency, Gripped ($26). Shotgun Roulette was responsible for a strong resumption of racing in this year’s Queen of the North behind Ellie’s Encore and the Casino Prince mare will derive a great deal of benefit from the outing.
Fuel has been a model of consistency for connections while Gripped is a dual acceptor, who will be hard to beat in sixth event if unable to fulfil the engagement in the feature. With the added bonus of strong representation from all the leading local stables, it is hoped that competitors receive the very best of luck with the winner set to represent the district proudly in the $500,000 Country Championships Final at Randwick on Saturday 7th April 2018.
Flinders Dragon ($8) is the sole representative from the astute Queensland stable of Danny Bougoure and if the connections make the journey down the highway having been unable to gain a start at the Gold Coast meeting the previous day, will be very competitive in the third race.
Port Macquarie Race Club greatly appreciates the support and assistance provided by Racing NSW together with acknowledgement of valued sponsors, Panthers Port Macquarie, De Bortoli Wines, Carlton Draught, Schweppes, Prime 7, tab.com.au, and John Oxley Motors for such a prestigious meeting. With all the outstanding facilities and catering arrangements in place, the stage is set for a spectacular day of racing action as a springboard for the journey to the Championships at Randwick in April.
The Showcase racing action features massive total prizemoney of $370,000 and commences at 12.50pm with the last on the eight-event card set down for 5.15pm. The gates will crash open for the $150,000 Mid North Coast Championships Qualifier over 1200 metres at 4.40pm.
Sky Racing’s Greg Radley will be joining Gary Kliese and Priscilla Schmidt to provide the most comprehensive coverage of all the colour and excitement of racing action, featuring extensive betting information, news and interviews on the Sky Thoroughbred Central channel.
Race 1 (John Oxley Motors 3YO Maiden Hcp, 1100m): 1 Shoreditch, 8 Heaven Help Me, 2 Daybreaker
Race 2 (Prime 7 4YO & UP Maiden Hcp, 1100m): 1 Newsfan, 5 Natural Image, 6 Princess Wildfire
Race 3 (De Bortoli Wines BM 60 Hcp, 1500m): 9 Flinders Dragon, 3 Forever Alone, 5 Cantillate
Race 4 (TAB.com.au Country Maiden Plate, 1500m): 6 Wallaman, 3 Natural Predator, 5 Wolfram
Race 5 (Panthers Port Macquarie BM 70 Hcp, 1800m): 4 Rage Against, 8 Manhattan Road, 9 Art Attack
Race 6 (Schweppes Country Class 2 Plate, 1100m): 2 Gripped, 10 Golden Comet, 12 Latitude
Race 7 (MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier, 1200m): 5 Victorem, 2 Cogliere, 9 Shotgun Roulette
Race 8 (Carlton Draught BM 55 Hcp, 1100m): 8 No Qualm, 1 Jemily, 2 Kate’s Pearl