By Ray Hickson
Trainer Gayna Williams faces a race against time to have quality galloper El Mo ready for Sunday’s $150,000 Central Districts Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Mudgee after the gelding presented with a foot abscess.
The five-year-old opened favourite with TAB at $2.80 ahead of one of his stablemates Healing Hands but Williams said while he will be given every chance to be fit to race he’s no guarantee to line up, for the second year running, after also being forced to miss last year’s series with a freak eye injury.
El Mo is clearly the best credentialed horse in the race, he was a Warwick Farm winner in October and ran second at Canterbury at his last start on November 29, and is due to be ridden by Sydney jockey Adam Hyeronimus who was on board in his recent Bathurst trial win.
“He may get there, he may not. We can always go to the Wild Card (at Muswellbrook) in three weeks,’’ Williams said.
“Everything else has been good, he trialled really nicely a couple of weeks ago and I was pretty happy with him.
“He’s a horse that needed a draw because he needs to get cover. He can over race and if you want to ease him back he will fight you. He’s not the best listener.
“If he runs it’ll be a difficult job for Adam.’’
The Mudgee trainer is due for a change of luck in the Country Championships.
She has finished second in the Central Districts Qualifier in the past three years – Noel’s Gift in 2018 and 2019 and Galaxy Warrior in 2017 – but is yet to win one and has her work cut out a little with Healing Hands drawing 13, El Mo 14 and Beeokay barrier 15.
Williams also has third emergency American Storm hopeful of gaining a start.
“It’d be great to win but we appreciate what we get, we just like them to run good races and a placing is a bonus really,’’ she said.
“It’s nice to win any race but I don’t go in with any allusions, they are all open races and anything can happen.’’
If El Mo doesn’t make it to the Qualifier, Williams may be forced to rely on Healing Hands as her leading chance and while the lightly raced five-year-old has won four of his six starts she says his reputation surpasses what he’s achieved so far.
That’s not to knock the horse, Williams is never one to let go of reality when it comes to a horse’s ability but she said he will need to be on his game if he’s to make it to the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final at Randwick on April 4.
Healing Hands has been impressive in his recent wins at Bathurst and Dubbo and Williams said a wide alley doesn’t hurt his chances.
“I like the horse but I’m never one to over rate horses, it makes me cringe when horses get prematurely over rated,’’ she said.
“He’s still a country Class 4 horse and he has to prove himself a bit to me.
“Even if he’s three deep with cover it wouldn’t bother me and I think he’s better off there than to draw inside.
“If they go hard and steady up in front he’s not the sort of horse that will sit and sprint. He’s a long striding horse that needs to wind up and is better with galloping room.’’
Williams said she has a question mark over Healing Hands’ ability to handle a pressure cooker.
Healing Hands wins at Dubbo on February 16
The gelding’s only failure in his six starts came when he bled in a Highway at Randwick in July.
“He’s not that seasoned and this race will be high pressure and it will be different for him, he will have to go to the next level,’’ she said.
Beeokay didn’t have the ideal build up for a Country Championships Qualifier when he struck a heavy track and struggled in his first-up run at Warwick Farm on February 12.
But Williams isn’t going to discount him as a chance as the wide barrier won’t be significant.
“His work has been fantastic since that race at Warwick Farm where the jockey said never run him on a heavy track again,’’ she said.
“The 1400m is a question mark with him but he’s finding his line in his work so I’d love to see him over the distance. He needs to be ridden quietly and there should be plenty of speed on so that would suit him.’’