By Ray Hickson
A pair of Taree trained gallopers are headed for Randwick after an upset in the $150,000 MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier (1200m) at Port Macquarie on Sunday.
Lucciola Belle, given a 10 out of 10 ride by in-form jockey Andrew Gibbons, came across the odds-on favourite Awesome Pluck’s heels about 200m out and finished over the top of him with outsider Texas Storm snatching second.
Trainer Wayne Wilkes said Lucciola Belle has continued to improve this preparation and the Qualifier win backed up her victory in Port Macquarie’s feature mares race the Queen Of The North.
“I’m extremely proud of her,’’ Wilkes said.
“Gibbo rode her a treat, she got shuffled back early and he just stuck to the fence, prayed for a few gaps and he got them and she finished like a bonny mare.
“She’s come back this preparation much bigger and stronger and on the improve all the time. Now we have to sit down with the owners and work out where we go with her.’’
Lucciola Belle wins the Country Championships Qualifier at Port Macquarie
Their destination, along with the Bob Milligan-trained Texas Storm, is the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) on April 6.
Both trainers have been there once before - Lucciola Belle's full sister Shotgun Roulette finished midfield in the 2017 Final while Milligan's Another Valley ran fourth in the 2016 Final.
Glen Milligan, foreman for his father Bob, has always said Texas Storm will excel when he gets to 1400m so heads to Sydney with a live chance.
“He’s an amazing horse, he keeps improving,’’ Milligan said.
“I think the blinkers sharpened him up and whether we leave them on in a month’s time we’ll wait and see.’’
Lucciola Belle is a $15 chance in the Final with TAB, Texas Storm is rated $51, behind the unbeaten Noble Boy ($4) who still has to qualify at the Goulburn heat on March 2.
Awesome Pluck qualifies as an emergency for the Mid North Coast area but will have to head to the Muswellbrook Wild Card race on March 24 if he’s to win his own place in April’s final.
The Kosciuszko placegetter was unable to improve on his second placing in last year’s Qualifier after he was stuck four wide in the early staged before Robert Thompson was able to find a three wide with cover spot.
Despite his class the four-year-old couldn’t dash and was left a sitting shot.
The next Country Championships Qualifier is held over 1400m at Albury on Saturday.