Casino trainer Stephen Bennett has his talented Country Championships contender Exclusive primed for a forward showing when he resumes at Grafton on Monday provided the possibility of a heavy track doesn’t ruin his expectations.
Grafton was lashed by a severe storm on Thursday, the track received 21mm of rain and 194mm for the last seven days – and was rated a heavy 8 on Friday morning.
With the $150,000 NRRA Country Championship Qualifier (1400m) coming up at Coffs Harbour on February 15, Bennett is desperate for Exclusive to have Monday’s first-up run under his belt. Exclusive, winner of three of his seven starts for Bennett, carries top weight of 62kg in Monday’s Country Championships Preview Class 4 Hcp (1200m).
Bennett isn’t too concerned about the 62kg, but is worried about the unknown factor of a possible heavy track.
“I think he’ll run very well first-up over the 1200m. He loves the Grafton track and I’m not too worried about the 62kg – he has carried weight well before,” said the trainer.
“But it could be a problem if the track remains heavy. Hopefully the track gets back into the soft range by Monday as he’s an unknown quality on heavy ground, although he is out of a Commands mare, which might be a good pointer (to him handling heavy ground). His only two runs on soft ground have been quite good.
“We’ll just wait and see what happens with the track over the weekend and I’ll talk with the owners about our options. The Country Championship Qualifier is coming up pretty quickly and I want him to have a run before he tackles that race on February 15.”
A son of Written Tycoon out of the Commands mare Talkin’ About, Exclusive was purchased last year with this year’s Country Championships in mind.
Originally purchased by bloodstock agent James Harron for $230,000 as a yearling, Exclusive began his racing career in Sydney, starting out with Peter and Paul Snowden before having a short stint with Mark Newnham.
Exclusive wins at Grafton in September
He won one of his three starts for the Snowdens – a Kembla Grange Maiden - then was unplaced in three runs for the Newnham stable before being sold last year and joining Bennett.
In his first run for Bennett Exclusive ran a ‘blinder’ first-up last campaign over 1005m at Coffs Harbour, rattling home for second to San Marco in a Benchmark 58. He then won three of his next six starts – all of them at Grafton over 1400m to 1410m.
“One of his current owners was in the large syndicate that originally raced him when he was trained in Sydney earlier on and then bought him when he went up for auction last year,” said Bennett.
“He joined my stable around May. I rang Mark Newnham to get his opinion of the horse. He said he had been showing ability on the training track but just wasn’t ‘putting in’ in his three starts for him.
“He had been ridden forward in his races for Mark, so we tried different tactics and let him settle back in his races and that has worked.
“We always thought he’d be a nice to target the Country Championships. He raced really well last prep, especially at Grafton where he won three of his four starts and was probably a bit unlucky not to win another.
“He’s come back in great shape after his spell and has grown a bit since his last campaign.”
A butcher by trade, Bennett is well known in Northern Rivers racing circles as ‘the butcher on the hill’. He has just three horses in work and is looking forward to having his first runner in a Country Championships Qualifier next month.
The Coffs Harbour Qualifier is the first of eight regional heats leading up to the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick on April 4.
Exclusive’s opposition at Grafton on Monday include the Coffs Harbour four-year-old Lose The Snip and in-form Grafton galloper Midweek Hussler who fought out a finish when they last clashed in early December. The Todd Fletcher-trained Midweek Hussler proved a bit too strong for Lose The Snip over 1400m that day, but the drop back to 1200m on Monday could be key to Lose The Snip turning the tables.
Also lining up in the race is the former New Zealand galloper Rippa Eagle who is having is first run for Grafton trainer Dwayne Schmidt after almost a year off. He won two of his seven starts across the Tasman but is likely to need much further than the 1200m of Monday’s race.
Grafton mare She’s Choosie puts her unbeaten record over the track and distance on the line when she tackles Monday’s Open Hcp (1000m).
The Greg Kilner-trained four-year-old has won all three of her starts over the Grafton 1000m trip and goes into Monday’s race in excellent form after winning her past two starts at Kempsey and Inverell.