By Ray Hickson
It's fair to say most people expect trainer Matthew Dunn to win Sunday's $150,000 NRRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Grafton.
And the Murwillumbah trainer understands there's some pressure to convert what looks a strong team of up and coming horses into places in next month's Final at Randwick.
Dunn will have four runners but most attention, and pressure from within, is centred on exciting three-year-old Snitz.
"If you turn up with the team I have and you don't get one through it's not ideal and I probably haven't done a very good job if I can't get one through,'' Dunn said.
"The standout horse is probably Snitz, if there's one I need to get through it's him.
"He's drawn the right gate and got the right jockey, unless something goes horribly wrong through the race then he would beat most of these horses.''
Despite his apparent dominance in the Northern Rivers area, Dunn has only qualified one horse for the Country Championships Final in its three editions to date.
That was Perfect Dare, who won last year's Grafton heat by a big space but couldn't handle the wet track at Randwick. So Dunn knows you take nothing for granted.
He said Snitz, a winner of four of his eight starts, has been specifically set for the Championships as has Iggy The Moocher while Runway Ready and Cascata Rossa deserved their chance.
"Snitz was set for it pretty much from the time he came back into work,'' Dunn said.
"We've got them in at the right time to land on that date second and third-up which I think is the right place to be peaking on the final day.
"I would have loved to get a horse like Divine Unicorn there but I think the team we have in is a pretty good representation.''
Aside from Snitz that representation includes in-form mare Runway Ready, chasing four straight wins, five-year-old Cascata Rossa, up and comer Iggy The Moocher plus emergencies Lifesaver and Ready For Danger.
Iggy The Moocher is lightly raced and on the back-up after winning at Murwillumbah last Monday at his fifth start while the other four have been exposed to Highway races in Sydney.
He said the prospect of a wet track at Grafton on Sunday isn’t a major issue for any of his runners and that bodes well for whichever horse qualifies for the Final.
Here’s what Matthew Dunn says about all his chances:
Snitz ($1.75 TAB): “I think he fits in really well, the distance is right and he's the sort of horse that will cop the travel. He's in a good spot. After he finishes in the Final he'll be a carnival horse over the winter, there's a bit of upside to him.
“We went into (his first-up) race underdone. He landed in an awkward spot but he dealt with it well. I'd planned to be running (at Doomben) the other week but we missed the run because of the rain but he trialled well so it’s not an issue for a horse like him.’’
Runway Ready ($6.50): “We tossed around whether we should stop after her last run. When you go down for a Highway and back it's hard for them to stay up. I gave her a week off and she bounced back really well.
“She's different to Snitz, she's a round and roly-poly thing that takes a fair bit of work to keep on top of the game. Her trial was excellent the other day, about as good as I’ve seen her in a trial.’’
Cascata Rossa ($8.50): “I hadn't planned to go this way originally but he brought himself up really quickly. He has a few difficult racing habits, there's a big space between his good and bad and when things go his way through races he looks really good.’’
Iggy The Moocher ($11): “I had to add that run at Murwillumbah to his prep. First-up he went too quick, second-up he probably raced a bit flat because of that.
“The other day he bashed up a pretty ordinary field but did it well with weight. He'll be on speed and be there for a long time. He's just got to settle. It's never ideal backing up in a week but he has talent.’’
Lifesaver (EM, $8.50): “We scratched him a couple of times trying to find firm tracks and it got to the point where he had to go to the races so he'd be right for Sunday. At Coffs, even though he was stuck deep he was entitled to beat them.
“But his first-up run at Doomben was incredible. I know he got beaten a decent space but he was last at the 200m. He's got plenty of talent.’’
Matthew Dunn has a strong hand in Sunday's Country Championships Qualifier at @clarenceriverjc Grafton - here's the favourite Snitz beating stablemates Runway Ready and Cascata Rossa in a @GCTurfClub trial on March 1. Courtesy @SkyRacingAU pic.twitter.com/sD571BHR0J
— The Championships (@ChampionshipsRR) March 8, 2018
Ready For Danger (EM, $17): “He probably hasn't had the right prep into it. He missed races and trials because of wet tracks. He's the most in and out horse you've ever seen, he can turn up and run awful and get beaten 100 yards then come back and break a course record in a Class 1.’’
First and second from Sunday’s race qualify for the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick.