By Ray Hickson
Mudgee trainer Cameron Crockett has flexed his Country Championships muscle on Bathurst Cup day and could have as many as four runners in the Central Districts heat on February 25.
Lightly raced four-year-old Ori On Fire burst to top seed among Crockett’s quartet for the $150,000 CDRA Qualifier (1400m) on his home track at Mudgee with an important win on Sunday.
Crockett said he wanted the gelding to prove he can be effective when ridden off the speed, having led in his two previous runs this preparation, and he passed the test easily claiming the Tulloch Cup (1200m).
“I told the stewards I wanted to settle him because he wanted to run 1400m at Mudgee and that race will have a whole different complexion than 1200m at Bathurst,’’ Crockett said.
Ori On Fire wins easily at Bathurst on Sunday
“Chad (Lever) said he hit a bit of a flat spot then really picked up which gives me an inclination that he will run the 1400m.
“I’ve been watching the majority of the runners around our area and a lot of them are natural pace horses. I have two going in it that you really have to ride forward.
“I think there is going to be a lot of speed so that’s why I wanted to see him settle and finish off, that’s the best way to race at Mudgee.’’
Ori On Fire was beaten in a Highway at Rosehill when heavily backed on January 27 and Crockett blamed himself for the defeat.
The Country Championships is by no means a throw at the stumps with Ori On Fire as the trainer revealed he’s been readying the horse for the 2018 series for 12 months.
At just his fourth start, basically fresh off a maiden win, he contested the Central Districts Qualifier last year and finished fifth behind Distinctive Look.
“He proved himself last year in the Wellington heat,’’ Crockett said.
“Des Kennedy, who owns him, is a bit of a glass half full man, I had him nominated in a Class 1 and he said to put him in the Wellington Qualifier.
“He only got beaten a length and a half by a couple of horses that had performed in town. He stamped himself that day as a Country Championships horse.’’
Crockett is aiming Turcotte, who ran third at Bathurst on Sunday, Kingsbridge and Prince Of Thebes at the Mudgee event in two weeks.
He said he’s in a race against time with Turcotte, who has proven to be hard work in the six months he’s trained the gelding, to “get his head right’’.
“If he can’t find the rail and has to balance up he’s very wayward,’’ he said.
“I thought he was my biggest chance, today I thought he should have won easily. He just threw the race away at the finish, it was the Class 4 Championships Preview.
“We only have two weeks to sort his head out and if we can get him running straight he’s a very good chance.’’
As for Kingbridge and Prince Of Thebes, both are close to the limit of starts to run in a Country Championships Qualifier so Crockett wants to give them their chance.
Kingsbridge races over 1600m at Dubbo on Thursday and if he wins or performs very well he’ll back up 10 days later while Prince Of Thebes has been freshened up since a win at Orange on January 30.
“If (Kingsbridge) was in winning form it’d be the right thing by the owners to give it a shot because it’ll be a last chance,’’ he said.
“This year will probably he Prince Of Thebes’ last chance because next year he’ll either have too many wins or too many runs.’’
Meanwhile, Crockett said smart sprinter Nictock is back in work and will kick off in Sydney on a Saturday once the carnival is over.
The Country Championships series commences at Port Macquarie next Sunday with the $500,000 final to be held at Royal Randwick on April 7.