Young Ballina trainer Ethan Ensby holds a strong hand in Thursday's $75,000 Lismore Cup (2100m) and has warned punters not to disregard the chances of any of his four runners.
The 24-year-old trainer will saddle up Fencourt, Winkler, Partnership and Missile Attack in the 12-horse field and struggled to split his quartet.
"I guess I've 'Chris Wallered' the race this year with so many runners in the field, but I love my staying horses and have four horses all going well so I thought I'd put them all in the race.
"Now that Kris Lees hasn't accepted with his four nominations this year's Cup doesn't look overly strong.
"And I honestly find it hard to split my four runners. If pressed, I'd have Fencourt slightly ahead of Partnership, and Winkler and Missile Attack only marginally behind them.
"If Fencourt hadn't had a few recent problems I'd probably have him clearly on top of my four. But if I was a punter I wouldn't leave any of mine out though."
Fencourt has overcome bruising to his feet and goes into Thursday's race in great form. He won over 3120m in a Benchmark 58 at Grafton on July 14 and again in a Benchmark 66 Hcp over 2020m at Murwillumbah on August 23.
Winkler, runner-up in last year's Grafton Cup when trained by the now retired John Everson, has had just six runs for Ensby and showed a glimpse of his best form last start when second to Peak Hill in the Lismore Cup Prelude (1900m) at Ballina on September 5.
Ensby is hoping Winkler has better luck in this year's Lismore Cup than he did on the same day last year when he looked to have a great chance in the race but was injured on the way to the track and had to be scratched.
"I think running second in the Grafton Cup last year for John didn't really help him as his Benchmark points went right up. He's not an overly big horse and has had to carry big weights in several of his recent starts, but he is dropping in weight in Thursday's race and he showed last start in the Prelude he is not far off winning another race,'' he said.
"He's drawn well (gate two) to take up a good position in the race and Tegan Harrison will ride him as Jason Taylor, who rode hims last start in the Prelude, is currently on holiday in Hawaii.''
Fencourt wins at Murwillumbah on August 23
Harrison is no stranger to Lismore Cup success after winning on the Jeremy Sylvester pair Uno Five (2014) and Plutorius (2015).
Apprentice Noriyuki Masuda continues his winning association with Fencourt, Matt Bennett rides Partnership and Tony Allen partners Missile Attack.
Ensby thinks both Partnership and Missile Attack (last-start third in the Lismore Cup Prelude) are more than capable of upstaging his other two Cup runners on Thursday.
A four-year-old son of Tavistock, Partnership won back-to-back races at the Gold Coast and Port Macquarie earlier this year before Ensby threw him in the deep end in Brisbane during the winter carnival.
Partnership finished sixth of eight runners behind Purple Sector in the Group Three Rough Habit Plate (2000m) on May 11 then ran 11th of 13 runners behind Fun Fact in the Group Three Grand Prix Stakes (2200m) at Eagle Farm on May 25.
Partnership resumed with a luckless eighth to Picaro over 1825m in a Class 3 Hcp at Eagle Farm on September 7.
"That was an enormous run first-up in Brisbane. He struck a lot of trouble at the start and in my opinion should have at least finished in the placings," said the trainer.
"I think he's going to make a nice stayer and when I took on those Group Threes in Brisbane during the winter, I probably had him a bit too dour. He's been working enormous and I think he'll run very well on Thursday.
"And Missile Attack is also working very well and isn't in this race just to make up the numbers. He was unlucky at the end of his last prep and could easily have won two of last three starts before a spell.
"Now he's settling better and getting home well in his races. He's going as well as he ever has and if he got the right luck in the race, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he got up and won."
Ensby has been making a habit lately of winning with long-priced winners, so his 'push' for any of his runners has to be respected. His recent winners include Torrens, a $41 winner at the Gold Coast on August 31, Fencourt a $17 winner at Murwillumbah on August 23 and Fortyshort, who scored at $31 at Grafton on August 19.
Born in Casino, and based out of Ballina for the past two years, Ensby hopes on Thursday to complete one of the two goals he set himself at the start of this season.
"My two goals this season are to win a cup race and to win a metropolitan race," he said.
"I've gone close in town a couple of times and I've been trying to win the Lismore Cup for the past four years, but had no luck last year when my runner (Latino Lover) slipped on the first turn and lost his rider.
"Hopefully one of mine can win this year, but it won't be easy - Peak Hill, I'll Miss You and Toby Edmonds' horse (Ocean Addict) all look very hard to beat."
Ensby has two other runners at Thursday's eight-race meeting and is partucularly keen on the chances of Maximalist in the opening race, the Maiden Hcp (1400m).