By Ray Hickson
Lessons learned from a year ago are helping shape how Tamworth trainer Melanie O’Gorman tackles stable star Suncraze’s last shot at the Country Championships.
The consistent five-year-old was one of the leading contenders in the 2018 Final following a dramatic Qualifier win at Scone but he didn’t produce his best and could only manage seventh at Randwick.
While Suncraze’s preparation has been dictated by his record of five wins from 19 starts – to be eligible a horse can’t have had more than five wins and 20 starts – O’Gorman said a fresh approach suits the horse heading into the $150,000 HNWRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Tamworth on Sunday.
“He had quite a lot of work before the Qualifier at Scone and by the time I got him to the big race he trained off on me,’’ O’Gorman said.
“This time around I’m taking a different approach, I’m hoping I can qualify him by keeping him fresh and on his toes then get to Sydney and have a horse to run 1400m.
“As you can see from his form he is a good fresh horse.’’
O’Gorman has booked Group 1 winning jockey Rachel King to ride Suncraze, who has a 97 rating and will carry top weight of 59kg, while Josh Adams will partner stablemate Beauty Best. If her third hopeful Cut The Mustard gains a start Rachael Murray will ride.
In the last 12 months Suncraze has taken O’Gorman and owner Anthony Gow-Gates on quite a ride through winning a Country Championships Qualifier and finishing a close second in the inaugural The Kosciuszko.
He’s amassed almost $600,000 from his 19 starts and O’Gorman is now convinced the gelding is purely a 1200m-1400m sprinter so is training him that way.
“You have to take it on board and think we’re not doing too many things wrong,’’ she said.
“We can just keep going the way we’re going and while that’s working you don’t try and reinvent the wheel.
“Everyone is always saying he’d run further, I always thought he’d run further but it seems that I only get a couple of runs out of him then he trains off.’’
Suncraze started a $6 chance in last year’s Final, won by Victorem, and has been somewhat forgotten in 2019 sitting on the $26 line with TAB.
O’Gorman said she’s happy with the horse’s condition following just the one barrier trial, at Tamworth on February 26, and hopes he gets his chance to produce his trademark finish at just his third start on his home track.
“I thought he trialled very well, I’ve given him several jump outs at home and down at Scone too,’’ she said.
“He’s done a bit of tripping around in preparation, you play the hand you’re dealt and I didn’t have any option but to go with trials and jump outs.’’
Beauty Best is also taking on the Qualifier first-up and O’Gorman said he’s a completely different horse to Suncraze so has been given a solid grounding.
Beauty Best and Suncraze in their Tamworth trial on February 26
The six-year-old is lightly raced, with just seven starts so far, because he was sent to Hong Kong in 2016 but didn’t race there through injury and has been marking time until the Championships since winning at Quirindi in May.
“I asked the owners if we could put him aside and save him for this series,’’ she said.
“I said if he kept racing he wouldn’t be eligible and thankfully they let me do that.
“I’ve had him in work a long time. I think he will run a really good race. He’s been tested out and had more solid trials, he hasn’t raced since May whereas Suncraze has had more racing.’’
The gelding ran down Suncraze to win their 1000m trial late last month and O’Gorman said the advantage he has is his ability to race close to the speed.
“He rolls forward generally so this track should suit him best,’’ she said.
“I know there will be some pace on but I can see him park just behind the leaders and hold a nice position. Suncraze’s racing pattern generally means he gets back, he likes to settle and rattle home.’’
First and second from the Tamworth Qualifier earn places in the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 6.