Progressive Port Macquarie gelding Gordon's Leap begins his quest towards the upcoming Country Championships when he resumes at Taree on Monday.
Bred, owned and trained by Port Macquarie trainer Lisa Sheppard, Gordon's Leap returns to racing in Monday's TAB.Com.au Class 3 Handicap over 1000m.
It is the first step that hopefully leads to the $150,000 Country Championships Mid North Coast Qualifier (1200m) at Port Macquarie on February 17 and then - all going to plan - a berth in the $500,000 Country Championships Final over 1400m at Randwick on April 6.
Fellow Port Macquarie trainer Jenny Graham completed that double with Victorem last year and Sheppard hopes the talented Gordon's Leap can emulate that feat.
Sheppard was rapt in Gordon's Leap's progress last preparation, culminating with an impressive TAB Highway win over 1400m at Randwick on September 1. Sheppard spelled the five-year-old immediately after that win with this year's Country Championships firmly in her sights.
"He was my first ever runner at Randwick when he won that Highway in September, and I'd love to be back there again in April for the Country Championships Final," she said.
"He's done really well during his spell and is right on top of himself.
Gordon's Leap wins at Randwick on September 1
"Monday's race is the first time he's run over the 1000m and it may prove to be a bit short, but he'll be finishing off hard and could still finish over the top of them.
"He's likely to settle midfield or worse. I'm not sure if the rails draw is ideal for a horse like him, but Andrew Gibbons is riding him and he's very experienced so he'll let the horse 'find his legs'."
Sheppard, who returned to training in 2014 after a 20-year break from racing, is now being rewarded for her patience with Gordon's Leap.
The gelding did not begin racing until November 17, 2017 when he was a four-year-old but Sheppard always knew he had plenty of ability. He's now won two of his six starts, both over 1400m, at Grafton and Randwick.
Sheppard bred Gordon's Leap by mating Parsa, a mare by Risen Star (a son of Secretaritat) that she purchased at the 2010 Inglis broodmare sale, with Arlington, a half-brother to Savabeel.
"Gordon's Leap was a big, gangly horse and was just too young in the head earlier on and you just couldn't push him, so I took my time with him. He's developed into a very athletic horse,'' she said.
"I'm not sure yet if he'll have another run before the Port Macquarie Qualifier on February 17 - I'll see how he comes through Monday's race first - but I'm hoping to time everything to perfection and hopefully be back at Randwick for the Final in April."
Taree trainer Bob Milligan will be hoping to end a frustrating run with his mare Valbeata when she lines up in Monday's Winning Post Function Centre Benchmark 66 Handicap (1250m).
Valbeata has been runner-up at her past four starts, including three straight seconds at Taree this campaign.