By Ray Hickson
Ask most trainers to pick one of their horses over the other and it’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is.
That’s one issue trainer Jenny Graham faces as she prepares three runners for Sunday’s $150,000 MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier (1200m) at Port Macquarie.
Three-year-olds Victorem and Awesome Pluck are capturing the most attention ahead of the opening qualifier but Graham is loath to overlook the more experienced Portatorio.
“I don't like being asked that and I don't really want to choose,’’ she said.
“I'm really happy with how they are all going. Naturally the up and coming two are both really nice horses but Portatorio will be tracking right behind them.
“Awesome Pluck is still learning and will need a couple of things to go right where the other two will handle most situations.
“I just hope one can qualify. If two can, well, so help me.’’
TAB has separated Graham's trio by installing Victorem the $2.50 favourite ahead of Awesome Pluck ($3.50) and Portatorio ($8).
Champion country jockey Robert Thompson rides Portatorio, Ben Looker maintains his association with Victorem while Aaron Bullock partners Awesome Pluck on Sunday.
Victorem’s road to the Country Championships has been a rocky one since he showed his wares with an outstanding TAB Highway win at Randwick two months ago.
After stepping slowly he had to work hard to make up ground, Punters Intel data showed from the 600m-400m he ran 10.69 to put himself into the race.
The gelding known as Arnie around the stable has been scratched from two engagements, at Gosford on January 18 and Port Macquarie on February 2, as Graham wasn’t happy with his blood results but showed he was on track with an easy barrier trial win at Taree earlier this week.
“He finished the trial off very nicely and seemed to pull up well,’’ Graham said.
“I was very happy with the trial and we are full steam ahead hopefully. I would have liked to have had a run to be rock hard fit to go into it.’’
Racing NSW stewards will inspect Victorem on course on Sunday, prior to giving him the all clear to run, but Graham is expecting no issues.
There’s no doubting the talent under Awesome Pluck’s hood but he’s also been a real headache for Graham with his habit of overdoing it when exposed in his races.
He was a beaten short priced favourite on two occasions at Randwick prior to Graham dropping him in trip to the 1010m on his home track on February 2 where he was at his explosive best.
“Hugh Bowman rode him at Randwick and said the horse goes nicely but you have to take him back to kindergarten to get his mind right and teach him how to race.
Awesome Pluck's confidence boosting win at Port Macquarie on February 2
“So it was nice to see a bit of speed on in the race (last start) which gave him time to settle and find his feet and finish the race off without overdoing it,’’ she said.
“He needed another short one, I think there will be enough speed on in the 1200m for him to settle and finish it off.’’
Graham regarded Portatorio as a real city class performer in the making when he was three but for one reason or another he lost his way after winning three of his first five starts.
He ran eighth in the Mid North Coast Qualifier at Taree last year but is arguably going a lot better now as he’s coming off a confidence boosting win last month.
Luck in running will play a part but Graham is confident he’ll be competitive despite drawing close to the outside.
“From his win at Taree he's bounced back lovely and trialled really nicely. I'm very happy with him,’’ she said.
“The owners Lorraine and Paul Burke have been so patient and it was nice for them to see the horse kick back. He will run a really nice race.’’
Given only first and second can qualify for the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 7, Graham said she’ll likely make use of the Muswellbrook Wild Card race six days earlier as a second chance for any horse that misses out.
“Things happen in racing, sometimes you don't get the luck. And you have to prepare yourself for that,’’ she said.