By Ray Hickson
Wagga trainer Chris Heywood says an increased focus on finding suitable Country Championships horses bodes well for the future of the Southern Districts.
Heywood hopes to have three runners in the $150,000 SDRA Qualifier (1400m) on his home track on Sunday, arguably his best chance Delivered is first emergency, the same trio that lined up a year ago.
The fact Delivered, who made the field in 2017 on a 45 rating, didn't make the cut this year says to Heywood trainers in the area are upping the ante.
"Every year I go to the sales and try to buy a few horses with the aim to get them to be Championships horses in the future,'' he said.
"It seems this year more people are focused on it than ever. But you can't blame them, it's good money.
"Our area is probably one of the weaker areas in regard to The Championships and we've got to chase that bit better breeding to get the better quality horse.''
A year ago Fermanagh Lad ran fifth, Delivered 10th and Class Clown finished 13th - because all three are either at or near their 20th start they won't be among Team Heywood in 2019.
TAB markets on Friday on the Qualifier had Fermanagh Lad at $12, Delivered $19 and consider Class Clown a rank outsider at $51 but Heywood doesn’t quite see it that way.
If Delivered does make the final field Heywood’s son Nick will ride and he’d rate the five-year-old his best chance with not much between the other pair.
“He's probably the better 1400m horse out of the three and it's a bit of a shame but it's hard to knock the other two,’’ Heywood said.
“His form is good and this prep I really set him for this race. He had two nice jump outs, two nice trials and a really nice run (second at Wagga) the other day. If he'd won he probably gets himself in.
“And the weirdest part is he's got form around nice horses and he's missing out. If he gets in they'll know he's there.’’
Back in September Delivered contested two Highways at Rosehill, he ran fourth behind Suncraze and Don’t Give A Damn then second to the latter.
.@GMiddletonTAB has been visiting some of the best country stables in the state and caught up with Wagga trainer @cheywoodracing ahead of the @mtcwagga Country Championships Qualifier on Sunday. A race which helped put him on the map!@racing_nsw @ChampionshipsRR pic.twitter.com/sbmnY6yhlF
— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) March 1, 2018
Class Clown carries top weight in the Qualifier, being a Class 5 horse, and Heywood was rapt with his first-up effort behind Bulala at Wagga three weeks ago.
“I was stoked with him, 1200m isn't a suitable trip for him against some sharp sprinters and one is one of the favourites,’’ he said.
“I know he's got more to give than what he showed the other day. He puts himself in a handy spot and hopefully he'll be fifth and sixth and be comfortable.”
Heywood said Class Clown is a different, much fresher, horse to his last preparation, off a 76-week break, which consisted of 12 starts and included two wins at 2000m.
Fermanagh Lad hasn’t won a race since January last year but he’s the type of horse that’s always around the mark and Sydney jockey Adam Hyeronimus is making the trip to ride him.
“He went super in it last year and he's probably not your genuine 1400m horse but he still only got beat a length and a half,’’ Heywood said.
“We've had a few niggling issues with him and touch wood we've got him right.’’
First and second from the Wagga Qualifer earn a place in the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 7.
Elsewhere on the Wagga program on Sunday is a horse Heywood hopes can develop into a future Championships contender in lightly raced mare Star Of Serena.
The four-year-old will be having her third race start in the Tarcoola Turf Maiden (1200m) and he said she’ll be much better suited with an extra furlong on her eye-catching first-up third on February 9.
“Her run the other day was super over 1000m, got a long way back and rattled home into third,’’ he said.
“Nick got off and said 1200m we just win. She has a couple of things against her but she will show them she's about.
“She has a bright future and is one that could potentially be a Championships horse next year.’’