By Ray Hickson
About a month ago Cody Morgan stopped working Country Championships contenders Mahalangur and Ligulate together because they were so competitive he didn’t want them to leave their efforts on the training track.
The Tamworth trainer will be relying on that competitive nature when the duo, plus stablemate Pat’s Nipper, attempt to fend off the strongest line up of country trained horses in a qualifier in the six years of the Country Championships to date.
Sunday’s $150,000 HNWRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Tamworth boasts two horses with a Benchmark rating of 100 and a minimum rating of 70 just to make the final field.
That’s why Morgan is hopeful rather can confident of making it to Sydney for a third time, having won the race last year with Unbiased and the 2017 Wild Card with Pelerin.
“You’d think when you have the horses I’ve got there you’d be pretty hard to beat but I’m not overly confident at all,’’ Morgan said.
“With the strength of the other horses you need as many chances as you can get. I love Tamworth but it’s not the fairest track in the world so that makes it even tougher.’’
What Morgan means is that things like barrier draws and positions in running can make or break a horse’s chances and when you’re racing for a spot in a $500,000 event you need all the help you can get.
Morgan said in the case of his trio – he scratched Over And Above and Galapagos because he felt their barriers were detrimental to their chances – Mahalangur drawing two is perfect, Pat’s Nipper in four is perfect and Ligulate drawn 10 gives him his best shot.
Mahalangur was $4.40 favourite with TAB on Thursday and Ligulate at $6.50 but if you ask Morgan there shouldn’t be such a margin. They are $8 and $9 respectively to win the Final at Randwick on April 4.
“If Mahalangur had been third-up he is a better horse, but Ligulate has a better set up,’’ he said.
“They are so competitive I stopped working them together about a month ago because there’s literally nothing between them.
“Ligulate can do a lot wrong but a horse like Mahalangar does everything right. Then there’s a 1.5kg difference. It’s going to be tough to get through and I’m happy to have them on my team.’’
Ligulate, owned by an Australian Bloodstock syndicate that is sending several bus loads of people to Tamworth for the race, ran an eye-catching third at Tamworth first-up in January and had his final lead-up at Randwick where he finished sixth behind Master Of Wine.
Samantha Clenton, who already has one Qualifier in the bag from victory on Magnalane at Taree last month, rides Ligulate for the second time having combined to win a race at Rosehill back in July.
“He was against really good horses last start, he’s fit and blinkers go back on,’’ Morgan said.
“It was always the plan to be third-up, blinkers on, home track. He probably has the best credentials to win the race.
“He’ll get back in the second half, I think the draw is good for him and Sam has options. I can see him being three deep but I don’t think that’s a disadvantage to him making the final.’’
Mahalangur, formerly trained by the Hawkes partnership, boasts form lines around some of the best sprinter-milers in the country and Morgan said he’s rapt to have been given the chance to train him.
The five-year-old hasn’t been an easy project, though, he’s been gelded and Morgan has taken an approach similar to his successful Qualifier campaign last year with Unbiased.
Mahalangur wins a trial at Tamworth on February 25
Prior to moving to Tamworth, Mahalangur beat subsequent Group 1 placegetter Star Of The Seas, he finished two lengths behind Everest placegetter Trekking and has beaten two time Group 1 winner Fierce Impact.
“I’m really proud of my staff and team around me because I feel like we have him really sound,’’ Morgan said.
“He’s been in work a long time and has been a real project horse, he will run tremendous and the track conditions won’t be an issue for him.
“He’s giving some of these horses 25 points, he’s a lovely horse that has had injuries. If he was totally sound he wouldn’t have found his way to Tamworth.
“He’s never had deep preparations, he’s obviously a bit complicated but he’s very good on his day. He’s ready to go, he’s got a lot of quality and Greg (Ryan) has been happy with his trials.”
Morgan said Pat’s Nipper has come through his important win at Grafton on Tuesday, which secured him a run in the Qualifier, in good order and expects him to take his place on Sunday.
Fourth emergency Whiteley needs two more scratchings to gain a run and if he doesn’t Morgan said he will be very hard to beat in the JT Fossey Tamworth Handicap (1200m) despite carrying 61.5kg.
And he said Over And Above and Galapagos will head to the Wild Card over 1280m at Muswellbrook on March 22 for a last ditch attempt at qualifying for the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick next month.