By Ray Hickson
It didn't take jockey Rachael Murray long to know that she wanted to be in for the long haul on Coonabarabran mare Sea Lady.
The four-year-old, bred by Neil Werrett, was sourced from Victoria by trainer Wayne Martyn with the Country Championships in mind and Murray has been along for the ride from day one.
Sea Lady is a $5.50 chance in the $150,000 WRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Dubbo on Sunday and Murray wouldn't want to ride any other horse.
"The first time I rode her I said to Wayne you’re not letting her go anywhere I can’t ride her,'' she said.
"I really like the horse and I think she’s a good chance in the Qualifier.''
A natural backmarker, Sea Lady won impressively at Quirindi two starts ago before running on when it was all over into third at Orange on March 5.
Both Murray and Martyn see that race as one that got away.
"If I was one set closer in the run I think she probably wins that race,'' Murray said.
"She’s quite talented, she’s an easy ride and she is very consistent in everything I’ve ridden her in.
"She hits the line well and her style of racing will suit the Qualifier with the long straight at Dubbo.''
Martyn keeps a small number of horses in work at Coonabarabran to "keep me occupied" and didn't hesitate when the opportunity to purchase Sea Lady was presented to him.
He said he's found country Victoria to be a good source of horses for his area but, after just five starts for him, feels this mare is a little above the average.
"She wasn't quite good enough down there but I think she’s pretty handy and the faster they go up front the better she likes it,'' he said.
"We've set her for the race and everything has gone to plan.''
Murray, who last year became the first female jockey to ride 100 winners in a season in NSW, rode Not For Export into third place in last year's Qualifier.
Sea Lady's eye-catching third at Orange on March 5
Not For Export gained a berth in the Final and also finished third - and both Martyn and Murray are adamant Sea Lady will be competitive at Randwick if she wins her way there. Especially if it's wet.
"If she gets through we’ll have to go down and have a go at them,'' Martyn said.
"If she happens to win it she will acquit herself very well there too.
"She’s the best chance I’ve had for sure, she’s got a bit of ability.''
First and second from the Dubbo Qualifier earn places in the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 7.
The last two places in the 16 horse Final will be decided in a Wild Card at Muswellbrook on Sunday week.