By Ray Hickson
Shelley Beach Road has already made it to one Country Championships Final but trainer John Sprague is adamant she’s a better horse as she attempts to quality for the 2019 edition.
The five-year-old Port Macquarie mare finished fourth in her home track qualifier a year ago but received a call up for the final when second placed Awesome Pluck and third placed Portatorio were ruled out.
She finished second last at Randwick.
Sprague knows he has to do battle with Awesome Pluck again in Sunday’s $150,000 MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier (1200m) but says they are up for the challenge.
“She’s matured a lot more this year,’’ Sprague said.
“She’s rising six but it was like she was still a big baby last year. She’s really put herself together, she wasn’t copping a lot of racing and we had to give her a lot of time between races because she tries so hard and it knocks her off her feet.
“This time around she’s been backing up pretty damn good.
Shelley Beach Road runs fifth at Port Macquarie on January 25
“She blew up big on me after her last run so I had to give her another trial and since then she’s been bucking her brand off.’’
After a six week break Shelley Beach Road kicked off her campaign by running fifth under 59.5kg in the Queen Of The North (1200m) at Port Macquarie last month.
Sprague said he’s satisfied with her effort there and is confident she’ll be a much fitter horse come Sunday.
“She probably got away on me a little bit through lack of racing,’’ he said.
“We gave her another good trial the other day and that tightened her right up. She’s a hard girl to work out because she’s so laid back you don’t know where you are with her.’’
Andrew Adkins rode the mare in last year’s Qualifier – his father is one of the owners – but flight issues meant he would have to miss Monday’s trials featuring Daysee Doom and Dixie Blossoms so had to forego the ride.
Sprague has a more than able back up though with Corey Brown taking over and he said while she’s drawn wide he has confidence in the champion hoop to have her in a striking position.
“It’s a straight run down the back and she’s probably better off out there,’’ he said.
“I’d like Corey to get a good sit just behind them and hopefully she can dash to the line.
“She has to have it run her way, she loves a bit of pace on so she can sit off the back of them without going too hard. She finds another leg at the top of the straight at port Macquarie, she seems to run her best races there.’’
Shelley Beach Road is an $18 chance with TAB – she started $13 last year – with Awesome Pluck stifling the market as the hot $1.65 favourite.
First and second from the Port Macquarie Qualifier earn a spot in the $150,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick on April 6.