By Ray Hickson
Talented four-year-old Suncraze has always been a work in progress and guiding him to Sunday’s $150,000 H&NWRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Scone has been a 12-month operation for Tamworth trainer Melanie O’Gorman.
In general, O’Gorman prefers to let Suncraze do the talking when he races.
But ahead of a moment that has been carefully planned she says her job is done and it’s now up to Suncraze to play his part.
“He's never let us down before so there's no reason to change anything. I try to just focus on the horse and the job at hand,’’ O’Gorman said.
“This time a year ago people were saying to me ‘you should have Suncraze in the Country Championships’ but 12 months ago I didn't feel he was the right horse for the race.
“He was making mistakes, racing greenly and not racing like a confident horse.’’
Less than a year ago Suncraze had an unfortunate reputation as a bridesmaid – he won on debut then finished second in his next six starts.
If the gelding wasn’t racing confidently then things have changed now as O’Gorman’s patience is paying off with three wins (and another second in the Anniversary Highway on Everest Day) from his last four starts.
Suncraze heads to Scone on the back of a first-up win in a Benchmark 85 race at Randwick on February 17 and O’Gorman said she’s been able to follow an identical path into the qualifier through another trial at Muswellbrook on March 2.
His desire was there to see at Randwick with Punters Intel data showing Suncraze ran the fastest last 200m of 11.83 to snatch the win.
“From the first trial on February 1 to the race at Randwick was 16 days and I was able to use the same program going into the race on Sunday,’’ she said.
“I've often spaced his runs out and given him three weeks between runs or more. He's not a gross doing fat horse, he's a clean winded and naturally fit horse.’’
Suncraze is equal second favourite at $6 with TAB, alongside Qualifier winners Snitz and Victorem, so is expected to at least finish in that one-two spot as he has done in all 11 starts to date.
He's ideally drawn in barrier seven but O’Gorman said she’s not taking the result for granted, citing the misfortune of beaten favourites Don’t Give A Damn (Goulburn) and Most Exalted (Mudgee) who failed to qualify and will have to head to the Muswellbrook Wild Card on April 1.
Suncraze wins first-up at Randwick on February 17
“It's a great concept and a great idea to have the wild card,’’ she said
“We've seen a few things go wrong in other heats where some high-profile horses didn't run as well or had an off day and it's nice to see them get a second chance.
“The day will come when he doesn't run first or second, I'm sure of it. But we need it this week more than ever. Let's hope it is not an off day.’’
O’Gorman was based in Scone when she took out her trainer’s licence but has been at Erin Park Stud near Tamworth since December 2016.
She keeps around six horses in training to race but has about 25 horses in work pre-training as well as preparing young horses for Hong Kong.
When owner Anthony Gow-Gates offered her some horses to train a few years ago one of them was the yearling that would be known as Suncraze and the horse has dragged her into the spotlight.
And she’s excited to see what he can do beyond the Country Championships.
“I'm incredibly lucky. Not a day goes by I don't remind myself how lucky I am a horse like Suncraze came my way,’’ she said.
“It's been a 12 month plan to get here but the way he has progressed the pressure is off because there's a lot of other nice options out there as well.
“I'm looking forward to trying him at a mile and 2000m and I haven't done that yet. The race on Everest Day was 1400m and the Country Championships is 1400m.
“So I'm looking forward to ticking off the series - win, lose or draw - because then we can explore other avenues with the horse.’’
The $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final (1400m) is run at Royal Randwick on April 7.