By Ray Hickson
Could it be a case of third time lucky for Taree trainer Bob Milligan in the Newhaven Park Country Championships Final after a runaway win by smart mare Charmmebaby in the Mid North Cost Qualifier?
Wet weather forced the Taree heat’s transfer to Scone but it was a ‘local’ win by the four-year-old and a career best performance that puts her squarely in the mix for the $500,000 Final at Randwick on April 3.
Charmmebaby settled near the tail in the run but jockey Grant Buckley plotted a faultless path through the field and she put three and a half lengths on the Allan Kehoe trained Subtle Grey who edged out Chase My Crown to also book a spot in the Final.
Glen Milligan, deputising for his father, said he was concerned in the run after the mare settled further back than he hoped over the 1400m.
“I was confident she could win, it just worried me where she was going to get in the run,’’ Milligan said on Sky Thoroughbred Central.
“I said (to Grant) just come back and don’t have an excuse why we got beaten.
“She surprised me how she let down because she’s always a bit dour and takes a while to wind up.”
Milligan won the Mid North Coast heat in 2016 with Another Valley, she ran fourth in the Final to Clearly Innocent, while in 2019 Texas Storm finished second in his qualifier and was unplaced behind Noble Boy at Randwick.
Charmmebaby cost just $14,000 as a tried horse with just a third placing against her name and the Milligans have now presided over five wins from 13 starts for the stable and over $170,000 in prizemoney.
She showed Country Championships quality with a Tab Highway win at Rosehill in November though her two runs back over 1200m didn’t show it.
Milligan said she’ll be spot on for the ‘grand final’ in six weeks.
“Her two runs back were good over unsuitable distances, we had to get the miles back into her legs,’’ he said.
“She’s just taken a little while to come to hand.”
The win saw TAB slash Charmmebaby’s price for the Final from $101 to $17 while Subtle Grey firmed into $26.
Buckley said he was confident going into the qualifier and was able to use the backs of Andrew Gibbons on Bellastar and Dylan Gibbons on Chase My Crown to his advantage.
“They took me right to where I needed to get, it worked out perfectly,’’ he said.
“She keeps stepping up to the mark. She really finished off well and put them to the sword.
“It was good to clean them up like that and I think the horse is heading in the right direction.”
Charmmebaby wins the MNCRA Qualifier at Scone
Port Macquarie trainer Allan Kehoe was responsible for a huge training effort preparing Subtle Grey for the race first-up off after over 500 days off the scene and declared there's plenty of improvement to come.
The seven-year-old, ironically formerly trained by Wayne and Joel Wilkes who train third placed Chase My Crown, hadn’t started since August 2019 and will be Kehoe's first qualifier for Country Championships.
"It means a lot, that's why we moved to the bush,'' he said.
"He'll take a lot of improvement, I dare say he'll beat the winner from today's race in the final. He will take a lot out of today, he's had 18 months.
"At the furlong I thought he was home but he did get a stitch and I thought he was going to run third. I'm pretty certain he will take that much improvement out of it and if they get a bit of rain he's a grey and likes the wet."