By Ray Hickson
He's ridden more than 4300 winners, and counting, but champion country rider Robert Thompson would love to add a Championships trophy to the cabinet.
Specifically, a Country Championships win after filling second place a year ago in, remarkably, his first ride in the Final.
At 59, Thompson has seen plenty of change in country racing in New South Wales and is a big fan of the Country Championships concept.
“I think it’s great and everyone has got behind it,’’ Thompson said.
“There's something at the end of the rainbow, a nice big pot of gold there for them and it puts country racing on the big stage on a big day.
“Every owner and trainer is hoping they have a horse that can make it there. The competition is strong and fierce - I wish it had happened years ago!’’
At last count Thompson’s tally was very close to 4330 winners.
He’ll be in action when the Country Championships series commences at Port Macquarie on Friday riding Portatorio for leading local trainer Jenny Graham.
He said he’s likely to travel from his Cessnock base to ride in the qualifiers at Mudgee, possibly Dubbo, Scone and the wild card at Muswellbrook in search of that “right horse’’.
Thompson rode After All That for Rod Northam into second place in last year’s Country Championships Final and that horse returned in the spring to win the rich Anniversary Highway on Everest Day.
“Jenny Graham has a strong team and Rod Northam should have three or four in the Scone heat,’’ he said.
“You've got to have a good horse, an old ordinary one won't make it. You need a good up and coming young horse.
“After running second in the final last year I’d like to go one better.’’
Thompson’s belief that a progressive, lightly raced, horse is required to win the Country Championships Final has been proven in the first three years.
Inaugural winner Artlee bounced straight into Listed company after his win in 2015, he’s unfortunately battled injury and been sparingly raced since.
Clearly Innocent, the 2016 winner, won a Group 1 during the Brisbane winter carnival last year and contested The Everest in the spring.
We didn’t get to see the best of Free Standing, an easy winner in 2017, as he sadly passed away.
The $150,000 Qualifiers are staged at Port Macquarie (February 18), Goulburn (February 24), Mudgee (February 25), Wagga Wagga (March 4), Grafton (March 11), Scone (March 18), Dubbo (March 25) and the $50,000 wild card at Muswellbrook on April 1.
Then, the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) is held at Royal Randwick on April 7.