By Julieanne Horsman at Royal Randwick
As the winner of the opening heat of the Country Championships back in mid-February, Port Macquarie trainer Jenny Graham had a task on her hands to keep Victorem fit and sound for the Final.
“It has been difficult,” she said. “It’s just that he had a few little hiccups along the way but coming into the race I was quietly confident that I had everything pretty well right.”
The experts and punters agreed. Victorem was sent out second favourite at $4.60, just behind Don’t Give A Damn. He jumped well from barrier five and jockey Ben Looker settled him on the rails a few lengths off the leader, Ferniehirst. With a few hundred metres to go Victorem look trapped in a bunched field but when Looker saw an opportunity he didn’t hold back.
“I was trying to force a run that shut on me,” he said. “I was just lucky that when the gap opened up the inside he just had that explosive turn of foot.”
Victorem burst through on the rails and within 100m of the finish it was all over. Favourite Don’t Give A Damn (Kerrin McEvoy) chased hard but it was all Victorem, kicking away to win by 2.5 lengths. It took his career earnings to more than $600,000 which is close to ten times his purchase price.
“I knew when I burst through he was going to be hard to beat,” Looker said. “He’s a very good horse. Obviously being in the bush you don’t find many progressive horses, let alone any as good as Victorem. This is my Melbourne Cup!”
Jenny Graham was equally excited.
“He ran terrific,” she said. “I thought he’d get the 1400m because he does relax. He did chug a little bit today but he did the job. I was always thinking positive because I’ve always had a big opinion of the horse and for him to do it is great.”
Patience with Victorem paid off for Graham and Looker. His career got off to a less than ideal at Casino last May as he buck jumped out of the gates. Looker managed to hold on and brought him back under control to finish 4th. Since then he’s won all five starts including the Mid North Coast Qualifier and Looker has been aboard for all those wins.
Don’t Give A Damn picked up $100,000 for second place which was a nice boost for trainer Danny Williams who has endured a rollercoaster of experiences during the series.
The Southern Districts pair of O’ So Hazy (Brooke Sweeney) and Bennelong Dancer (Blaike McDougall) were the surprises of the race, finishing third and fourth at odds of $41 and $201. It was a great result for the region, especially since legendary local broadcaster Allan Hull had the honour of calling the race.
“She was tough all the way through,” Sweeney said. “She relaxed beautifully today. When I asked her at the top of the rise she just gave her absolute all, I couldn’t be prouder of her.”
“She’s run out of her skin,” McDougall said. “A bit out of her comfort zone being a bit close but I saw the opportunity to just be there, it was a huge run.”
Jenny Graham doesn’t have any definite plans for Victorem yet but is confident he will run a mile and is looking at races during next month’s Scone Cup Carnival.