By Ray Hickson
Jockey Ben Looker knows a thing or two about what a good horse feels like and he’s adamant exciting three-year-old Victorem will develop into a serious racehorse in time.
Victorem is the least experienced runner in Sunday’s $150,000 MNCRA Country Championships Qualifier (1200m) at Port Macquarie with just four starts under his belt. But he's arguably the most promising.
It wouldn’t be obvious to many but Looker rode a couple of Gai Waterhouse’s topline mares More Joyous and Once Were Wild when he was on loan to the leading Sydney trainer almost a decade ago.
So the pressure of a rich series and potentially taking centre stage at Royal Randwick on an occasion like The Championships Day 1 won’t daunt him.
“I was lucky enough to ride a lot of good horses at Gai’s,’’ he said.
“I had four rides for four wins on Once Were Wild. More Joyous was like the Winx of the time and I was lucky enough to get an exhibition gallop on her.
“But I probably wasn’t mature enough in the head to cop the city and I got very homesick and moved back to Grafton.’’
Victorem is an $11 chance in TAB’s Country Championships Final market making him the leading contender of trainer Jenny Graham’s trio headed to the Port Macquarie Qualifier that includes Awesome Pluck ($15) and Portatorio ($51).
Looker, 27, now lives at Port Macquarie but was based at Grafton when the gelding made his debut at Casino in May last year so hadn’t seen the horse and he said that was costly.
He put on a buck jumping display shortly after the start and lost all chance but showed his promise by recovering to be beaten three lengths.
“I think if I knew him like I do now I have no doubt in my mind he’d be undefeated,’’ Looker said.
“It’s very well documented how unlucky he was at his first start but thankfully he’s come out and won his next three.
“I’m lucky enough to have found Victorem. He’s not just a Highway horse, I think he’s definitely got enough ability to measure up on Saturdays.’’
It’s fair to say there have been a few hiccups since Victorem stamped himself as a Country Championships contender with a brilliant Highway win at Randwick on December 16.
Again he was up to a few tricks and gave Looker a horror ride but got the job done.
“His ability shone through that day and I believe he wasn’t at his best,’’ Looker said.
“He’s a three or four lengths better horse than what he showed that day. I wouldn’t be swapping my mount for anything else in the race.’’
Victorem showed his readiness for the Port Macquarie Qualifier winning a Taree trial on Monday
An infection forced the horse to be scratched from a planned lead up race on Gosford Cup Day but he proved to Looker in winning a Taree trial earlier this week that he’s ready to go.
“I hadn’t sat on his back since New Year’s Day and personally I think he’s improved from then,’’ he said.
“Even looking at him when he walked into the mounting yard he looks better now than when he won first-up at Randwick.
“He’s a very nice horse, he’s always shown ability and it’d be really good if he can come out on Sunday and show them what he’s made of.
“But he’s not going to be able to do much wrong on Sunday. In his trial everyone saw how relaxed he was in the run and he was strong through the line.’’
The first two horses home in Sunday’s MNCRA Qualifier (1200m) progress to the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400M) at Royal Randwick on April 7.