By Greg Prichard
It won't bother trainer Wayne Wilkes how wet the track is when he attacks the $150,000 MCNRA Country Championships Qualifier over 1400m with his two big hopes Bellastar and Dulette at their home track Taree on Sunday.
Dulette won a TAB Highway Handicap over 1400m on a heavy 9 track at Rosehill on June 29 last year and three weeks before that he also finished on top in a Class 1 Handicap over 1250m at Taree, run on a soft 5.
Bellastar finished ninth of 10 in a Class 2 Handicap over 1200m on a heavy 9 track at Gosford on April 4 last year, but Wilkes said there were genuine excuses for that run.
At her next run, first-up after 15 weeks on July 20, she motored home for third on a soft 6 over 1100m at Randwick.
"That race at Gosford was run in an absolute drenching and it wasn't her fault she wasn't able to do anything," Wilkes said.
"The jockey said it was so bad he couldn't see where he was going, so he couldn't put her into the race.
"Her subsequent run at Randwick was a much better indication of her ability in the wet. I believe she'll handle the wet track, no problem.
"I see that in her work and my son Joel, who rides her in her work and so has been on her in wet conditions, is confident as well.
"The Taree track's been very heavy this week. They're predicting good days heading into the weekend, but then a bit of rain on Saturday, so I think it's going to be in the heavy range on raceday. But I'm not bothered by that - these two can handle all conditions."
Bellastar drew barrier nine in the Qualifier and has followed the same path into the race as the Wilkes-trained mare Lucciola Belle did last year.
Lucciola Bella won the Queen Of The North at Port Macquarie and then won the qualifier at her next start, before finishing second to Noble Boy in the final at Randwick.
Bellastar won the Queen Of The North at her most recent start and Wilkes said the four-year-old was primed to run well.
"We were going to run her in a trial after the last race at Taree last week, but the meeting got washed out," he said.
"So we had to give her an extra gallop to compensate for that. I think it's enough. To me she looks well and she clearly feels well and we're really happy with her.
"She's trimmed up a little bit more since her last race, which is good. She's improved a lot in her coat as well and she's working at least as well, and probably a bit better, than she was before the Queen Of The North. Both horses are ready, so it's going to come down to luck in running from here."
Bellastar wins at Port Macquarie on January 24
Four-year-old gelding Dulette is going into the qualifier off solid TAB Highway Handicap form, having won a Class 2 Highway over 1400m at Rosehill on June 29 last year. He beat subsequent two-time TAB Highway winner Assault'n'bathory into second place there.
Dulette, who drew barrier 14, was fifth of 14 in a Class 3 Highway over 1400m at Rosehill two weeks later, before going for a spell.
At his only run this campaign he was a 1.9 length fourth to Assault'n'bathory in a Class 3 Highway over 1200m at Randwick on January 11.
"He races a bit different to Bellastar," Wilkes said.
"He's more on-speed and she's comfortable getting back a bit. I can't split them, to be honest, going into this race. I like the chances of both horses."
The first and second-placed finishers will each qualify for the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships final over 1400m at Randwick on April 4.