By Julieanne Horsman
When the inaugural TAB Highway Handicap was run at Royal Randwick on Saturday, 17th October 2015 it was welcomed by the industry with open arms.
Thirteen country-trained horses lined up in a race worth double the prizemoney they would normally compete for at a track they wouldn’t normally get a start at. After 1200m, Grand Proposal was victorious for Queanbeyan trainer Neville Layt. Winona Costin piloted the mare from near last to first to trump Invienna and Onemoregypsy.
“It was surreal,” Layt said. “We were going to go to Wagga that day but this race was brought in and she’d be working really well so we decided to give it a try.
“Best of luck to everyone racing this Saturday. It’s a great concept and I will be watching.”
Since then the TAB Highway series has become a highlight of Saturday racing, affording the connections of country-trained horses the metropolitan experience.
There have been 88 TAB Highway races with 1018 starters. Prizemoney has been increased to $60,000 and the total prizemoney awarded has exceeded $4.5million.
This Saturday the concept will celebrated with a $200,000 TAB Anniversary Highway. 42 horses were nominated for it, prompting Racing NSW officials to create a consolation race worth $100,000 to cater for demand.
Leading TAB Highway trainer Matthew Dunn, who boasts 12 wins to date, will be represented by Delightful Feeling. The gelding has won two TAB Highways previously and is coming off a strong last start win on the Gold Coast.
Dunn also has previous TAB Highway winners Zamex, Madame De Ban and Bronzed Venom as well as Highway placegetter Cascata Rossa in the Consolation.
“We’ve targeted the TAB Highways over the last 12 months so this race is of extra significance to us and we’re excited to be part of it,” Dunn said.
“All the horses are going well and Delightful Feeling is in better shape than he was when he won back-to-back Highways last year. “He had a gallop with Stakes-winning sprinter Quatronic in between races at Murwillumbah yesterday (Tuesday) and was just as good.”
Matthew Dale, who has trained 10 TAB Highway winners, has Superstar Bob in the Consolation but will have his hands full with Fell Swoop running in the $10million TAB Everest.
Other successful TAB Highway trainers will be saddling up runners in the Anniversary including Danny Williams (Pumpkin Pie) Barbara Joseph and Paul Jones (Darts Away) and Mack Griffith (Puzzling Wonder.)
Five horses who ran in the Country Championships Final will also line up in the Anniversary including runner-up After All That, 3rd placegetter Not For Export, Galaxy Warrior, Pumpkin Pie and Cogliere.
Two-time TAB Highway winner, Suncraze, is the current favourite for the race at $3.40 on TAB Fixed Odds. The gelding, trained by Melanie O’Gorman at Tamworth, has never finished worse than second in his nine-race career.
Statistically the “luckiest” barrier is number two with 13 winners jumping from that gate throughout the series. Pumpkin Pie has drawn barrier two and is currently the second favourite at $4.20.