By Doug Ryan
Cheers from a big contingent of owners greeted the home town win of Epic Dan ($5.50) in the Wingham Beef Exports Cup (1257m) at Taree’s Bushland Drive Racecourse on Tuesday.
Many of them were dressed in green shirts with the name of their four-year-old gelding emblazoned in white letters and they were ready to party.
“This is my first horse. I picked him out as a foal,” owner Judy Clarke said.
“It has been a big thrill all the way along.”
There are 10 members of the syndicate and some of them were or are employed by the sponsors in their business at Wingham.
Another part-owner David Blanch described Wyong trainer Alan Kehoe as “a magician” in having Epic Dan notch his fourth win from 16 starts.
“A change of gear did the trick (blinkers off, winkers on) after our horse was wide last start but still managed a close third,” Blanch said.
Stable representative Jarrod McKee said Epic Dan was back to his best in leading all the way and the distance “is about his best.”
Jockey Grant Buckley was all smiles after the win as he picked up the ride late when Matt Bennett scratched from the meeting.
Favourite Spinning Quarters ($3.20) from Grafton battled on well for a half-length second, a length in front of improving Newcastle gelding Torquay ($10).
Four-year-old mare Port Gold ($5.50) is being set for The Championships after also leading all the way for a long neck win in the Hepworths & Cellsera Benchmark 55 Handicap over 1412m.
The mare, owned by Ron Kirwan and his wife from Port Macquarie, is trained on the track by Robert Lane and was ridden by Wauchope apprentice Mollie Partridge.
Strapper Geoff Pares said the mare’s last start disappointing run in the Highway Handicap at Rosehill could be excused as the trip was done on a hot day.
“She tries hard but was probably a bit flat due to the heat,” he said.
“Catch me if you can” tactics proved a winner for Taree apprentice jockey Chloe Baker as she let five-year-old local mare Lobban Dynamite stretch her front-running lead to about a dozen lengths mid-race before scoring by seven lengths for trainer Robert Barnes and a big group of owners in the WRS Orora Benchmark 60 Handicap over 2018m.
“That was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think she would lead like that,” Barnes said.
Punters again had their fingers burnt in making Star Fest the $2.30 favourite in the race. The Coffs Harbour gelding finished second.
Big four-year-old gelding Silent Image ($3 to $2.30) justified his favouritism with a dominant 1.75 lengths win in his first outing since September for Wyong trainer John Fairleigh and late-pick-up jockey Chris O’Brien in the David Roper Memorial Maiden Handicap over 1007m.
O’Brien said the gelding had “plenty of upside” and could claim a better race.
A disappointing run due to heat stress when 13th at Scone last start was put to bed with a dominant 3.25 lengths win for Happy ($11)in the Mid Coast Bearings Maiden Plate over 1257m. . The Allan Denham-trained mare was ridden from an outside barrier by Robert Thompson.
Jockey Josh Adams had his first win at his third race meeting in a comeback from suspension when he led all the way on Run Sally Run ($4) in the Sealed Air Food Care Class 3 Handicap over 1007m in fast time.
Three of the mares four wins have been at Taree where she thrives but according to trainer Grant Allard she doesn’t put in the same on her home track.
Also bound for the Country Championships is Coffs Harbour four-year-old gelding Boncosta ($2.90 to $2). He record a 1.5 length win for trainer Brett Bellamy and jockey Raymond Spokes in the Hillard & Berry Solicitors Country Class 1 Plate over 1614m.
“This galloper has had four runs for me for two wins and two placings and was beaten less than half a length,” Bellamy said.
Racing returns to Bushland Drive Racecourse on 31 January for a TAB meeting conducted again by Taree Wingham Race Club.