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Geoff Newling Reviews Tuesday's Armidale Meeting

RACE 1 Hill Of Tara returned from a four month break to snare the first victory of her short career at Armidale today.

The Leon Davies-trained three-year-old filly had debuted at Muswellbrook last September before running a five-length second to Suncraze at Dubbo and then a fifth to Envision at Muswellbrook on 11 September.

Her Tamworth trainer then sent her for a spell before picking today’s Armidale Cup Charity Ball March 18 Maiden Handicap (1100m) as a nice return.

She had taken to the track as a third favourite to stablemate Schindler who was also returning from a spell.

Schindler was supported solidly to start favourite but the four-year-old gelding son of Snitzel disappointed at his 13th start and finished out of the placings.

He has had a number of setbacks this preparation and will derive plenty from the run while Hill Of Tara can only improve after stalking the leaders and finishing strongly under Alison Threadwell’s riding.

“He will take a lot out of that,” Alison Threadwell said.

“We had a good run in behind and he finished it off well. He was also first up without a trial.”

The win was Threadwell’s fifth in the Hunter and North West Racing Association this season and Leon Davies’ 10th.

It took Davies to equal seventh with Kris Lees on the HNWRA trainer’s premiership, 11 behind co-leaders Greg Bennett and Paul Perry.

HNWRA TRAINERS PREMIERSHIP (unofficial): 21 Greg Bennett, Paul Perry, 15 Rod Northam, 14 Sue BGrills, 11 Jane Clement, Paddy Cunningham, 10 Leon Davies, Kris Lees, 8 Mark Schmetzer.

RACE 2 House Of Tudor had not placed in any of his first eight starts but his Port Macquarie trainer Tess Wilkes asked his various owners, including her parents, to be patient.

She reckoned the solid four-year-old son of Prince Arthur would produce some royal deeds over longer distances and that opinion was proved correct when he edged out Stephen Gleeson’s Isadiva to win today’s Armidale Cup Bowls/Golf Day March 19 Maiden Plate (1300m).

She “really appreciated” their patience and allowing her to take him along slowly.

“He’s a stayer but very much a baby in the mind,” she said.

“He’s very heavy set and takes a lot to get fit.”

She also thought Mikayla Weir would suit him which proved to be a smart choice.

The 2kg claiming apprentice did well to get him across from barrier 11 into a good spot, turning down and around the home turn before rising again for a stout finish.

“He didn’t handle the track as best as he could but he was still travelling at the 400m,” Weir said.

“He’s improving out of sight.”

RACE 3 Zarabeel might be a filly with a bright future after she donkeylicked her opposition in today’s Autumn Festival March 17-20 Class 1 Maiden Plate (1900m) at Armidale.

The Stirling Osland-trained daughter of Savabeel had been placed over 2200m-plus at Eagle Farm at her last two starts and, as a $2.40 favourite, pounced on her opposition rounding the turn. She raced away to a 10.3 length win from The Blues Brother (Peter Cheers) with Armidale-trained Impressive One (Sandra McCormack) finishing a fighting third.

Zarabeel has now won two of her 21 starts but looks like she is thriving under Stirling Osland’s care at Armidale.

Ben Looker rode the four-year-old and was impressed by the ease of her win. “She relaxed very well,” Ben Looker said.

“But she always travelled like the winner and put them away quite easily. I was surprised she won by 10 because she felt like she had a lot in hand.”

Sky Thoroughbred Cenntral’s Gary Kliese, a former top country jockey, thought “they absolutely played with them” and that Zarabeel looks “a class filly”.

“Stirling is also a very smart, young trainer,” he said.

“He’s a very good horseman and was a good showjump rider too.”

Osland is a rising young trainer in the HNWRA ranks and has three HNWRA wins this season.

He will take it steady with Zarabeel.

“We’ll just keep poking along with her,” he said.

“No real need to look past a Class 1 somewhere. It was just good to see her stretch out and she did give them a fair touch-up. She also looked like she did it pretty easy.”

RACE 4 While Stirling Osland wasn’t talking up an Armidale Cup adventure for his exciting mare Zarabeel after her 1900m success at Armidale today, Texas Rod Hilton has this year’s Cup firmly in mind after Elegies spanked his opponents in the today’s other 1900m race.

Ben Looker made it a winning double in the staying races when he and Elegies bolted clear for a good win from Justin Blanch’s Bobs A Dazzler, with race favourite Malleable Sergj Lisnyy third.

Seven-year-old Elegies has had five starts at Armidale for four wins and a third. “We’re looking at the Armidale Cup for sure,” Rod Hilton said.

“He loves this track. All things being equal and he’s sound we’ll be back for the Cup.”

Ben Looker also copped more plaudits for his ride from Rod Hilton and Gary Kliese.

“A beautiful ride,” Gary Kliese said.

“A ripper,” Hilton added.

Ben Looker had the perfect sit in behind Malleable before dashing to the lead approaching the turn.

“I did have a good run,” Ben Looker said.

“Malleabale took me into it. He might be an Armidale Cup horse, might get into it with no weight, there’s no reason why he couldn’t win it.”

Looker also said Elegies had done well to recover from a horror four-horse fall at Kilcoy but it wasn’t the only hurdle the gelding had to overcome.

“He was going good 12 months ago but then got a spur on his back,” Hilton said.

“He had to have some cortisone injections and we did a lot of work with him in the water.

“Then he had the bad fall at Kilcoy. After that I didn’t think he’d ever recover but he’s back and going good again.”

RACE 5 Brett Dodson could be toying with the idea of a “highway” trip to Sydney with talented Fashion Model after today’s explosive win at Armidale.

The four-year-old daughter of I Am Invincible gapped her rivals to win the Guyra Cup March 4 Class 2 Handicap (1300m) from Swift Reply (Peter Cheers) and Melanie O’Gorman’s Ready Kwila.

Fashion Model notched a third career win at start number 19 for her Coffs Harbour trainer and was also the second leg of a double for jockey Alison Threadwell.

“It was a perfect ride,” Brett Dodson said.

Threadwell had sat in behind the pace in a packing field but extracted the mare from her spot at the right time.

“The gap opened and we went for it,” she said.

“She is bouncing out of her skin and being back down in the weights did help.”

Brett Dodson was delighted with the style in which his Fashion Model won.

“She travelled nicely and hit the line well,” he said.

“We’ve been having a bit of fun with her. I don’t know how many more starts she’ll have this prep but while she’s going well we’ll keep her going.”

He said a trip to Sydney for a Highway Handicap is a distinct possibility or maybe even a run in Brisbane as well.

RACE 6 Jason Reilly might have found the key to Classroom Destiny after the gelding’s surging win at Armidale today.

The five-year-old son of Power Of Destiny rebounded from a fifth in a Port Macquarie Class 1 to win today’s Armidale Cup March 20 Benchmark 55 Handicap (1100m) from Mark Hatch’s Falvina and Hidden Chief (Bryan Dixon).

Kasie Stanley rode the gelding who had won one of his 22 start, and found him much more agreeable at Armidale with blinkers added.

“He was a different horse,” Stanley said.

“The blinkers switched him back on.”

She had to overcome some “trouble around the back” but managed that with aplomb to set him on his winning path.

Jason Reilly, who owns a half share in the gelding, prepares him at Grafton and while the blinkers were a major help the racing surface was also part of the big turnaround.

“Just going off his last run he jumped out and charged,” Reilly said.

“I put the blinkers on to get him to settle. I also kept him fresh.

“Finding a good surface was paramount after racing on a soft Port track last time out.”

He’s had 11 starts on wet tracks for one placing.

“His last win was on a dry track,” Reilly added.

RACE 7 Alakai might have earned herself a trip to Sydney after her narrow win at Armidale today.

The four-year-old daughter of Kaphero held on to beat Fashion Stage (Sue Grills) and Snitzel’s Image (Ross Stitt) in the $20,000 XXXX Gold Benchmark 55 Handicap (1100m).

Mathew McGuren was the winning jockey and thankful for plenty of speed in the race for Alakai, a four-year-old mare trained by Jacob Perrett at Tamworth. “She did a good job,” McGuren said.

Jacob Perrett agreed as she snared a third career win at her 11th start.

She was coming off a sixth to Col’s Tiger at Inverell on Cup day.

“Fitness and heat got her (at Inverell),” Jacob Perrett said.

“She was a lot more relaxed today. She was back to her old self today. She is an honest little mare.”

Perrett has four in work in Tamworth including talented Capitano who has won two of the last three Inverell Shorts and who was a gallant second to Sargent Doakes at Tamworth last Friday.

Capitano lugged 62kg against Sargent Doakes on that Heavy 8 Tamworth track and was far from disgraced.

He might be heading back to Sydney where he has run some nice races in midweek company and Alakai might go with him.

“He (Capitano) runs his races in the tie up stalls,” he said.

“I might take her with him and keep him calm in the stable beside him.

“Maybe a highway race would suit but hopefully find something for them both.”

View the race replays from today's Armidale meeting here.

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