By Doug Ryan
The battle of emerging star gallopers against seasoned ones adds plenty of interest to the $22,000 Winning Post Function Centre Taree Cup Prelude-Benchmark 70 Handicap (1624m) at Bushland Drive Racecourse on Thursday.
The TAB meeting is the first of three worth a total of $620,000 prizemoney, ending with the feature $80,000 Stacks Law Firm Taree Gold Cup over 2000m in a Country Showcase eight-race meeting on August 20.
Taree-Wingham Race Club has provided an incentive to the winner of the Prelude as it is exempt from ballot for the Cup. Many trainers are using the Prelude to guarantee a start and others are hoping to pick up a win on the way to Taree’s big social occasion on Cup day.
Provincial trainers could have the edge in the Prelude but there are some worthwhile hopes provided by the locals. One is five-year-old Port Macquarie gelding Glitra, formerly trained by champion provincial trainer Kris Lees for two wins before being sold to a group of ladies from Laurieton. Since being taken over by trainer John Sprague the Stravinsky (USA) gelding has notched three wins and is emerging as a star in the making.
Sprague has slowly stepped the gelding up in distance from a win over 1412m at this track on July 3 to be only beaten a half length by Darci’s Affair over 1600m in the $80,000 Coffs Harbour Cup on August 3.
“I was going to wait to start him next in the Taree Cup but he is feeling too well and may need the extra run to settle him down,” the trainer said. He said a win would make sure of the cup start, then possibly on to the Port Macquarie Cup in October.
Taree trainer Michael Byers is also aiming his seven-year-old mare Who Is Game to try and win its first race over 2000m in the cup.
“She has won over 1800m and her races this campaign have been aimed at her trying to win my hometown cup. I hope to win the Prelude so I am guaranteed a start in it.” Australia’s most winning jockey, 59-year-old Robert Thompson, who won the Coffs Cup, takes the mount.
Three starts back the mare was third to Wyong galloper Mr McBat, trained by Damien Lane, in the $25,000 Wingham Cup over 1600m at Taree. It then had trouble with the heavy track at Port Macquarie where it was a gallant fourth behind Explosive Scene over 1512m in the $32,000 Wauchope Cup before “not being herself” in a 5.2 lengths ninth over 1600m at Warwick Farm on July 19.
“She is back to her old self, is on her home track and her work on Saturday was spot on,” Byers added.
Lane is happy to be back at the track with one of his Taree Cup chances in nine-year-old gelding Nissile: “He is probably looking for 2000m now but this is a good lead-up race.”
Another of his fellow provincial trainers, Paul Perry from Newcastle, can figure with strong hope four-year-old gelding The Getaway. Three starts back the horse was just under three lengths fourth to Estikhraaj over 1900m in a Benchmark 72 race at Canterbury and since finished second, beaten just under a length, to Sensacova over 1570m at Cessnock on August 1.
Sprague may have a fortuitous win with four-year-old gelding Drummed Out in the Adrian Owen Equine Veterinarian Benchmark 60 Handicap over 1265m. The horse had been sold for $10,000 but on Monday the sale fell through so he decided to race the gelding instead.
“The owners wanted to sell him to be in the position to buy another horse in an upcoming sale. They still might get their money if he wins as the prizemoney is worth more,” Sprague said.
Drummed Out won over 1300m at the track two starts back and was a handy fifth over 1250m in unsuitable heavy ground at Taree last start on June 15.
SELECTIONS RACE 1: Final Frontier 1, Jack’s Bar 2, Morris Incident 3. RACE 2: Manhattan Gambler 1, Fanny Chenal 2, Hayden Boy 3. RACE 3: Lothbrok 1, Glitch 2, Orsippus 3. RACE 4: Serious Star 1, Not Surprising 2, Akamin 3. RACE 5: Drummed Out 1, Shalama 2, Cheljoe 3. RACE 6: Glitra 1, Who Is Game 2, The Getaway 3. RACE 7: Star Princess 1, Rastafarian 2, On My Terms 3.