Trainer Neil Smart was on a 'hiding to nothing' when he took over the care of Welcome Art this preparation and he is now within reach of winning the $25,000 Darley Cootamundra Cup (1600m) on Sunday.
Welcome Art has won two of his three starts for Smart who is the sole trainer at Koorawatha – a small township of a few hundred residents outside of Cowra. The five-year-old won two of his last three starts for his former trainer George Hoy before he was transferred to Smart by owners Reg and Fay Walker.
Welcome Art has picked up from where he left off with impressive victories at Dubbo and Canberra with jockey Eleanor Webster-Hawes in charge. She will again be aboard when Welcome Art looks to add his name to the impressive honour roll of Cootamundra Cup winners which dates back more than a century.
“Eleanor couldn’t pull him up after he won at Canberra – he just kept fighting,” Smart said. “He use to sweat up a bit, but he is very relaxed now and Canberra was the most relaxed he has been.”
Webster-Hawes has been in charge of Welcome Art in his past six starts which have produced four wins. She will have extra incentive to win the Cup as her boyfriend, leading jockey Mathew Cahill, will ride one of the main dangers, Zarlu.
Smart, who has a soft spot for the North Queensland Cowboys in the National Rugby League grand final, hopes to make it a double celebration by winning the Cup and heading straight back to Koorawatha.
“I’m the only trainer here and have about eight horses in work,” he said. “Most of the work I ride at the Showgrounds here and then for fast gallops Eleanor or Matt ride him at Cowra.
“He is working well and eating well and on his form I expect him to be hard to beat. I haven’t had a runner in the Cootamundra Cup before and it would be a nice race to win.”
Welcome Art has displayed gritty determination in his past two wins fighting off challenges and it’s that type of will to win, Smart has noticed in his stable star.
“He just keeps giving. I will leave it up to Eleanor how to ride him, but I would say he will be in front or up on the speed,” he said. “He likes a bit of galloping room and doesn’t like to be cluttered up.”
Zarlu ran second in the Forbes Cup behind Gentleman Max who will also contest the Cup on Sunday. He then won at Wagga before finishing eighth in the Dubbo Cup and is expected to be the main danger to Welcome Art.
Trainer Trevor Sutherland will have Gentleman Max and the highly consistent Willy White Socks representing him. Willy White Socks hasn’t finished further back than fourth in his past seven starts and could be the knockout runner.