Trainer John Sprague hopes to bring down the curtain on the 2016-17 racing season with at least one winner on his home track at Port Macquarie on Monday.
Sprague is likely to have five runners at the seven-race meeting, including the in-form Drummed Out in the Schweppes Benchmark 65 Hcp (1206m) and Laurentian in the Prime7 Benchmark 55 Hcp (1006m).
He also has stable newcomers Field Helmet and Penny Fling resuming in the De Bortoli Wins Maiden Plate (1206m) and Ibelieveinmiracles in the Carlton Draught Benchmark 56 Hcp (1506m). Sprague also had Unique Miss set to line up alongside Field Helmet and Penny Fling in the Maiden Plate but she has a stone bruise and will be scratched.
Sprague had a great season with 12 winners and hopes to finish the racing year on the right note: "I've had a pretty good season and had great support from my owners," he said. "Hopefully we can add to that on Monday."
Laurentian will be ridden by Sprague's 3kg-claiming apprentice Cejay Graham but he has stuck with senior rider Matt Paget for Drummed Out: "I thought about using Cejay's claim on Drummed Out but he can be a funny horse to ride and Matt knows him so well, so that's the way I went," said Sprague.
Drummed Out, a son of Commands, started his career with Godolphin under the guidance of trainer John O'Shea. He has won five of his 22 starts for Sprague, including two of his past four starts. Drummed Out scored at his most recent appearance at Port Macquaire on July 15, coming away for a strong win over I'm Danny and Spartan Warrior in a Benchmark 59 Hcp (1200m) on a soft7.
"He's been racing well this prep - he's finally grown up a bit now. He's by Commands and they seem to take a bit of time," said Sprague. "He's got to take the next step up in Monday's race and Allan Denham's horse (Duck In Dubai) in particular looks hard to beat, but mine will be running on his home track which hopefully helps. Being by Commands, he's been loving the wet tracks recently, but I think he's just as effective on top of the ground."
Sprague also believes a good track on Monday will only boost Laurentian's chances in the Benchmark 55 Hcp. Laurentian has been racing consistently throughout this year and has been placed in all three runs on wet tracks this campaign. The Snippetson four-year-old followed a first-up third to Dubai Sights in a Class 3 at Taree on a heavy 9 on June 15 with back-to-back seconds to Duck In Dubai in a Class 3 on a heavy 10 at Kempsey on June 30 and then behind Musical Query in a Class 3 on a soft 5 at Taree on July 21.
"He's been racing really well, but just keeps running into one or two just a bit better on the day," said Sprague. "But he looks hard to beat in Monday's race, especially back on a good track. He handles the wet tracks okay, but is much better off on a firm track. He's drawn out a bit (barrier 13), but I think he should be able to get across okay. I'd say he's the best of my runners on Monday."
Sprague hopes to get some gauge on stable newcomers Field Helmet and Penny Fling after they run in the Maiden Plate. Field Helmet raced poorly in four Victorian starts for Sale trainer Sharyn Trolove earlier this year, while Penny Fling was placed in four of his nine starts when previously with Sydney trainer Joe Pride: "It's a bit of 'trial and error' with both of them at this stage," he said.
Veteran jockey Robert Thompson, who just missed winning Saturday's Cleveland Bay Handicap in Townsville, combines with Allan Denham in his only three rides at the Port Macquarie meeting.
He partners Duck In Dubai, winner of four of his eight starts, in the Benchmark 65 Hcp (1206m) and first-starters Cunningar Lass in the 3YO Maiden Hcp (1006m) and Silent Jack in the Maiden Plate (1206m).