By Tony Megahey
The prestigious TAB Highway series continues to reveal exciting new Country training identities and gallopers, along with reviving some marvellous racing memories.
Tamworth’s Michelle Fleming has made just two trips to Sydney with her promising gelding The Lion winning twice, while it takes something special for Port Macquarie’s four-decade trainer and Vietnam War veteran, Tas Morton, to make a rare foray to town.
The most memorable was back in 2007 when Tas reluctantly had to miss his traditional hometown ANZAC Day march and two-up with his old army mates for a race scheduled at Royal Randwick.
“I had a smart horse called Jenks who I knew was up to city grade and he got the money at good odds,” Tas recalled.
“I’d promised my mates two-up money if they marched for me, so it was a great time when I got home. But it took a while, I can tell you,” Tas chuckled.
Tas - who served with the 8th Field Ambulance in Vietnam and witnessed the worst - returned home in 1971 to start training and open a Real Estate agency.
On Saturday, Tas takes on the prolific series-winning stables of Danny Williams and Matthew Dunn with outsider Mister Smartee in a TAB Rosehill Gardens $60,000 Highway Class 3 (1500m).
The veteran Morton remains a keen form student and is invariably competitive when he comes to town.
“I brought this gelding down for a Highway last December and he ran a real big race behind that Volpe trained by Danny, and I see it has since won a strong Saturday grade race,” Morton said. “We drew wide, struck interference and he only got beat just over two lengths. Would have been in the finish I reckon.
“He’s a lengths better horse now. He’s matured, spelled great and he can handle any going if it stays rain-affected.”
Mister Smartee (Smart Missile-Easy Tee (USA)) carries 56.5kg with the compelling booking of Brenton Avdulla, who has another Sydney premiership all but locked up.
“Yep, real happy with the rider and the horse, and we’ve spaced his races to suit. This prep he’s carried 60 kilos and bolted in at home, then he had 58.5 kilos and won on a heavy nine at Taree. He’s won at 1400m closing off, so 1500m won’t be any problem.
“But you know when you come to town for the bigger prizemoney; you’re going to strike those strong Country stables. Young Matthew Dunn, has a great record and so has Danny and they’ve got the numbers on the smaller stables. But it’s still a series for Country horses and trainers.
"And I reckon we trainers are only as good as the ability of our horses. This gelding is three wins from nine starts now - we’re well weighted. He’s got the pace to get across from the wide draw and be on-pace.”
Mister Smartee will be wide in the market behind recent impressive Highway winner Radiant Choice and the Dunn trio of series winner Dia De Reys, Cascata Rossa and Realing. Pressed closely by Williams’s Hemmerle, unlucky last start, and promising recent Canterbury Park maiden winner My Blue Jeans. Both stables are yet to finalise starters and jockeys.
Meanwhile, Tas won’t be getting much sleep on the long trip from 'Port': “I’ll be leaving around midnight, arriving at Gerald Ryan’s at daybreak - Gerald’s been a terrific support over the years.
“We’ll get the horse settled, have a chat and make plans for the day. I’ll have another look at the form, the scratchings and betting. But win or lose, it’s still about enjoying the day and having fun. And if you can tip your mates a winner, all the better, they’ll be watching back home.”