By Tony Megahey
For country racing, the innovation of the TAB Highway series in late 2015 was as celebrated as drought breaking rains and it resumes with the status of its 200th running on a tremendous Group 1 day at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
And, fittingly, it reaches that milestone attracting a field with high promise and profile.
Country Championships winning trainer Matthew Dunn returns with ex-Gary Moore mare Bonanova’s Dream (Kerrin McEvoy), a Doomben winner, but all eyes will be on Kody Nestor’s Jailbreak and Aiden’s St Vincent’s Hellenism in a deep Class 3 over 1200m.
James McDonald rides Gerry Harvey’s strongly fancied Toro Toro, Glen Boss is on dominant Albury winner Mnementh, Tim Clark on Hellenism and Nash Rawiller on Jailbreak.
Formerly trained by Brad Widdup, the impeccably bred Jailbreak is a bargain buy.
Originally a Rubick $470,000 yearling purchase, Jailbreak was picked up for $35,000 and has won unextended at Narromine and Coonamble by a total of eight lengths in smart time.
“First look, it’s as strong a Highway as I’ve seen - a stack of last start winners but he’s progressed super so we’re coming at the right time,” Nestor enthused with Jailbreak on 58kg.
“He’s a three-year-old up in grade obviously against older horses but countering that is so much upside.
“I’ve got no doubt he’s up to them without declaring he’s anywhere near a good thing in a tough race. We’ve been lucky enough to book Nash (Rawiller).
“Ideally we’d have liked to draw a closer in, but we’ll be looking to slot in with cover. And he’s closed off really strong in both wins.”
Hellenism heads early markets and her appearance after having her Country Championships campaign curtailed by an untimely hoof injury is interesting.
After winning a TAB Highway impressively in January she was favourite for the Coffs Harbour Country Championship qualifier but went amiss on the day before the transferred race was run at Grafton.
"She had a niggling foot issue and we weren't prepared to risk her, they were major races but the mare's well being was the priority," St Vincent explained.
"So we gave her the few weeks off, to get her 100 per cent right again. But nothing has gone to plan this prep.
Hellenism wins a TAB Highway at Randwick in January
"When we were ready to trial, instead of decent going we got a heavy track at Ballina but she needed the hit-out. Look, while they were major races missed, maybe making the Country Championship, I'm just happy to be training a mare of her ability and have a lot to look forward to this prep.
"Saturday is the starting point for her again but I'm happy where were at and she'll be competitive.
"I'd have preferred 1000m or 1100m fresh, she'll be midfield but she'll run a race."
The McDonald and Harvey influence and Toro Toro’s dominant provincial wins at Gosford and Scone has the three-year-old Time For War gelding understandably also high early markets.