Everyone in the Dubbo racing community has a story to tell and the Country Championships is helping those tales reach huge audiences.
The 2019 Country Championships series begins this weekend and all eyes will be on Dubbo Turf Club as it hosts the first of eight qualifiers before the $500,000 final at Royal Randwick on April 6.
The barrier draw was and final field was confirmed on Thursday, a day where Sky Racing was broadcasting live from the Dubbo track.
The prizemoney and expanded media attention are two of the major reasons the Country Championships have become such a success, with local trainer Clint Lundholm enjoying a live cross to Big Sport Breakfast hosts Terry Kennedy and Laurie Daley on Thursday. Something like that was not a common occurrence just a few short years ago.
“It’s a special event in NSW,” Sky Racing’s Andrew Bensley said between crosses from Dubbo on Thursday.
“We wanted to be a part of it and come out here. All trainers and jockeys have got their own stories.”
More stories and memories will be created on Sunday, with the $150,000 Western Racing Association qualifier jumping at 4.30pm.
The Cecil Hodgson-trained A Martin Placepick has unanimously been singled out as the one to beat in the event and after drawing barrier nine the gelding opened a hot $2.40 favourite on Thursday.
Boosting A Martin Placepick’s chances is the booking of champion jockey Greg Ryan, who rode the gelding to a convincing victory at Parkes last Thursday.
Two-time heat winning jockey Jake Pracey-Holmes won’t partner up with Justin Stanley’s Good Host again after taking out last year’s event. Instead, the jockey will ride Sprezzatura ($26) for Lundholm from the extreme outside.
Stanley has Jon Grisedale on Good Host ($15) from barrier three while Darren Hyde has Adam Hyeronimus making the trip west to pilot Westlink ($6) after he drew gate one. Mathew Cahill will be in the saddle of the Rodney Robb’s leading contender, Thermosa ($4.40), who is set to start from barrier 13.
The opening market for the $500,000 final at Royal Randwick has also been released and Gayna Williams’ Mudgee-trained hope I Am A Cool Kid was listed a $6 chance, behind only Noble Boy ($4.50) from the Queanbeyan stables of Todd Blowes.
Six-year-old I Am A Cool Kid has endured plenty of difficulties early in his career but rocketed into Country Championships contention when scoring a dominant Highway win at Randwick on January 26.
An early clash between I Am A Cool Kid and Noble Boy was set for this weekend at Warwick Farm after both were nominated for another Highway event, but Williams didn’t accept with her gelding.
Blowes has Noble Boy headed for the South-East Qualifier at Goulburn on March 2 where he’ll meet the likes of Sei Stella, Common Purpose (both $11) and Chewbacca ($15) among others.
“The south east looks particularly strong this year and horses from that region occupy three of the top four spots in the market, with the other being the Mudgee-based I Am A Cool Kid, trained by Gayna Williams,’’ TAB’s Gerard Middleton told Racing NSW.
“The six-year-old has had just the four starts due to a host of problems, but his talent was there for all to see at Randwick on Australia Day when he absolutely bolted in.”
I Am A Cool Kid has three wins and one second-placed finish in four career starts and is set to contest the Central Districts qualifier at Mudgee on March 3.
A Martin Placepick is the best of the western hopes in the final market at $51.