All roads lead to Mudgee for the Central Districts qualifier

With the Northern Rivers and the Southern Districts 2024 Country Championships qualifiers in the books and the Mid-North Coast heat being run and won today at Tuncurry-Forster, all eyes turn to Mudgee on Sunday. 

On a massive day for the region, the $150,000 Central Districts qualifier takes centre stage, with the top-two placegetter progressing to the $1 million final at Royal Randwick on April 6. 

NSW Country and Picnic Racing Editor Jeff Hanson has run his eye over the eight-race showcase program and Central Districts qualifier, listing his major players and key contenders. 

Central Districts qualifier

Date: February 25

Location: Mudgee

Major player: Life’s A Party ($4). The little mare with a big engine draws well for the Central Districts qualifier, and she gets in with 55.5kg with Grant Buckley in the saddle. 

Trained on the track by Mark Jones, she won’t have to travel like many of her rivals, and she’s a mare in form. 

Having started ten times for the four wins, the five-year-old went close to beating Gallant Star in a Class Three Highway at Royal Randwick late last year and has since won at Bathurst in a 1200m Class Four Handicap, proving herself against a good field and on a heavy track. 

Everything points to Life’s A Party running a big race. 

Key contenders: It’s a typically open Central Districts heat, but one at odds has to be the Andrew Ryan-trained Possibly So ($11). 

Tony ‘Choc’ Cavallo has been working with the gelding, and connections draw well with gate two.

Another four-time winner, the Bathurst galloper won a 1600m Class Three Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick on June 6.

The Star Witness gelding can be a tad hot to handle, and there is a question mark around him after he was a late scratching from the race won by Life’s A Party at Bathurst, and he was subsequently forced to trial at Dubbo on Sunday. 

Ryan has confirmed his galloper is on song ahead of the qualifier, and if he runs up to his best, he’s probably the horse to beat. 

Lockdown Gamble ($6.50) has to be respected. 

Trained by David Smith, the six-year-old finished third in the Central Districts qualifier to Zoo Station in 2022 before finishing ninth to Another One in the final. 

A consistent type trained on the track, he won at Cowra two starts back in a 1375m Class Three Handicap before running third in a 1400m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Newcastle.

Third-up on his home track, he’ll run a good race so long as it’s not too wet. 

The Mack Griffith-trained pair of Aimpoint ($7.50) and Musical Affair ($11) also deserve respect, with Aimpoint (Mitchell Bell) drawn to get a soft sit behind the leaders, while Musical Affair (Jake Pracey-Holmes) will be running the field along. 

Why get to Mudgee? Mudgee Race Club had me at their Cocktail Luncheon Lounge, a package that includes finger food, live music, and a drink voucher. 

Fashions on the field is always a standout at Mudgee, and there will be five categories to be won on the day, with all racegoers catered for. 

There are food trucks and full bar service, premier horse racing, courtesy buses to and from the local pubs, added TAB entertainment, and, as the club described, it’s a day ‘where you can experience all the excitement and fashion of a big city race, but with a more relaxed and welcoming atmosphere’.

Also, if you’re a struggling St George Illawarra fan like this reporter is, there’s plenty of reason to make a weekend of it, with the Dragons hosting the Wests Tigers at Glen Willow Stadium on Saturday.

For more on the meeting, click here.

For more on the 2024 Country Championships, click here.