All roads lead to Tamworth for the Hunter-North West qualifier

With just two regional qualifiers left before the Northern and Southern Wild Cards, the 2024 Country Championships action will head to Tamworth on Sunday.

On a massive day for the Hunter-North West, the best of the best will do battle for a place in 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 Hunter-North West qualifier, listing his major players and key contenders.

Hunter-North West Qualifier 

Date: March 10

Location: Tamworth

Major player: I’ve got Super Extreme (Ash Morgan $7.50) on top in an open race. 

The Cameron Crockett-trained five-year-old has been racing in good form ahead of today’s qualifier. 

The Extreme Choice gelding is a four-time winner and boasts good Highway form, including two wins at Royal Randwick in late 2022 and early 2023. 

Following a spell, the Scone galloper was impressive when winning the 1100m Benchmark 74 Handicap at Dubbo in early February.

Last time out in the 1200m Class Four Preview, Super Extreme put in an eye-catcher, flashing from the back of the field to run third when beaten just over a length by Sting Jet. 

Connections draw well with gate five, leading jockey Ash Morgan takes the ride, and the talented galloper will be ready to fire third-up. 

Key Contenders: A traditionally strong heat, the Hunter-North West qualifier will stand up as one of the more competitive qualifiers in the 2024 Country Championships. 

While I have Super Extreme on top, many chances deserve some consideration. 

Demitasse (Aaron Bullock, $5.50) is arguably the horse to beat. 

We’ve seen horses carrying metropolitan Benchmark form into other qualifiers and win, and Paul Messara and Leah Gavranich will have their four-year-old primed for a big run.

A four-time winner, the Shalaa gelding won a Highway in May and subsequently placed in Benchmark 72 events.

It was a luckless run in the Preview, which Sting Jet won, and I believe the Arrowfield galloper will be tough to beat. 

Depending on how Tamworth plays, if there is any bias towards the front-runners, it will take a good horse to beat Russley Crown (Mitch Stapleford, $12).

The Scone galloper is a four-time winner, which won the 2023 Jungle Juice Cup.

He also finished second to Talbragar in the 2023 Northern Wildcard Country Championships qualifier and second to Rhythm Is A Dancer in the 2023 Country Cup

The wide draw is the biggest concern.

Rapbidash (Daryll McLellan, $5.50) has been set for this event and will be third-up and firing at Tamworth. 

Lyle Chandler was open about his mare being short of a run leading into a first-up eighth to Atmospheric Rock in a 1200m Class Three Highway Handicap at Royal Randwick on February 10. 

The four-year-old backed that effort up with a good third behind Belvedere Boys in the 1400m Class Three Highway Handicap at Rosehill Gardens on February 24. 

Considering Belvedere Boys will be one of the favourites in the Northern Wild Card qualifier later this month, the run had a lot of merit.

The Supido mare has a lot of ability and should be up to this class of race. 

Rhythm Is A Dancer (Matthew McGuren) might be a roughie at $34, but the horse’s talent is indisputable.

A five-time winner, the five-year-old won the Country Cup at Scone in May, beating a strong field in the 1400m feature.

He’s unbeaten at Tamworth (2:2-0-0), and while connections are drawn wide, magic man Matthew McGuren takes the ride. He will likely try to follow speedster Russley Crown into the race. 

Tips: 4-5-3-14

Why get to Tamworth: The 2024 Country Championships heads to the home of Australian country music, Tamworth. 

On Sunday, café and bar facilities will be available, as well as free kid’s activities, the TAB mounting yard lawn party, and bookmaking and TAB outlets. 

Tamworth & Dungowan Cowboys Junior, Cronulla Sharks fullback, and NRLW star Jada Taylor has come on board as an ambassador, and the club will host a very strong eight-race program. 

To find out more about the meeting, click here