It was a race of sensations in the 2023 Northern Rivers Racing Association Country Championships qualifier at Coffs Harbour on Saturday afternoon.
The heavily-backed race-favourite Lisztomania from the Aiden St Vincent yard played up in the barriers and tossed jockey Ashley Morgan before going around riderless in the 1400m event.
Morgan appeared to be okay as the big field barrelled along in the seven-furlong event and after an early speed battle and multiple leaders, the Todd Fletcher-trained Noble Missile took up the running for Mikayla Weir.
Turning for home, Nobile Missile led, and he kicked on the home straight, with the Grafton galloper looking the winner when still in front with 50 metres to go.
Flashing from late, the Darren Graham-trained Bean Foggy (Ben Looker, $15) got home to win by three quarters of a length from a fast-finishing Wizard Of Oz (Zac Wadick, $19) from the Warren Gavenlock yard, which just edged Nobile Missile, which hung on gamely for third.
Graham praised the efforts of Looker, who made the decision to ride Bean Foggy off the fence in the $150,000 event.
“I was happy with him. Benny rode him a treat, and he said, ‘I think the fence is a bit off; I’m going to get out wide’, and I said, ‘you’re the pilot mate, we’ll leave it to you’,” Graham said.
The winning trainer admitted to ‘sweating’ on this year’s Country Championships with his four-year-old, which has previously been suspect at the distance, but the Murwillumbah conditioner said time and maturity has made all the difference with Bean Foggy.
“He was always a bit weak and immature before, and I had to take my time with him; he is still immature,” Graham said.
Looker, who won the 2018 Country Championships on the Jenny Graham-trained Victorem, was thrilled to boot home a feature-race victory for Darren Graham.
“Obviously I rode Victorem, who was a very good horse, and he was always going to be hard to beat, but to qualify a horse for Darren; he’s only got a small team, and obviously I’ve become quite close with their family through Pete, Jenny, Melinda, and that, and to see how much hard work Darren does, it really does mean a lot to win a big race for him,” Looker said.
Bean Foggy finished 11th in the 2022 Northern Rivers Racing Association Country Championships qualifier at Grafton, and Looker said the youngster has really improved since then.
“The run worked out perfect,” Looker said.
“I always thought there was going to be good tempo on paper, and he went around in it last year and it was too soon for him and he just overdid things, but to be honest, it was a blessing in disguise, and it really toughened him up mentally.
“They led him into a nice spot sort of three back (and) one off; he travelled really well following Field Regiment, and I saw Noble Missile give a good kick on straightening, which got me off the bridle a touch sooner than I would’ve liked, but I had plenty of faith in Darren and the horse too, and I knew he was going to be tough late, and he ate up the 1400m.”
Bean Foggy and runner-up Wizard Of Oz have now qualified for the $500,000 Country Championship final, which will be run and won at Royal Randwick on April 1.
The next Country Championship qualifier is tomorrow’s $150,000 Central Districts Racing Association qualifier at Mudgee.