Chances galore in wide-open Country Championships

Tommy Berry led Art Cadeau to victory in the 2021 Country Championships final. Photo: Steve Hart.

It’s arguably the Holy Grail of NSW country racing, and on Saturday, 16 bush-trained horses will be vying for the riches and glory associated with the $500,000 Country Championship final. 

The top-two runners from each region will take on the 1400m journey at Royal Randwick, with bragging rights up for grabs, and there is no clear-cut favourite either, with a handful of leading chances such as Far Too Easy, Testator Silens, Cavalier Charles, Edit and last year’s runner up, Another One, dominating the markets. 

A few roughies do make good cases for selection too, with the likes of To The Nines and Commando Hunt seemingly over the odds but all talk will go out the window tomorrow afternoon, when the gates crash back at 2.35pm and a new Country Championship winner is crowned. 

1. Cavalier Charles

Trainer: Matthew Dale

Jockey: Jamie Kah

Location: Canberra

Price: $6.50

Summary: He is up-and-coming Canberra star that won his way into the final by winning the Scone Wild Card qualifier

Matthew Dale has a talented galloper on his hands, and from gate 7, superstar jockey Jamie Kah will have multiple options with the Denman gelding.

He handles the wet and is a major player.

2. Far Too Easy 

Trainer: David McColm

Jockey: James McDonald 

Location Murwillumbah

Price: $4.80

Summary: Race favourite at the time of publishing and wouldn’t it be a story if Dave McColm could get his star three-year-old across the line after recently dealing with the devastating floods in Northern NSW. 

The All Too Hard gelding had to work hard to win the Northern Rivers qualifier, but he has won five from eight and looks every bit a country racing star in the making.

Major player but untried on a heavy surface, although he does relish the soft. 

3. Another One

Nick Heywood drives Another One to victory in the 2021 SDRA Country Championships qualifier at Wagga. The pair will look to do the same in the 2022 Country Championships final. Trackpix Racing Photography.

Trainer: Gary Colvin

Jockey: Nick Heywood

Location: Wagga

Price: $9

Summary: Last year’s runner up and the Wagga runner decimated his rivals in the Southern Districts qualifier.

Gary Colvin, Nick Heywood and their four-year-old will be better for the experience and they draw reasonably well with gate eight – One of the contenders, especially if there is pace on early. 

4. Testator Silens 

Trainer: Luke Clarke

Jockey: Jean Van Overmeire 

Location: Braidwood

Price: $5

Summary: Tough as guts Braidwood galloper that had no right to win the South East qualifier.

The Star Witness gelding is an ultra-competitor and boasts five wins from six starts, including two Highway wins.

Gate 13 hurts, but he handles a heavy track, and he is good enough to win this. 

The horse to beat.

5. Zoo Station (Scratched)

6. Edit 

Trainer: Cody Morgan

Jockey: Aaron Bullock

Location: Tamworth

Price: $7.50

Summary: The five-year-old is a talented although enigmatic galloper, who flashed late to finish second to Cavalier Charles in the Scone Wildcard qualifier

Morgan has famously said the horse was 50% that day, and it would be no surprise to see the Tamworth gallop firing on a track that will suit his strong finish but the heavy conditions are a worry.

I can’t have him if it remains a heavy track. 

7. Anethole

Photo: The Cody Morgan-trained Anethole after winning the Hunter North West Country Championships qualifier at Tamworth on Sunday. Inset: Trainer Cody Morgan was all smiles after his third qualifier win in the Country Championships Hunter North West region. Photos: Bradley Photos.

Trainer: Cody Morgan

Jockey: Tom Sherry

Location: Tamworth

Price: $12

Summary: The five-year-old was a deserved winner in the Hunter North West qualifier but the wide draw doesn’t help here. 

The heavy track will suit him, but Tom Sherry has a task ahead of him to get him in a good spot from gate 14. 

I can’t have him in the final, although it wouldn’t be a shock to see him finish in the top 4.   

8. Commando Hunt

Trainer: Cameron Crockett

Jockey: Nash Rawiller

Location: Scone

Price: $16

Summary: The Time For War gelding finished second in the Hunter North West qualifier and it was a magnificent effort from the wide draw, after sitting three and four wide the journey. 

The Scone runner handles a soft track, and he has been specked at odds in the market. 

A definite smoky at his current odds. 

9. Tap ‘N’ Run

Trainer: Ron Stubbs

Jockey: Craig Williams

Location: Albury

Price: $20

Summary: The Albury galloper is a get back and fly home chance that will be suited by the good pace. 

The draw isn’t fantastic, and neither is the wet conditions, but he caught the eye finishing second to Another One in the Southern Districts qualifier

On a firm track, he comes right into play, but in this class of race and on a potentially heavy track, he is hard to have. 

10. Great Buy

Mick Heagney drives the Brett Robb-trained Great Buy to victory in the $150,000 WRA qualifier at Coonamble on Sunday. Photo: Racing Photography.

Trainer: Brett Robb

Jockey: Michael Heagney

Location: Dubbo

Price: $21

Summary: The Dubbo galloper is drawn to be on the pace and Mick Heagney will no doubt give them something to catch in the final. 

The softer conditions shouldn’t hurt, but whether the Helmet gelding, which won the WRA qualifier, is up to this class remains to be seen. 

11. To The Nines

Trainer: Tash Burleigh

Jockey: Jordan Mallyon

Location: Goulburn

Price: $41

Summary: He ran an absolute bottler to finish second to Testator Silens in the South East qualifier and the four-year-old draws well with gate four. 

He has won twice on a heavy track, and Tash Burleigh has a knack of having her horses ready for these feature races. 

One for the exotics. 

12. Amulet Street

Trainer: Clint Lundholm

Jockey: Hugh Bowman

Location: Dubbo

Price: $71

Summary: He finished a good second in the Western Districts qualifier at Coonamble and he has placed twice in the heavy. 

Hugh Bowman stays on board the Dubbo galloper, and they could well and truly be on the pace in the feature final, but this is a big step up. 

13. Lockdown Gamble

Mudgee trainer David Smith with Country Championship hopeful Lockdown Gamble. Photo: Racing Photography.

Trainer: David J Smith

Jockey: Mathew Cahill

Location: Mudgee

Price: $81

Summary: A wet track cruels the Mudgee gallopers chances, meaning he will likely start as one of the outsiders. 

He did run a good third to Zoo Station and Tags in the Central Districts qualifier, both of which won’t run in the final, but he would be better suited to a firmer track and inside draw. 

Hard to have. 

14. Zoukina

Trainer: Stephen Lee

Jockey: Tommy Berry

Location: Ballina

Price: $20

Summary: If Far Too Easy deserves favourtism, Zoukina deserves to be shorter in the market. 

She nearly beat the race favourite in the Northern Rivers qualifier, and she draws nicely in the final.

The five-year-old is untried on the heavy, but Tommy Berry knows what it takes to win a Country Championships and he will give her every chance. 

15. Swamp Nation

Trainer: Glen Milligan

Jockey: Madi Derrick

Location: Taree

Price: $34

Summary: She was a surprise winner in the Mid North Coast qualifier before running a disappointing last at Newcastle in what looked to be a track gallop over 1200m.

Glen Milligan knows what he is doing and he will have her ready for the race and she will handle the wet conditions. 

This is a step up though and she will need luck from gate nine.

16. Little Prophet 

Trainer: Colt Prosser

Jockey: Cejay Graham

Location: Wauchope

Price: $51

Summary: She finished second to Swamp Nation in the Mid North Coast qualifier before finishing third in a Class Three Handicap at Grafton. 

She handles the wet, but the wide draw is terrible for her chances, and the three-year-old doesn’t look to be at this class just yet. Maybe next year. 

22. How’s It Kev

Trainer: Alison Smith

Jockey: Alysha Collett

Location: Orange

Price: $81

Summary: He finished fourth to Zoo Station in the Central Districts qualifier and gets in due to Zoo Startion’s subsequent scratching. 

He boasts one win from 13 starts, and is unproven in the conditions. It will no doubt be exciting for connections but he is hard to have in this race. 

Emergencies

17. Banju ($13), 18. Blue Missile ($41), 19. Ferus ($81), 20 Gusonic, 21 ($91). Shirazzle ($91)