The upcoming Country Championships is the focus at Bathurst on Monday, with Central Districts trainers looking to get their charges set ahead of the Mudgee qualifier on Sunday, February 25.
Lining up in the $30,000 Class 4 Country Championships preview over 1200m, nine contenders will do battle, including three of the region’s heavyweights.
Bookmakers have the Mark Jones-trained Life’s A Party ($2.40) AS the one to beat, and punters agree, with the Mudgee galloper firming in from $3 after the scratching of the Dean Mirfin-trained Scopics.
Life’s A Party – a five-year-old by Star Turn – is a three-time winner and most recently contested stronger Highway Handicaps.
Two starts back, the speedy mare took on the 1200m Class Three at Royal Randwick and was beaten less than a half-length by the highly-touted Gallant Star from the Brett Robb yard.
Next time out in the 1100m Class Three Handicap at Rosehill Gardens, she drew poorly and still finished fifth when beaten two lengths by the Brett Thompson-trained Smart and Dapper.
A month between runs, Jones has timed his run to perfection, and Life’s A Party will be primed for the big qualifier in a few weeks.
She draws the inside gate and has Grant Buckley on at Bathurst, and she should be the horse the beat.
Possibly So ($6.50) is a last-start Highway winner, and the market has fluctuated, with the Bathurst galloper opening at $6.50 before drifting to $8 and firming back into his opening quote.
Anthony Cavallo keeps the ride, but he’ll be tested after connections drew poorly with gate nine.
The price could be because of the gelding’s trial after he finished eight of eight and was beaten seven lengths in a 1000m Open Trial at Hawkesbury on February 1, or it could be the fact he is set to carry 61kg.
Still, the Star Witness gelding has never shown a lot in trials, and on his recent form and the fact it’s his home track, he deserves to be in the market as he treks towards the Central Districts qualifier.
Dean Mirfin has a couple of Country Championship contenders, and East Harlem ($3.20) is right in the mix.
The three-time winner was impressive last time out, winning by a length in the 1400m Class Two Handicap at Parkes.
Mathew Cahill stays on board, which is a big plus, and the four-year-old will appreciate being on his home track despite drawing a little sticky with gate 6.
It doesn’t appear that Mirfin has been rushing his Spirit of Boom gelding this preparation, and only time will tell if he fires on Monday ahead of the qualifier.
He’s been kept safe in the market, opening at $3.20 and drifting to $3.90 before firming back into $3.20.
There’s money for another Bathurst galloper in Our Orator ($9.50) from the Roy McCabe yard.
McCabe has gone on the record stating that the four-year-old is one of the better contenders for the 2024 Central Districts qualifier, and he’s met some support, with Our Orator backed in from $15 into $9.50 for this race.
The three-time winner was tested in Highway company last preparation and wasn’t too far away when finishing sixth beaten less than two lengths in a 1400m Class Three at Rosehill Gardens on November 11 before finishing fifth and beaten just over six lengths in a 1400m Class Three at Kembla Grange on November 25.
After a short let-up, he resumed and finished last of 11 in a 1300m Benchmark 72 Handicap at Warwick Farm on January 26, and the dissident gelding heads into this event second-up, with the plan to be third-up and firing for the Mudgee heat.
Ron Simpson takes the ride, and connections draw nicely with gate 4.
Moruya visitor Super Sprocket could be the smoky of the field, with the Jamie Stewart-trained four-year-old an interesting commodity.
Formerly trained by Annabel Neasham, the Super One mare raced up north, winning twice at Murwillumbah in 2023.
Her first two starts for Stewart were impressive, especially when she finished second in the 1000m Benchmark 60 Handicap at Canberra on October 20 before breaking through for an impressive win in the 1200m Benchmark 60 Handicap in November.
After a short let-up, Super Sprocket returned to Moruya on January 19 and finished fourth when beaten two lengths in the 1020m Benchmark 66 Handicap.
Nick Heywood takes the ride, and the speedy on-pace mare draws softly with gate two.
The good betting race headlines the seven-race program at Bathurst on Monday, and it is the only meeting in NSW after the program at Ballina was abandoned.
Ballina’s racecourse was deemed unsuitable for racing after 16mm of rainfall over the past 24 hours and 74mm over the last seven days.
NSW Country and Picnic Racing’s tips for Bathurst
Race 1: 5 Tokyo Run ($1.90)
Race 2: 4 O’Explosive ($4.80)
Race 3: 1 Encompass ($4.80)
Race 4: 4 Desperately ($3.10)
Race 5: 4 Super Sprocket ($7)
Race 6: 6 Oneofthetwelve ($7)
Race 7: 7 Saaroyan ($2.60)