Country Championships runner-by-runner preview

Aaron Bullock gives a big roar when guiding the Paul Messara-trained Akasawa to victory in the 2023 Hunter and North West Country Championships qualifier at Tamworth. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Country gallopers from across the state will converge on Royal Randwick on Saturday for the running of the $500,000 Country Championship final. 

The best of each region will be on show, and NSW Country and Picnic racing Editor, Jeff Hanson has run his eye over what has turned out to be a stellar field for the 1400m feature event. 

Top Pick: Sir Ravanelli

Best Value: Imatruestar

Boxed Trifecta: 1-4-5-7-10-15

1. Akasawa 

Trainer: Paul Messara (Scone)

Jockey: Aaron Bullock, 59kg

Barrier: 14

Thunderbet price: $5

Summary: The Scone galloper Akasawa boasts a stellar record (9:6-2-0), and he was the clear pick following his classy win in the Hunter North West qualifier at Tamworth. 

Aaron Bullock stays aboard, which is a big tick, but the heavy weight and wide gate are a worry, and the state’s leading hoop will have to be at his brilliant best from the draw.

2. Testator Silens 

Trainer: Luke Clarke (Braidwood)

Jockey: Nick Heywood, 57.5kg

Barrier: 12

Thunderbet price: $8

Summary: Testator Silens is tough as nails and his record (12:5-1-1) proves he is a capable type.

He finished seventh in this race last year, and 12th in the Kosciuszko, and he is coming off a good second in the South East qualifier. 

Is he up to this standard? Well, he hasn’t quite proven it yet.

3. I’ve Bean Tryin’ 

Matthew Kelley and Ellen Hennessy combined at Goulburn on Friday as I’ve Bean Tryin’ won the $150,000 southern wild card Country Championships qualifier. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Trainer: Matthew Kelley (Canberra)

Jockey: Ellen Hennessy, 57.5kg

Barrier: 16

Thunderbet price: $15

Summary: The Canberra galloper I’ve Bean Tryin’ is certainly one of the more exciting runners in the final, having made his way into the $500,000 final after winning the Southern Wild Card qualifier at Goulburn

He beat a final-quality field home that day, but connections draw gate 16, and Ellen Hennessy will need to find a good position from the car park draw. 

4. Talbragar

Trainer: Cody Morgan (Tamworth)

Jockey: James McDonald, 57.5kg

Barrier: 13

Thunderbet price: $5

Summary: The Tamworth galloper Talbragar was ultra-impressive when winning the Northern Wild Card qualifier at Scone, and he has attracted the services of champion hoop, James McDonald. 

Beaten just once in six starts (6:5-0-0) when finishing down the track in the 2022 Kosciuszko, he can no doubt gallop, and Morgan appears to have his best chance of winning a final when the five-year-old goes around for connections. 

5. Sir Ravanelli

The ever-consistent Sir Ravanelli for Terry Evans. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Trainer: Terry Evans (Tuncurry)

Jockey: Daryl McLennan, 57.5kg

Barrier: 8

Thunderbet price: $19

Summary: The Tuncurry galloper Sir Ravanelli and Mid North Coast qualifier winner is very talented, and despite demonstrating a few wayward traits early on, he has since complied a good record (12:5-3-1), and he looks to be turning into a very nice racehorse. 

He looks a little over in the markets, and with Digger McLennan in the saddle and from the decent raw, he’s set to figure. 

6. Amicus Curiae 

Trainer: Mack Griffith (Mudgee)

Jockey: Mitchell Bell, 57.5kg

Barrier: 6

Thunderbet price: $41

Summary: The Mudgee galloper Amicus Curiae was very good when winning the Central Districts qualifier on his home track. 

This was his third and last chance at qualifying, but it remains to be seen if he can compete at this level, especially after finishing fourth last start in a 1300m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Hawkesbury.

7. Bianco Vilano

Jason Lyon is interviewed after guiding the Ron Stubbs-trained Bianco Vilano to a win in the $150,000 Southern Districts Racing Association (SDRA) qualifier.

Trainer: Ron Stubbs (Albury)

Jockey: Tyler Schiller, 56kg

Barrier: 9

Thunderbet price: $6.50

Summary: The Albury horse Bianco Vilano was arguably the most impressive regional winner when running away with a comfortable victory in the Southern Districts qualifier on his home track. 

Leading apprentice Tyler Schiller is on board, and the border visitor is drawn to figure. 

8. Our Last Cash

Trainer: Donna Scott (Albury)

Jockey: Rachel King, 56kg

Barrier: 10

Thunderbet price: $18

Summary: Another Albury galloper, which finished second in the Southern Districts qualifier at Albury.

He has a good record (10:4-3-0) but Our Last Cash is drawn awkwardly, and this race is a big step up in class.  

9. Bean Foggy

Ben Looker guided the Darren Graham-trained Bean Foggy to victory in the 2023 Northern Rivers Country Championships qualifier at Coffs Harbour. Photo: Racing Photography.

Trainer: Darren Graham (Murwillumbah)

Jockey: Ben Looker, 56kg

Barrier: 3

Thunderbet price: $34

Summary: It seems an age since the Northern Rivers qualifier was run at Coffs Harbour, which saw Murwillumbah galloper Bean Foggy finish strongly for the win

Connections do draw nicely, and Ben Looker takes the ride, meaning he could be a cheeky each-way bet for value players. 

10. Imatruestar

Trainer: Grant Jobson (Taree)

Jockey: Koby Jennings, 56kg

Barrier: 1

Thunderbet price: $41

Summary: The Taree galloper Imatruestar made ground nicely to finish second in the Mid-North Coast qualifier, and he’s since followed that effort up with a third placing in a 1200m Benchmark 72 Handicap in town.

He draws the inside and Koby Jennings takes the ride, and he is a must for those placing the trifectas and first fours. 

11. Sizzle Minizzle

Brett ‘Snow’ Robb will have Sizzle Minizzle contesting the Country Championship final on Saturday. Photo: Racing Photography.

Trainer: Brett Robb (Dubbo)

Jockey: Sam Clipperton, 56kg

Barrier: 4

Thunderbet price: $51

Summary: The Dubbo galloper Sizzle Minizzle is a good up-and-coming type (10:3-2-0) and he loves a soft track, but he comes out of arguably the weakest qualifier, finishing second to Listen To The Band (scratched) in the WRA event, and he’s one I’m happy to put the line through. 

12. Wizard Of Oz

Trainer: Warren Gavenlock (Coffs Harbour)

Jockey: Zac Lloyd, 56kg

Barrier: 15

Thunderbet price: $51

Summary: The Coffs Harbour galloper Wizard Of Oz snuck through on the rails to finish second to Bean Foggy in the Northern Rivers qualifier, but he gets no favours in the final after drawing gate 15. 

13. De Forerunner

Trainer: Dean Mirfin (Bathurst)

Jockey: Reece Jones, 56kg

Barrier: 2

Thunderbet price: $81

Summary: The Bathurst galloper De Forerunner was solid when finishing second in the Central Districts qualifier, but he’s since finished down the track at Hawkesbury.

His last win was a Benchmark 58 four starts back, and despite the nice draw, it’s hard to see that form holding up in this final. 

14. Smooth Esprit

Trainer: Clint Lundholm (Dubbo)

Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy, 56kg

Barrier: 11

Thunderbet price: $51

Summary: Smooth Esprit is an interesting runner. He flashed late to finish third in the Western Districts qualifier and gained a start following the scratching of stablemate Listen To The Band. 

Still, the six-year-old was a good Highway winner at Rosehill Gardens late last year, and if he runs up to that form, and with Kerrin McEvoy in the saddle, he isn’t one to be ignored despite the big price.

15. Running Bear

Trainer: Jan Bowen (Muswellbrook)

Jockey: Ash Morgan, 54kg

Barrier: 5

Thunderbet price: $13

Summary: The Muswellbrook mare is a handy and consistent type (17:4-7-1), and Running Bear followed up her second in the Hunter North West qualifier with a win in town when taking out the 1400m Benchmark 72 Handicap at Warwick Farm. 

Ashley Morgan takes the ride, connections draw softly, and on recent form and with only 54kg, she appears to be one to beat. 

16. Kimberley Secrets 

Trainer: Nick Olive (Queanbeyan)

Jockey: Zac Purton, 54kg

Barrier: 7

Thunderbet price: $8.50

Summary: The Queanbeyan galloper Kimberley Secrets is the baby of the field, and she’s only lightly raced (7:4-1-1)

Still, she showed some real tenacity to find the lead and hold on to win a strong South East qualifier

Zac Purton is in the saddle and the draw will suit, and it all depends on what kind of pressure there will be up front, but this could be a step too far so early in her career.

Reserves

17. Burrandana

Trainer: Peter Morgan

Thunderbet price: $41

18. Casino Lord

Trainer: Cody Morgan (Tamworth)

Thunderbet price: $34

19. Gold card

Trainer: Peter Graham (Port Macquarie)

Thunderbet price: $101

20. Hit The Rim

Trainer: Clint Lundholm (Dubbo)

Thunderbet price: $126

21. Noble Missile

Trainer: Todd Fletcher (Grafton)

Thunderbet price: $91

22. Russley Crown

Trainer: Scott Singleton (Scone)

Thunderbet price: $26

23. Toretto

Trainer: Matthew Dale (Goulburn, Moruya)

Thunderbet price: $71