Crowning moment for Mitch Stapleford in Tamworth qualifier

Scott Singleton (second from left) and Mitch Stapleford (second from right) after their Country Championships qualifier win with Russley Crown at Tamworth on Sunday. Image: Bradley Photos.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Mitch Stapleford came and conquered in the $150,000 Hunter-North West Country Championships qualifier at Tamworth on Sunday. 

Riding for his boss, Scott Singleton, the 21-year-old, who is only seven months into his career, scored a dominant win on Russley Crown ($9) in the 1400m feature.

Starting moderately from the wide draw (10), Stapleford allowed the five-year-old to work through his gears as they cruised to the front to take up the running after two furlongs. 

Despite getting through a lot of work, Russley Crown thrived in front, holding on for a comfortable two-length win from the Lyle Chandler-trained Rapbidash (Darryl McLellan, $5) in second and the Brett Cavanough-trained Sting Jet (Braith Nock, $14) in third.

While thrilled to win and notch the most significant victory of his burgeoning career, Stapleford was quick to thank Singleton and the connections of Russley Crown.

“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity,” he said after the win. 

“My boss or the owners didn’t have to give me this ride, but they seemed happy enough to have me on, so it was nice to put in a half-decent steer for them.

“It’s hard sometimes because I feel like I don’t ride as well for the opportunities Scott gives me, but it sums him up as a person, friend, and a boss; he owes me nothing but gives me everything he can.” 

It was a brave steer, with Russley Crown slow to begin, but the pair kicked up around the field, took the front, and never looked like losing.

“From that barrier, I was never really going to be able to take a sit, so I just thought I’d keep pressing,” Stapleford said. 

“If I could, I would’ve ridden him with cover one out and one back; I was going to do that because I used him up early, but when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to get in, I just elected to roll forward, and he was too good for them.”

Singleton never doubted Stapleford, and the Scone-based trainer didn’t see the ride as a favour but more a reward for all his apprentice’s hard work. 

“I ride work with him every morning and knew he was capable of the job,” Singleton said.  

“I didn’t have any worries having him on.” 

Singleton said he had a sit on Russley Crown on Saturday, and it was enough to fill him with confidence heading to Tamworth. 

“To be honest, Mitch asked me, can you ride him tomorrow (Saturday) just so you give him the tick of (approval) that he feels right under you?” Singleton explained. 

“I got on him yesterday and gave him a canter around, and I got the right sort of feel for his frame of mind. I don’t think we’ve had him much better.

“He is a horse that is pretty hard on himself, and he feels a lot of pain in the lumbar spine region over his back.

“Lucky for us, we have got a good back lady and a good team behind us at home, and he got here first-up over 1400m in great shape.” 

It was a gutsy win and, according to Singleton, a testament to the horse’s willingness and determination. 

“That was a big win; he missed the start a little bit and was back with the last three or four there early, and he used up four or five lengths to get to the front,” Singleton said. 

“He’s a tough horse, a real tough horse; he’s just sort of a ‘run, Forrest, run’ type of horse.”

It was also a good training effort, with the Shamus Award gelding just missing out on a run in the 2023 Country Championships final when finishing second to Talbragar in last year’s Northern Wild Card at Scone.

Singleton said a supportive group of owners backed him to get their five-year-old into this year’s $1 million final. 

“We’ve known this was the plan since he ran second in the Wild Card last year, and his rating went up, and we knew we would get a run,” Singleton said. 

“It’s been a 12-month plan; they’re terrific owners of mine who have been with me forever, and they haven’t interfered and said they trust what we are doing; as long as he gets around and gets back safely, they’re happy.”

Russley Crown wins at Tamworth on Sunday. Image: Bradley Photos.

Singleton said it is business as usual between now and the final at Royal Randwick on April 6.

“I think it’s pretty easy; we can do whatever we want,” Singleton said. 

“He is a tough, easy horse, and we can go straight there on the back of this; we don’t have to race him again.

“We’ll let the horse tell us, and fortunately, he is sound and uncomplicated, and we’ve got good owners, and no one is putting pressure on us.”

The 2024 Country Championships heads to Coonamble next Sunday for the Western Districts qualifier ahead of the Northern and Southern Wild Card qualifiers later this month. 

For more on the 2024 Country Championships, click here