Darryl Rolfe duo primed for $50,000 Picnic final

Canberra trainer Darryl Rolfe will hope to have both Opera Tickets and Rheingau contesting next Sunday’s NSW Picnic Champion Series final at Coonamble. Photos: Robin Dale (left) and Lance Fearne (right).

Canberra trainer Darryl Rolfe has been adamant all along that both of his gallopers, Opera Tickets and Rheingau, would be ready and raring come October 10 for the $50,000 Picnic Champion Series final at Coonamble.

After a season like no other, with many picnic meetings abandoned due to Covid, and replacement meetings being few and far between, trainers were forced to plan and place their runners strategically to gain points and qualify.

As it stands, Opera Tickets is guaranteed a start, qualifying fifth overall after earning 22 points, while just outside of the all-important top 12 in Rheingau, sitting locked with Combogolong, Keep Me Posted, Nepenthes, Sam and Waldo Waldorf on 18 points. 

If Rolfe ends up with two runners in the final, he said it would be hard to split them, rating both as genuine winning chances.

“Both of them I’ve set it for the final, I’ve said that all along,” Rolfe said. 

“I can’t split them. I reckon both of them can go well.”

Opera Tickets, the Boorowa Cup winner back in May, looks in very good order after recent fourth and third placings at Queanbeyan, and Rolfe said he had secured the services of popular picnic hoop, Ricky Blewitt, for the final.

“Opera Tickets is going as good as ever. His first run was just as good as his second run and if anything, he is probably going better than I thought he would,” Rolfe said.  

“Ricky Blewitt is on him, which will help a lot and he is rock hard fit and racing well.”

The eight-year-old nearly won at Queanbeyan on Tuesday, flashing late and beaten only 0.27 of a length in a tough little 1600m Benchmark 60 Handicap.

“He had the two runs, a 1400m and 1600m, and I picked those races, and he went just like we wanted and now he will go into the final perfectly,” Rolfe said.

Rheingau will need some luck to make the final, especially if the top 12 runners accept, but Rolfe is remaining optimistic he can gain a start.

The stable is doing everything to have him ready for the final, with Rheingau racing at Wagga on Saturday in a 1000m Benchmark 50 Handicap.

“I’m a bit behind with Rheingau because he has been emergency twice and I’ve had to trial him twice, but he is on the up and going well,” Rolfe said. 

“I was working on him winning at Wagga on Saturday, which I think he can do, and that gets his benchmark up and gives him a chance to get in.”

The Animal Kingdom gelding, a winner of the Yass Picnic Cup at Goulburn back in February, is a very consistent time, running placings at Wagga, Ardlethan, Tullibigeal and Cootamundra before going to the paddock. 

Since then, he has won a trial over the 900m at Queanbeyan on September 17 before an eye-catching second in another trial behind The Kosciuszko contender, Island Bay Boy, again over the 900m at Queanbeyan on September 28.

“He is the fresh horse on the scene, he has had two terrific trials and he is definitely fit enough for the 1400m,” Rolfe said.

“Belinda Wright will ride him. She came to Queanbeyan and rode him in a barrier trial.”

In an added bonus, Rolfe and his team will be able to travel to Coonamble for the final, with Canberra based trainers now allowed to leave the ACT under a work exemption. 

“It’s good. We must do a Covid test. We have to clear a Covid test every three days and we can only go, attend the race meeting and come straight home,” Rolfe explained.

“I would rather go to the races with them. They are funny horses. They both have to be led to the barriers. They were both problem horses when I got them, but they are 95% right now but I like to be there when they race.”

As far as his chances go, Rolfe believed another Canberra horse was the galloper to beat, but he believed he would be thereabouts.

“Yeah, for sure we can win, that’s what I’ve set them for, and I think they are both big chances,” Rolfe said.  

“I always go to the picnics with a bit of TAB form and if you look at my starts, we have 85% runners to prizemoney. 

“I would put Sestina (Doug Gorrel) as favourite, he ran a good race in a (Benchmark) 60 at Queanbeyan and he is a tough horse.”

Nominations for the NSW Picnic Champion Series close at 11am on Tuesday with Racing NSW with the final field available late Thursday morning and it will be interesting to see which horses accept for the rich final.

For more information on the NSW Picnic Champion Series and your chance to be involved in the 2021/22 season, click here.