David Smith’s gamble pays off in Central Districts qualifier

Aaron Bullock rode the David Smith-trained Lockdown Gamble to victory in Sunday’s $150,000 Central Districts qualifier at Mudgee. Image: Racing Photography.

There’s no denying that David Smith’s gamble in the 2024 Country Championships has paid off. 

Racing Lockdown Gamble (Aaron Bullock, $5) in the $150,000 Central Districts qualifier at Mudgee on Sunday, the six-year-old finished strongly to defeat fellow Mudgee galloper Musical Affair (Jake Pracey-Holmes, $19) by a long-neck.

The Mack Griffith-trained four-year-old led the field along and gave a good kick with a furlong to go, but Lockdown Gamble finished off the 1400m race like a good horse, getting home in the nick of time to defeat Musical Affair while booking his place in the $1 million final at Royal Randwick on April 6.

“He’s been going super this time,” Smith said in a post-race interview. 
“To be honest, we really thought we gave up a Highway win there when going first-up there at Cowra; we just wanted to build confidence with the horse again.”

Heading to Mudgee, Lockdown Gamble has started 19 times for the four wins and three placings, meaning there was little room for error when judging his preperation ahead of the qualifier.

Following a 44-week spell, the Casino Prince gelding resumed with a win at Cowra on January 21 before a good third at Newcastle earlier this month, and it appears Smith had him primed for Sunday’s heat.

“Last preparation, everyone knows he was below par; making no excuses for him, we were scratching our heads ourselves,” Smith said.

“The 11 months off did him the world of good; he’s come back mentally stronger, physically stronger.”

The Mudgee trainer won the Central Districts qualifier in 2017 when racing Distinctive Look, and he said Sunday’s win on his home track topped that career-defining moment.

“This is just going to top it,” Smith said.

“I said earlier through the week we were just as confident this year as we were that year.

“We drank the winner’s room out of two boxes that year, and it will probably be four now.” 

It was another terrific ride by Aaron Bullock, who’s proving to be a specialist jockey in Country Championship qualifiers, and Smith had nothing but praise for the state’s leading hoop.

“Ten out ten for Aaron Bullock there,” he said. 

“Jesus, he drove him hard to the line, and he did because fair credit to Mack (Griffith), Musical Affair gave a great sight, and was always going to.

“At the top of the straight, I thought I went the early crow, I’m not going to lie, and when I saw Musical (Affair) kick again at the furlong, I was like, ‘We’ve got to get there, we’ve got to get there, and then bang, right on the line, the cheers went up.

“It’s an awesome feeling, especially a race like that; it does wonders for you.” 

Lockdown Gamble and Musical Affair are now off to the rich country-restricted final while finishing third in the race was the Dean Mirfin-trained Ida’s Rules (Mikayla Weir, $41). 

The 2024 Country Championships is in full swing, with the Northern Rivers, Southern Districts, Mid-North Coast, and Central Districts qualifiers in the books.

Attention turns to the South East qualifier at Moruya next Sunday before the Hunter-North West qualifier at Tamworth on March 10 and the Western Districts qualifier at Coonamble on March 17.

For more on the 2024 Country Championships, click here