Inverell galloper ‘can win’ Highway Handicap

The Mark Stewart trained Battle Guardian winning at Armidale earlier this year. Photo: Bradley Photos.

It’s a long trip from Inverell to Sydney, with the little town in the North West of NSW at least seven hours drive by float to the big smoke. 

Inverell trainer Mark Stewart has already started to navigate this trip ahead of Saturday’s meeting at Royal Randwick, leaving Inverell on Thursday, as he prepares to run Battle Guardian in the 1800m Class Three TAB Highway Handicap.

“I’m actually in Newcastle now,” Stewart said on Friday morning when chatting with NSW Country and Picnic Racing.

“I brought him down yesterday and he will stay here for a couple of days. We will go down to Sydney tomorrow, then after he races, we will come back to Newcastle. 

“It’s tough coming from Inverell because it’s such a long trip but we wanted to give him the best chance of winning.”

The Fighting Sun gelding will arrive in Sydney, technically dropping in class from recent runs in the Port Macquarie Cup and Prelude for this Class Three country-only race, and Stewart couldn’t believe his galloper was rated a $34 chance to take it out.

“I think he can win. I think he is huge odds to be honest,” Stewart said.

“He is coming back from two Open Class races and a (Benchmark) 66, and he really put it to them in the Prelude for the Port Cup.” 

The TAB Highway wasn’t a last-minute decision either, with Stewart tailoring his five-year-old’s preparation to include this race before a potential tilt at next month’s Country Classic.

“It has been a race we’ve always had in mind,” Stewart said.

“I made this program up for him. The idea was to run him in the Port Cup Prelude, then get him in the Port Cup and if he runs well here, then I think the Country Classic in a couple of weeks will be right up his alley.”

Stewart has been to town before, with All Stand going close to a placing at Royal Randwick back in May of last year, but the Inverell born and bred horseman admitted this was his first attempt at winning a TAB Highway Handicap.

“I’ve never been in a Highway before. I went to Randwick before with All Stand, but this is my first Highway horse and I expect it will be hard,” Stewart said.

“This is just a Class Three race, but they are the best country horses going around in this class and distance, so it won’t be easy.”

Stewart is hoping for some early pace in the race, with Battle Guardian expected to be ridden quietly in the back half of the field after drawing wide with gate 15.

“He will go pretty quiet, but I will leave it up to the jockey (Sam Clipperton),” Stewart said.

“He will likely sit behind midfield. He has been jumping a lot better in his last couple of races but from the wide draw, he will have to go back.”

Stewart’s trip to town won’t be his last either, with the up-and-coming trainer making waves on the country racing scene since training his first winner, which was only his second starter, at Inverell back on New Year’s Day, 2020

“I’ve got 10 in work and a few ready to come back, so we are kept pretty busy,” Stewart said. 

“I would have had my first starter less than two years ago and I’m lucky that I bought the horses that I did, because I was only an owner/trainer for a year, and I was lucky that they have come out and done so well. 

“Now, I have a lot more people buying in on horses. I have a lot of owners in Port Macquarie, I have a few mates that help me out too and I have a great owner from Sydney.”

Funnily enough, Stewart will also race at Armidale on Saturday, with The Fringe contesting the 1900m Class One/Maiden Plate, before a busy start to the week in Grafton on Tuesday, with three more gallopers engaged.

“I will be in Sydney, and I will send some staff to Armidale. Then we are back up to Grafton on Tuesday,” Stewart said.