Local product and Grafton-based trainer John Shelton wants to win a Glen Innes Cup (1400m) before his career comes to a close.
Once an apprentice in the region, Shelton notched up 40-plus winners before turning his hand to training and has prepared over 800 winners, including the inaugural The Kosciuszko winner, Belflyer, back in 2018.
He’s had good horses such as Sir Dan, Sircolo, High Octave, Lucky Meteor, and the brilliant Mother’s Gift, who gave him a long-awaited win in the famous Ramornie Handicap in 2000.
Still, a Glen Innes Cup has eluded him.
“I wish I could bloody win it,” Shelton laughed.
“I’ve probably not had that many starters in it, but I’ve run second and third over the years.
“It would just be nice to win the hometown cup and to be able to say I’ve done it.”
Shelton will get his best chance to date on Saturday, with the in-form Cassia Lane carrying the stable’s hopes in the $19,000 feature.
A winner of four of her last five, including her previous three, the five-year-old was too strong for her rivals when winning the $45,000 Inverell Cup on New Year’s Day.
Apprentice Mollie Fitzgerald has kept the ride, and with her two-kilogram claim, the Worthy Cause mare will carry 59kg.
“She’ll race good, but it’s a big jump in weight,” Shelton said.
“There wasn’t much else about for her, and 1400m is her sweet spot.
“We’ll give her a crack, and we’ve come up with a good gate, and it’s probably not as strong a field as the Inverell Cup, and she is a tough little thing that is going well.”
From gate four, Shelton said Fitzgerald should be able to get the run of the race on Cassia Lane.
“I’ve only had a quick look, but we should be able to land fourth on the fence, and I can see Mister Smartee (Ray Spokes) and China Grove (Sarah McDonough) that is drawn on the inside wanting the lead,” Shelton said.
“We’ll be hoping they will knock themselves up and leave the race for us.”
Cassia Lane does have good gate speed but runs a strong 1400m, and Shelton said gallopers need a ‘bit of both’ at Glen Innes.
“It’s got a hill, and you’ve got to nurse them up there, and if you can get them up the hill, they get a good kick when they run down to the winning post,” Shelton said.
“When I was an apprentice there, trainers would always you to say, ‘Don’t ride them up the hill, and pretty well stressed it’, and that is something I’ll talk to Mollie about.”
Fitzgerald will ride all of Shelton’s chances at Glen Innes, including Friar’s Destiny in the 1400m Maiden Handicap, Fire Up Bruce in the 1400m Class Two Plate, and Allusive Eve in the 1000m Benchmark 58 Handicap.
“If Fire Up Bruce doesn’t show up from that gate, I’ll be disappointed,” Shelton said.
“The maiden (Friar’s Destiny) was disappointing the other day, and he came up with a tricky gate, so I’m interested in seeing if he can respond.”
Looker also after Glen Innes Cup
It’s not just John Shelton wanting to win his first Glen Innes Cup on Saturday, with fellow local product and good friend Ben Looker chasing his first win in his hometown Cup.
Looker could be Shelton’s biggest rival in the race, with the leading jockey to jump aboard the Wayne Oakenfull-trained Zaidin, which finished an excellent third to Cassia Lane in the Inverell Cup.
Zaidin will strip fitter for the effort, and Oakenfull knows how to win a Glen Innes Cup, last triumphing in the event in 2022 with Amazingly, which was ridden to victory by Matthew McGuren.
Oakenfull and Looker went agonisingly close in 2023, with Amazingly beaten by just over half-a-length by the Cody Morgan-trained Aytobe (Mathew McGuren).
Big day for Glen Innes
A huge crowd is expected to walk through the gates at Glen Innes on Saturday, with the six-race non-TAB program complemented by a big day off-track.
There will be a bar, bookmakers and food vans, their fashions on the field competition boasts a record prize pool, and there will be a designated kid’s area and live music.
Gates open at 11.30 am for the first race at 1.33 pm.