With the seven regional 2023 Country Championships qualifiers run and won, attention will now turn to the two wildcard qualifiers this coming week.
The Southern wildcard will be hosted by Goulburn on Friday, and there will be no shortage of talent on show, with plenty of hard-luck stories coming out of the Southern Districts, South East, and Central Districts qualifiers, meaning trainers will be searching for a fairy tale finish in the lead-up to the $500,000 Country Championships final at Royal Randwick on April 1.
The same applies at Scone on Sunday, with the best of the Northern Rivers, Mid-North Coast, Hunter and North West, and Western regions coming together in a race that will rival the strength of any regional qualifier seen thus far.
With some great racing on track, there will be plenty happening off track on both days.
Goulburn CEO, Robyn Fife is confident having a wildcard race day on a Friday will create new opportunities for the club.
“A Friday afternoon at the races is a great way to get the weekend started and we hope to deliver a vibrant country racing experience,” she told Racing NSW.
“We’re inviting locals and visitors to start their weekend early by getting trackside for what should be a great afternoon of racing and socialising.
“There will also be a big contingent of owners on the day with showcase prizemoney of $370,000 on offer across all races.
“We will have food stalls, entertainment, a Fashions on the Field and an exclusive ‘The Precinct’ area for 18 to 35yos with a DJ, a bar with a complimentary drink, a TAB and seating with umbrellas for just $20 a ticket.”
Action will then move to Scone on Sunday, and the club is pleased to be apart of the 2023 Country Championships.
“The Newhaven Park Country Championships concept in leading the way nationally in Country racing and we are excited and privileged to host the last heat of what is an amazing series,” Scone Race Club’s CEO, Steven Keene told Racing NSW.
“The track is in immaculate condition, and we look forward to every horse getting their chance on Sunday.
“Along with some quality racing, we will have some first class hospitality in the Noel Leckie Function Room and a Kidszone with a free jumping castle, water slide, pony rides, a sausage sizzle and zooper doopers.
“There will also be a Cocktail Lawn Party where a DJ will entertain throughout the afternoon.”
Horses to watch in wildcard qualifiers
Southern wildcard: It’s hard to look past the Matthew Dale-trained Toretto in the Goulburn qualifier.
Ridden by Robbie Dolan in the South East qualifier at Moruya on March 5, the five-year-old endured a luckless run before finding space in the home straight.
Once in space, the Press Statement gelding made up a heap of ground and finished third when beaten 3.8 lengths by the Nick Olive-trained Kimberley Secrets.
Dolan is back on board, and gate 14 won’t make it easy, but he will get back and fly home and with some luck, Toretto will take some stopping.
The Peter Morgan-trained Burrandana was another eye-catching run in the Southern Districts qualifier at Albury on February 25.
Ridden by Billy Owen, the four-year-old got into his work late, and finished strongly down the outside to finish third, beaten 2.17 lengths by the Ron Stubbs-trained Bianco Vilano.
The four-year-old has only started five times for three wins, and with Owen back in the saddle, and from gate 10, the Wagga galloper looks a progressive type leading into the wildcard.
Rob Stubbs will look to qualify another runner or two for the final with both Baledon and Tap ‘N’ Run set to contest the Goulburn qualifier.
Jay Ford hops aboard Baledon (gate 6), which finished a strong fourth in the Southern Districts, and Tyler Schiller will ride Tap ‘N’ Run (gate 2) after he finished sixth behind Bianco Vilano.
Northern wildcard: While the final field for the Scone qualifier won’t be available until Thursday morning, there are some obvious hopefuls.
The Aiden St Vincent-trained Lisztomania was sensationally declared a late scratching after rearing up in the gates in the Coffs Harbour qualifier won by the Darren Graham-trained Bean Foggy on February 18.
The Grafton galloper was the pre-race odds-on favourite, and he has since trialled at Port Macquarie, and subsequently dwelt at the barriers.
The Dream Ahead gelding obviously boasts a lot of ability, and it will be interesting to see if he behaves at Scone on Sunday.
The Cody-Morgan-trained Casino Lord ran an eye-catching third in the Hunter-North West qualifier at Tamworth on February 26, which was won by the Paul Messara-trained Akasawa.
He’s at his limit, having started 20 times for five wins, and the five-year-old’s experience could shine through in what should be a very open event.
The Clint Lundholm-trained pair of Hit The Rim and Smooth Esprit were doing their best work late in the Western Districts qualifier at Coonamble on Sunday, and with Lundholm chasing another qualifier after Listen To The Band’s victory, many expect that the pair will be thereabouts if they gain a start in the $150,000 event.