O’Gorman dreams of climbing The Kosciuszko with So Country

Brenton Avdulla guided the Melanie O’Gorman-trained So Country to victory in Saturday’s 1200m Highway Handicap at Rosehill Gardens. Inset: Melanie O’Gorman and Brenton Avdulla following their win. Photos: Bradley Photos.

The Melanie O’Gorman-trained So Country will certainly have plenty of admirers ahead of the $1.3 million The Kosciuszko, which will be run and won at Royal Randwick on October 15. 

The four-year-old, owned by O’Gorman and former rugby league and rugby union star Duncan McRae, has certainly made his mark, starting seven times in his short career, while winning three times and never finishing further back than second place. 

“He is certainly very consistent, always running first or second,” O’Gorman said. 

On Saturday, the Shamexpress horse was ridden by Brenton Avdulla in the 1200m Class Two Highway Handicap at Rosehill Gardens and flashed late to win the $100,000 event, which was marred by the late-race antics of Sir Ravanelli. 

Heading into the Rosehill straight, Sir Ravanelli (Jeff Kehoe, $5) for trainer Terry Evans led comfortably, but as the pair neared closer to the winning post, the Tuncurry gelding had other things on his mind as he veered outwards in the final stages.

While it’s impossible to tell if the leader still would have won if he had remained straight, there was no doubting the winner, with So Country (Avdulla, $9.50) powering to the front to win by 0.83 of a length from Sir Ravanelli, while in third was the fast-finishing Rebel Dreamer (Jason Collett, $3.40) from the Luke Pepper yard. 

“It certainly looks like the grey horse (Sir Ravanelli) threw the race away, but my horse didn’t shirk at its task and that is why we had a good jockey like Brenton on board, and it was a great ride,” O’Gorman said.

“I was still pretty confident before the horse run off the track that we could win, just because I know how he is racing and how strong he is at the end of his races. 

“I knew how fit I had him and he got the job done.”

O’Gorman and McRae have enjoyed a good association with Avdulla over the years, with their relationship paying further dividends at Rosehill Gardens. 

“Brenton has ridden for my partner Duncan McRae when winning on Ilovethiscity, so there is a nice association between Duncan and Brenton, and I am thrilled to get a winner for him,” O’Gorman said.

“He is a very cool, calm and collected rider and he did a great job.”

So Country was six-weeks between runs heading into Saturday’s race, and while O’Gorman said the freshen-up wasn’t by design, the Tamworth trainer said she was always confident he would run a good race. 

“His work on Tuesday was really solid and I couldn’t have had him in better shape,” O’Gorman said. 

“We had him in here a couple of weeks ago when the races were abandoned but the rail was out a few metres, and we drew wide and we scratched and waited for this race today.

“At the end of the day, it didn’t matter that it was six weeks between runs, and he was up to the task.”

O’Gorman gave So Country every chance too, staying at Wyong on Friday night in a bid to have the youngster as calm and comfortable as possible before his city debut. 

“I took him down as far as Wyong yesterday, as he can be a bit of a nervous horse with longer trips, while he travels fine when racing around home,” O’Gorman said. 

“He stayed at Don Robb’s at Wyong, and it worked out well. He woke up this morning and it wasn’t a race day for him or anything and we had a smooth trip to Rosehill, and he was ready to go.”

O’Gorman has previously tasted success in town with Suncraze winning back-to-back Highways back in 2017, and the winning trainer said So Country would more than likely come back to town for another crack at a Highway in the coming weeks. 

“This is my third one. I had a good horse called Suncraze that won two and he also ran a lot of seconds and thirds in Highways,” O’Gorman said. 

“So Country will stay up for a while; this was only his second run this prep and there is plenty of runs left in him.

“He will probably head back for another Highway over 1200m in two or three weeks, and we will go from there and see what races are around for him.”

O’Gorman is hoping So Country can reach the same heights or even go one better than Suncraze, which ran second in the 2019 The Kosciuszko to Belflyer.  

“I look at The Kosciuszko race, and with the way it has panned out the last couple of years, and horses that have been there have had far less form than So Country, be it for cash bonuses or whatever the reason,” O’Gorman said. 

“Certainly, looking at him on paper, he wouldn’t be out of place in a race like that. He can win on a good and heavy track, and that is a huge bonus considering the weather in Sydney, and he loves 1200 metres.

“We ran second with Suncraze, and this horse is so versatile like him. Plus, he is a horse that keeps improving, and every time I raise the bar, he handles it and I believe he is definitely on the rise.”

If not for his good form, O’Gorman joked that So Country should generate some interest due to his more than appropriate name ahead of the country-only $1.3 million race.  

“Being called So Country; he has the right name for it, doesn’t he,” O’Gorman laughed. 

“We hope he can live up to it in a good race like The Kosciuszko.”