It mattered not to trainer Troy O’Neile that the scheduled Armidale Cup was transferred to Tamworth today and run at a slightly lesser distance.
The former champion rodeo rider “roped” in another feature country race when former Queenslander Beckford ($4 favourite) overwhelmed recent metropolitan TAB Highway winner Point Counterpoint ($4.20), despite conceding him 1.5kg, to land the $60,000 Cup.
Initially scheduled for late February but unable to be run because of wet weather, Armidale’s flagship race, with the support of Racing NSW, was rescheduled for today as a Showcase meeting (minimum prizemoney of $30,000 per race).
When the Armidale track again was deemed unsuitable for racing, and to ensure punters didn’t have a raceless Sunday in NSW, the program was shifted to Tamworth with the co-operation of both club’s respective secretaries Jim Dedes and Michael Buckley.
The switch resulted in the Cup distance being shortened from 1900m to 1600m – and that suited O’Neile just fine.
“Obviously it was disappointing for Armidale Jockey Club not to be able to race at home, but it certainly played into our hands,” O’Neile said this evening on his return home to nearby Moonbi (about 20 minutes from Tamworth).
“Beckford has now had three starts at Tamworth over the 1600m and won them all.
“I was concerned beforehand if he could carry the 60.5kg, but he did a terrific job and Mikayla Weir gave him a great ride.
“Every time we have stepped him up in grade, he hasn’t let us down.”
Whilst O’Neile’s days on the rodeo circuit (which included a stint in the USA) are over, he is showing he is just as adept at training racehorses.
Beckford, a four-year-old son of Not A Single Doubt, joined his team earlier this year after Tamworth owner Tony Aceti purchased him online in March for $27,500.
“He’s a bargain now,” O’Neile said, having started the gelding nine times for five wins.
Initially with Ciaron Maher and David Eustace, Beckford found his way to Kacy Fogden, who in 2019 began training privately for Aquis Farm on the Gold Coast, and now also takes outside horses.
She won races with him at Beaudesert (1650m Maiden Plate) and Lismore (1526m Class 2 Handicap) late last year before it was decided to put him on the market earlier this year.
“Tony has a connection with Aquis, and was advised that this horse might be a nice buy,” O’Neile explained.
A second-up winner for his new trainer at Armidale in May over 1400m and then again at Tamworth in June (the first of his so far unbeaten three tilts at 1600m there), O’Neile spelled him after he finished fifth to Tamilaide in the $80,000 Grafton Guineas (1600m) for three-year-olds at the July carnival.
His Armidale Cup victory was his third from his last four starts, but O’Neile wasn’t taking any credit for the gelding’s form surge.
“Good horses are easy to train, and they make a trainer look good,” O’Neile said.
“I might give him a little break now, and think about where we will head next with him.
“An 1850m race on the big track at Newcastle would suit him, or perhaps even a midweeker in town.”
O’Neile, who trains at Tamworth, added the Armidale Cup to earlier Cup victories with Try ‘N’ Run A Muck at Walcha (2018) and Inverell and Glen Innes (both 2019), but left Tamworth this evening rueing missing out on the feature double.
Beckford’s stablemates Cassy’s Sister ($8.50) and Lord Tony ($17) finished second and third respectively to $1.60 favorite Ice In Vancouver in the Armidale Newmarket Handicap (1000m).
“The barriers beat us,” O’Neile said. “Cassy’s Sister drew the outside (12) and Lord Tony jumped from nine, whereas the winner had the inside alley.
“That was the difference.”
Beckford’s owner Tony Aceti races Cassy’s Sister (a four-times winner and multiple placegetter), and also part-owns five-times winner Lord Tony.