Paul Shailer’s two-pronged attack on Country Classic

Port Macquarie trainer Paul Shailer (left) will trek to Sydney on Saturday with both Proost and Laphroaig contesting the $150,000 Country Classic at Rosehill Gardens. Photo: Bradley Photos.

Paul Shailer will head to Rosehill Gardens on Saturday with two chances in the $150,000 Country Classic. 

The country-only 2000m event has attracted some of the best stayers in the state, and the Port Macquarie trainer has Proost (Ben Looker) jumping from gate four and Laphroaig (Regan Bayliss) beginning from the car park in gate 16. 

“It has been a long-term target for both horses,” Shailer confirmed. 

“It’s a good race and it’s suited to both of these horses.”

Proost is an up-and-coming type, with the four-year-old boasting a good record of 11 starts for three wins and two placings. 

The Iffraaj mare recently won three on the trot, breaking through for a maiden win over 1700m at Grafton earlier last month before recording strong victories over 1900m at Ballina late last month and Kempsey earlier this month. 

Proost finished a respectable sixth in the 2000m Taree Gold Cup behind Military Mission on Sunday and she will back up in the Country Classic, which was always her ‘grand final’ according to Shailer.

“The option we had for Proost last week, given that she was three weeks between runs, was either give her a trial at Grafton or race her in the Taree Cup, and we knew we were throwing her in the deep end at Taree,” Shailer said. 

“She drew soft, and it was a pretty soft run on her way to the Country Classic.”

Shailer believes his mare can be on pace with the light weight on Saturday, making her a big chance against some well-credentialed country gallopers. 

“Fortunately, we have drawn barrier four, and the way Rosehill is playing of late, which is on speed, she should be a genuine chance with a lightweight and good barrier,” Shailer said. 

“I expect her to be sitting in the first half-dozen and I think she is in for a good race.”

Stablemate Laphroaig hasn’t fared as well with the barrier draw but Shailer believes the five-year-old is more than capable with some luck. 

“He had a short break after the Port Macquarie Cup and spent 10 or 11 days in the paddock before returning,” Shailer said. 

“He ran over 1500m last start at Port and carried 62kg, and importantly, he made ground late under the big weight, and he drops seven kilos for this race.  

“He has drawn wide, and we will have to be negative and go back with him, but he will be charging home late and we will need a few breaks along the way between the 600m and winning post.”

The Country Classic is quickly becoming a popular target for country trainers and Shailer admitted it was a very strong race on paper, with the 10-furlong event attracting the likes of Dream Runner, From The Bush, Point Counterpoint and Knife’s Edge.

“It’s a lot stronger than last year’s race, and I think more and more country trainers from all over the state are starting to pick out these races,” Shailer said.

“Given what Peter V’landys is doing with racing, and the prizemoney on offer, trainers are wising up and setting horses for these races, and things like Highways, the Country Champs, and the Kosciuszko are turning into strong fields, and with good horses coming from all different jurisdictions, it is a hard race to profile, and it means that a good barrier and good ride can make all the difference.

“It’s a tough race tomorrow, and we are under no illusions of what a tough task it is, but given the chance, I think both of our horses can be very competitive.” 

Shailer and connections have all reason to be confident ahead of their trip to Sydney, with the Northern Rivers conditioner in terrific form.

After training his first winner in October of last year, Shailer has gone from strength-to-strength, and in the early stages of the 2022/23 season, he has prepared 14 winners at a 25.5% strike rate. 

“We are going well but we have worked very hard,” Shailer said. 

“This is our first full season, and it is great to get off to a good start. We are sitting in the top 10 in the NSW county trainer’s premiership and the top 30 on NSW-wide premiership, which I believe is a great achievement.”

Shailer could soon become one of the premier trainers in the state and he has eyes on doubling the size of his team. 

“We only have 20 in work, and we are looking to build our team, and we have spare boxes, and we are chasing horses to train,” Shailer said. 

“We would love to build into a competitive team of 40 to 50 horses and train winners week in and week out and that is the goal.” 

For the moment, Shailer’s attention is on the $150,000 Country Classic and for the full field, readers can click here