Quinn Quinella: Port Macquarie duo qualify for million-dollar final

Matthew McGuren led all the way on the Marc Quinn-trained Auzstar in Saturday’s $150,000 Mid-North Coast qualifier at Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club on Saturday.
Image: Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club.

Port Macquarie trainer Marc Quinn has qualified two runners for the $1 million Country Championship final at Royal Randwick on April 6.

Racing at Tuncurry-Forster Jockey Club on Saturday, Auzstar (Matthew McGuren, $9) and Agirlsbestfriend (Jenny Duggan, $4.60) took on the Mid-North Coast qualifier, with rain teeming down as the big field ploughed through a heavy ten.

It was two very different runs in transit as McGuren went to the front on Auzstar, who made every post a winner when leading all the way in the $150,000 qualifier. 

In an absolutely dominant performance, the six-year-old Zoustar gelding handled the conditions and won by five lengths from stablemate Agirlsbestfriend, which stormed home from last, while in third was the Tony Ball-trained Bantarki (Aaron Bullock, $6.50).

While Quinn was thrilled with the quinella, he conceded that he was watching the second horse throughout the race. 

“I wasn’t watching Aussie; I was watching the filly down the outside, and then I looked up and said, ‘I think I’ve won it as well’,’’ he laughed in a post-race interview.

“This is not a career-best day, but it’s pretty bloody handy.”

It was a long-term plan to have Auzstar ready for the rich qualifier, and he was at his limit, having had 20 starts leading into Saturday’s race.

“Aussie’s been a plan for well over 12 months because when he first came to me from Warren Gavenlock, we had set him for it last year, but then we found out he wasn’t eligible because he changed jurisdictions too late,’’ Quinn said.

“So that’s why we’ve held him up for the last 12 months, and that’s why he’s had 20 runs today. This was his last chance to dance.”

Incredibly, Auzstar had never previously run well on a heavy track, and Quinn was pleased to see him thrive in the tough going. 

“He’s never had wet form, but I said to Matty, ‘Just bounce him out and ride him how he’s going’. To handle a heavy track, today’s the best day,” Quinn said. 

It’s a massive result for the Port Macquarie stable, which has had to contend with not having a racecourse while it has been upgraded. 

It was also a memorable result for McGuren, who had come off a career-best five wins at Grafton only seven days earlier.

On that day, he won the Northern Rivers Country Championships qualifier on Tribeca Star, and his victory on Auzstar at Tuncurry-Forster marks two $150,000 victories in the space of seven days. 

“We had to take the race by the scruff of the neck; he began too well to put him anywhere else in the run,’’ McGuren said in a post-race interview. 

“They hadn’t been making ground all day. He was too good; he was full of confidence through the run, and through the worst parts of the track, he was swimming through it.”

The 2024 Country Championships is now in full stride, with the Northern Rivers, Southern Districts, Mid-North Coast, and Central Districts qualifiers in the books.

Attention shifts to Moruya on Sunday, which is set to host the $150,000 South East Country Championships qualifier. 

For more on the 2024 Country Championships, click here