Wagstaff targets elusive Merriwa Cup with two-pronged attack

Dale Wagstaff will start Obelius (pictured) and Patrika Gold in Saturday’s Merriwa Cup. Image: Bradley Photos.

Former Muswellbrook trainer Dale Wagstaff, now based in Newcastle, has always wanted to win a Merriwa Cup. 

On Saturday, he appears to have his best chance of adding the time-honoured country cup to his trophy cabinet, with Patrika Gold and Obelius to contest the $20,000 event. 

“If you are going out to Merriwa, you want to go and win the feature race,” Wagstaff told NSW Country and Picnic Racing. 

“It’s a race that people want to win; I’ve had five runners in it over the years, and I always try to ensure I have something in the Merriwa Cup. 

“I originally trained at Muswellbrook, which is only around the corner, and it is always a good meeting to go to.”

Patrika Gold is a recent addition to the stable. The four-time winner started out in Victoria and won two races with Mitch Freedman before making her mark in the Southern Districts with Donna Scott. 

During good preparation, she won a 1200m Benchmark 58 Handicap at Tumut and an 1175m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Albury.

The six-year-old Puissance De Lune filly wasn’t far away in a strong 1400m Benchmark 74 Handicap at Wagga on January 16, beaten three lengths by eventual Bega Cup runner-up and Little Dance-bound Cream Rises.

Now in Wagstaff’s care, Patrika Gold has had one run, finishing down the track on a heavy ten at Kembla Grange on April 9.

Jake Pracey-Holmes is in the saddle on the noted front runner, and Wagstaff is expecting her to run them along at Merriwa. 

“Jake’s on, and they’ll go forward, and she should be able to lead from the wide draw,” Wagstaff said. 

“She had a few problems and got hurt on the treadmill, but she seems as good as I can have her going into this race.

“This Merriwa Cup is not as strong as the Albury race that she was in when she won with Donna; she should take some catching on a track that typically suits leaders.”

Stablemate Obelius has come up with the inside draw, and Shane Arnold has picked up the ride for connections. 

A five-time winner, the six-year-old won well in a 1405m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Tuncurry on January 29. 

Since then, he’s mixed his form but has placed at Newcastle, Canterbury, Bathurst, and Muswellbrook. 

Wagstaff said Obelius will need some luck as he tends to get back and storm home.   

“He’s not a horse you want on the fence, so it’s not the best draw,” Wagstaff said. 

“He will go back and get off the fence a little bit, and he needs air in the straight and open space to keep going. 

“He is fit enough after coming back from 1500m to 1350m, so it depends on what kind of run he gets.”

The annual Merriwa race day is a fun meeting with the five-race program, just one of the drawcards. 

The club hosts a big fashions on the field competition on the field, an on-course Calcutta before the Merriwa Cup, and entertainment. 

Wagstaff said he felt obliged to support their big day as he didn’t want to see the meeting fall by the wayside after the club missed out on racing in 2023. 

“It’s good country racing and a great atmosphere at Merriwa. How many tracks in NSW do you watch the race for the inside and not the outside?” Wagstaff said.  

“It’s a good country track to go to, and you can get a good feed, have a good day, and win, lose or draw, you’re going to have a good time.

“It was disappointing they called it off last year because the crowd was huge, and I only hope they keep racing. 

“Just look at Wallabadah; people didn’t want to see that meeting fall away, and everyone loved going to that joint, and it’s the same at Merriwa, and we need to keep supporting the place.”

It’s set to be a big day at Merriwa, and there will be courtesy buses to and from the racecourse.

Click here for more on the meeting.