Walcha trainer George Woodward trains Armidale double

Walcha trainer George Woodward prepared a winning double at Armidale on Monday, with both Playing For Keeps (main image and inset top left) and Blue Sky Moon (inset top right) greeting the judge first. Photos: Bradley Photos.

George Woodward didn’t have far to travel on Anzac Day, venturing from Walcha to Armidale for Monday’s popular non-TAB meeting. 

Woodward left a happy man too, training a double on the program, but funnily, the large as life racing personality was still wanting more.  

“I thought I could’ve got three,” Woodward laughed. 

“I thought Super Looka might have run better (although finishing fourth), but the other horses had been working well and deserved to win.”

Woodward landed his first winner when in-form gelding Playing For Keeps combined with jockey Rachael Murray in the 1900m Class Three Handicap.

The four-year-old made it back-to-back wins over the Armidale staying trip when bolting in by nearly three lengths, and the former Victorian looks to have found a new lease on life in Woodward’s care. 

“Playing For Keeps came from Victoria, and he has won two on the trot; he is just going great,” Woodward said. 

“We thought he would go well, and he will back up at Gunnedah next Monday in the 2000m.

“He is a good doer, and that makes a difference, and he just loves his racing.”

Woodward made it a winning double in the 1100m Benchmark 50 Handicap, with Yvette Lewis getting the job done on Blue Sky Moon.

The five-year-old is another transfer into Woodward’s stable following a short stint racing in the provincials, and he too looks to be enjoying his time in Walcha.

“He came to me a bit sour, and he is a bitch of a horse to do anything with, but we’ve got him right now, and even though he threw his jockey at his first start for us, he is going okay now,” Woodward said.

Success in the North West and surrounding regions isn’t new to Woodward, and he attributed his happy horses and winning form to his training set-up and location. 

“We are pretty lucky here; we have a good sand training track and good swimmer,” Woodward said.

“I’ve got the racecourse to myself here and I train them on the racecourse.”

Woodward was originally based on the coast, and he said he has really enjoyed his time in Walcha.

“I have been here about six or seven years, and I wouldn’t go back to the coast if they paid me too,” Woodward laughed. 

“From here, I’ve got Armidale an hour away, Tamworth an hour away, then over to the coast is only three hours to Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Kempsey, and here we can go out to Dubbo, Coonabarabran and those tracks. 

“More importantly, the horses seem to love it. I have portable yards and they are out in the paddock for four or five hours every day and it’s just a different life for them.”

Woodward also has a good team behind him, and he was the first to highlight his staff’s importance to his small but effective operation.

“I have a dozen in work, but I have just put four young ones out, and I am lucky that I have a good team,” Woodward said. 

“Johno Byrne and Chantelle Burkett are great, and I have a young girl getting ready to ride, she is Chantelle’s daughter (Markeisha Cross), and she can really ride. 

“She hasn’t had a trial yet, and she won’t for a little bit, because she only just turned 16 and we will take our time with her.”

Woodward and his stable will have a chance to continue their good run of form on Monday, with a big team of eight entered for Gunnedah.

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