Matthew Dunn looks to have a stranglehold on the$150,000 Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Grafton but fellow trainer Jim Jarvis thinks some rain might even things up.
Dunn has four runners and three of them are set to start as the top picks with La Scopa leading the way. Jarvis will be trying to upset them with Evopex and Lawan.
“They both like the wet so I’ve sent a prayer to heaven to see if they can do something for me after all the good deeds I’ve done for everyone else,” he said.
“They’re pretty hard to separate even though they’re two different types of horses. They’ve both competitive in highway races so they’ll both acquit themselves well.”
MATT JONES’S TOP PICKS
LA SCOPA (Race 7, No.13)
This mare has won three races which gets her in at a light weight despite being rated the best horse in the field, so she’s going to be hard to beat if she gets even luck from a wide gate.
LATEST BETTING: TAB FIXED ODDS
FERNIEHIRST (Race 8, No.5)
She should get all the favours in the last race which, despite being an open handicap, isn’t overly strong.
SFILZA (Race 5, No.10)
We’ll back her to upset the pair of Matthew Dunn runners because she’ll get the run of the race and handles a heavy track.
TRAINER TO WATCH
MATTHEW DUNN could win six of the eight races with a stack of chances in each. He obviously targeted this meeting a long time ago and it’s hard to see him not winning at least three races.
JOCKEY TO WATCH
Three. City jockeys GLYN SCHOFIELD, ADAM HYERONIMUS and JASON COLLETT are riding top hopes all day.
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SHANYE O’CASS’S TOP PICKS
HE’S A HOTSHOT (Race 1, No.5)
Bjorn Baker-trained first starter was very impressive winning a barrier trial at Canterbury on February 25, then comfortable third in a second heat at Warwick Farm on March 7. Looks to have the required talent to win this.
ANOTHER MCCLOUD (Race 6, No.5)
Hails from the powerful Cameron Crockett stable and has done very little wrong in six starts with two wins, two seconds and a third. Resumes here off an easy and highly encouraging trial win at this same venue late last month.
SHALMANESER (Race 7, No.1)
Richard Freedman-trained stayer won the Taree Cup last year, was runner-up in the Colin Stephen and third in the Wyong Cup. Will find this easier than his past two at Royal Randwick even with his big weight.
JOCKEY TO FOLLOW
GRANT BUCKLEY is so often the punters’ pal and so it will be again with Bucko called on by various trainers to give their runners every chance.
Evopex carries the top weight in the race with 57.5kg, but gets a cushy draw in gate six with Michael Cahill to ride the Northern Meteor five-year-old. He won a Highway race at Randwick in October over 1600m and was quickly put away to get him ready for this race.
He’s had one lead-up trial over 1006m, which he won, and Jarvis thinks he’s a good chance if Cahill can find a comfortable spot.
“He won’t lead but he’ll be on the pace,” Jarvis said. “There’s a few leaders in the race so they’ll break them up a little bit from the 1400m start and Evopex should be sitting fourth of fifth. He doesn’t perform well on the track at home but he’s had a trial win and a lot gallops. He’s heading in the right direction.”
Lawan is a Lonhro five-year-old, formally trained by John O’Shea, and his form over the spring was very good without winning.
He was just four lengths off the highly rated Team Hawkes runner Mahalangur and ran close behind Tristan De Angel in two Highway races.
Jarvis was satisfied with his first-up run last start when fourth at Armidale on March 3.
“He was a couple of weeks behind Evopex this campaign and didn’t get a trial but he got a really hard run at Armidale which was very impressive,” Jarvis said.
“It helped him out a hell of a lot and we’ve got him right where we want to have him.
“The wide draw is a bit of a handicap at Grafton. You’ve got to draw inside seven to get a little advantage. He’ll go back and slot in and with a bit of luck he’ll get cover in a midfield position.”
Jarvis, like most trainers, knows if his horses can beat home Dunn’s four – Wallander, Ten Taubada’s, Cinnamon Missile and La Scopa – he’ll just about qualify one of them for the $500,000 final in April
“I think the only one to beat is the one that’s got 54kg, the mare (La Scopa). She’s only a Class 3 horse but she’s got some wet form. Wallander also has reasonably good form as well,” Jarvis said.
“Dunn is never easy to beat in anything he races in, whether it’s a maiden or a Class 6 race. His horses are always considered a little stronger.
“He’s always a worry but you’ve got to try not to be worried. I’m going into the race knowing my horses are going to run to their best.”
Jarvis has qualified for the final in the past with Ultimate Dreamer.
“But these two horses are three or four lengths better,” he said.
MATT JONES’S INSIDE MAIL
RACE 1 (1pm)
Matthew Dunn is set to have a big day out at Grafton with a heap of fancied runners. And he’s found a good one for We Concur in the first. The three-year-old has showed promise at all three runs and it’s hard to see him getting beaten here. Bungaree Boy, off his last-start effort, could challenge but he’s only won once from 14 starts. Honour Your Offer might challenge for a placing and More Than Magico is the next best.
BET: WE CONCUR to win.
RACE 2 (1.40pm)
Written In Vain is kept at 1400m again and why wouldn’t she be? She’s won three from six at the trip and placed on the other three occasions. This race isn’t much harder than the one she scored in last start. Salad Dodger found the right race to win last start and he doesn’t mind the sting out of the track, which he should get here. Dark Image doesn’t mind the wet either and he’ll have the last shot at them.
BET: Exacta 3, 5.
RACE 3 (2.15pm)
Spanish Hurricane drops back a touch in trip after a surging win over 1905m last start and he’s had a little freshen-up to be ready for this and has aa win on the heavy. Stablemate Glamorous Miss hasn’t been tested over this ground yet but she looks like the type of horse that will handle the distance and track conditions. Exorbitance has to carry the top weight but if it doesn’t get into the heavy range he’s got the form to suggest he’ll be in the finish.
Bet: Spanish Hurricane to win.
RACE 4 (2.50pm)
Natural Image finally broke through at start 26 last month on a Soft 5 track and he won quite well that day. With some luck from a wide gate, he’s in good enough form to challenge them. Mother To Race Her resumes after a very consistent spring preparation. This is short of her best trip but she can sprint well fresh and a wet track will make it feel like a 1400m race, which also helps. Shinstar is in good enough form to go close, while Friends Of Wren will try to lead all the way to win again.
BET: Quinella 1, 7
RACE 5 (3.30pm)
Matthew Dunn’s pair Wakata and Without Risk will head the market and both are first-up. Without Risk may be looking for further and Wakata looked great in a trial and likes the wet, so we’ll put him just in front of his stablemate, despite her big finishes. Sfilza likes to be on the speed and will be able to be in the perfect spot from the gate, so she’ll get her chance if she’s good enough. Bus Ticket has run second five times in 10 starts so that tells a story.
BET: SFILZA to win.
RACE 6 (4.10pm)
Amorita has two wins from five starts but she’s racing a grade above where she’s required to, so this will still be a test even though she’s’ the most progressive horse in the field. She’s by Foxwedge, so the wet track shouldn’t be problem. Lady Clare is also on the way up but in a Class 1 horse at the moment, so she’d have to be good to win. Sanglier has raced in better events than this before, while Dexter Dutton probably wants the rain to stay away.
BET: AMORITA to win.
RACE 7 (4.50pm)
La Scopa gets into this race extremely well under the set-weights conditions. She only carries 54kg but, if this was a handicap race, she’d have the top weight. Evopex has to carry a couple of kilograms more than the rest of the field but it shouldn’t hurt his winning chances and he should be able to find the perfect spot just off the speed, which will be created by the likes of She’s Choosie, who is the likely leader, but will be vulnerable in the final 50m. Queen Of Kingston can upset the Matt Dunn runners because she ticks every available box. The only worry is the sharp rise in trip.
BET: Exacta 13, 3.
RACE 8 (5.30pm)
Ferniehirst gets all the favours in this race with the jockey’s claim and good gate which should help her go one better than she has at her past two starts. Hydrazine is the tough old horse of the field and he won’t let them win without a fight and he usually runs well at the track and in heavy conditions. Water Boy is flying at the moment and is the light weight hope, while Dantga races well at home and gets Adam Hyeronimus on the guide him from an ideal barrier.
BET: FERNIEHIRST to win.
Star apprentice Patrick Scorse has an opportunity to capture one of his biggest race wins and emulate his father John at the same time if he can steer home topweight Shalmaneser in the Bathurst Cup (1800m).
Shalmaneser is trained by Richard Freedman whose success pre-dates the first of the FBI’s (Freedman Brothers Inc) five Melbourne Cup wins lodged in 1989 by Tawriffic.
It was Patrick’s father, Freedman’s Sky Channel colleague, John, who played an important part in setting him on his future path.
“John rode my first winner for us at Canberra when I was 18 years old,’’ Freedman said. “For a while, I was the youngest trainer to have trained a winner.’’
Sunday’s Bathurst Cup contender Shalmaneser is no teenager — in horse terms — being an eight-year-old but the son of Teofilo has found a new lease on life since he joined the Freedman camp.
Shalmaneser has had the past 11 of his 54 career starts for Freedman and son Will, returning most of the best runs in his life. They include a win in last year’s Taree Cup as well as a second placing in the time-honoured Colin Stephen, subsequent to his third in the Wyong Cup.
Shalmaneser was beaten 4½ lengths first-up in a mile race at Royal Randwick but was unable to build on that effort when last in a 2000m race, also at HQ, next time out.
“Since I’ve had him, he has tended to run poorly second-up and did so at his previous preparation, too, but I thought he got too far back and it was a messy race run at variable speed that didn’t suit him,’’ Freedman said.
“We’ve only had him for one previous prep and he went well and I don’t think he’s very much different than he was then, except that he is higher in the weights now.
“His rating was going to make it more difficult this preparation so we thought the Bathurst Cup would be a good target for him.
“He’s drawn barrier three and I think he’ll race a lot more positively than he did last start.’’
Freedman will have three spots booked on the float from Rosehill to Bathurst today, the other berths taken up by the lightly raced Mojito and the former Tulloch Lodge resident Antonio’s Pride, who has placed over 2400m.
The son of Smart Missile will run over 1400m in the final event after a pleasing run at Goulburn last start over 1600m.
“I have my doubts that he is a miler or anywhere further than about 1400m,’’ Freedman said. “His pedigree wouldn’t suggest that he is (a miler or more) and his racing style doesn’t either.
“I think he is better suited back at the shorter distances where he can sit quite close to them and still have a strong kick.’’
As for Mojito, Freedman is expecting improvement from a filly who races in the colours of June Baker who also owns Kopi Luwak, Chewbacca and Cartel.