Respected country trainers Warren Gavenlock and Richard Litt and Co discuss their Sunday runners with Shayne O’Cass and Adam Sherry as we preview the Lismore and Cowra meetings.
MORE PRESSING MATTERS BEFORE PLONKA
Warren Gavenlock heads to Lismore on Sunday no doubt still in a bouyant mood after watching his 2021 Country Championships kingpin Plonka trial so well on Friday.
An utterly luckless third in the 2020 final at Royal Randwick, Plonka was put through his paces in a Heat after the last race on Ballina Cup Day.
The son of Golden Rose winner, Epaulette, finished fourth but was never asked to do any more by his rider, Matthew McGuren.
Plonka (and Gavenlock) can feel themselves unlucky on a second count, with the horse overlooked by Kosciuskzo ticket-holders despite almost winning the Country Championship Final in the autumn.
“There were so many deals going on and I am not one to have sour grapes, it was the people’s choice and they didn’t choose him,’’ Gavenlock said.
“No one really looked at the Championships, we won the Heat then were deadset unlucky not to have won the Final.’’
Plonka, who won selection into the 2020 Final via a Heat win at Grafton, has the advantage this year of having the Qualifier run at Coffs Harbour — on February 13.
“I’ll give him another trial or two and then he should be fine tuned then and ready to run the 1400m on his home track,’’ Gavenlock said.
As for more pressing matters, Gavenlock saddles-up Plonka’s stablemates Travelling Matilda and Gus Lightning at Lismore on Sunday.
Travelling Matilda was bred by Catherine Remond, the daughter of Stanley Wootton of Star Kingdom fame.
And while Remond was able to craft a double cross of Star Kingdom in the mare’s pedigree, she balanced that speed with the stamina of Nijinsky, not once but twice.
That is one reason why Gavenlock is eager to try Travelling Matilda over 2110m at just her third race start.
“She is bred to go the distance all the way,’’ Gavenlock says. “And we have been dogged by wet tracks and so forth trying to get her up to the distance so we have worked her along and got her up to the right distance now and hopefully she is fit enough to run the journey out.
“We have done plenty of pacework with her given the wet weather we have had but everyone in the region is in the same boat.
“We missed a 1400m run at Coffs Harbour the last time around, that is the only query I have.’’
Gus Lightning meanwhile lacks nothing in breeding compared to his stablemate being a direct descendant of the celebrated Denise’s Joy.
A winner of just one from 17, the grey son of grey Australian Guineas winner Dash For Cash is ready and able to post a somewhat infrequent win in today’s Snack The Track Class 1 Handicap (1110m).
“The races haven’t been run to suit him lately,’’ Gavenlock says. “He has been coming off bad draws and hasn’t liked the cut in the track, they should get along enough on Sunday so he can relax and get in his own rhythm.
“He is a little bit better than he has run in his last couple of starts.’’
VALLEY OF BELIEF
By Shayne O’Cass
Arlington Valley has only won once in 19 starts but shapes as the best winning chance of Kosciuszko-winning trainer John Shelton’s five Lismore bound runners on Sunday.
The five-year-old bay went within a neck of doubling his winning tally when coming from last to finish runner-up in 2000m Class 1 at Murwillumbah on December 27.
“He has been pretty consistent, the only trouble is breaking through for one,’’ Shelton says.
“But he seems like he is a nice sort of race. He gets back a bit so it depends on how Lismore is playing, it is very leader-ish there sometimes and it may not suit him. It depends on how the pattern plays but he is in the first race so you won’t get much of an idea.’’
Arlington Valley was bred by former bookmaker and STC Chairman Bruce McHugh who stands the gelding’s underrated sire, Arlington, at his Tamalee Stud at Tamworth.
Arlington was a headline grabber from the very beginning, topping the 2006 Magic Millions Yearling Sale on the Gold Coast, knocked down for $1.55m.
A brother to Cox Plate winner and six-times Champion New Zealand Sire, Savabeel, Arlington won back just $350,000 but is best remembered for his third in the 2008 Randwick Guineas at $51.
Shelton saddles-up Special Union and Magic Smile in the Snack The Track Class 1 Handicap over 1110m with the pair drawn favourably alongside each other in barriers 1 and 2 respectively.
“They both race a bit forward but they won’t be taking each other on,’’ Shelton said. “They will both be competitive.
“It is a nice race and a good starting point for Special Union and I am pretty happy with the way he is going.
“Magic Smile didn’t have a lot of luck at Inverell. She drew sticky and never got to where she wanted to be,’’ Shelton explained.
“The jockey was quite happy with her run, he said to try her over a little bit further.
“She is no superstar but she will pick the right race up when everything goes her way.’’
TRAINER’S DOUBLE CUP DIP
By Adam Sherry
Richard Litt is hoping class will prevail and he can come home with the two feature Cup races on Sunday afternoon.
Tessera has bounced back to form at just the right time as he contests the Japan Cup (1200m) while National Guard lines up in the Cowra Cup (1700m).
Tessera coming off a gutsy all-the-way win at Kembla last Saturday.
“He hadn’t won for five years prior to that believe it or not,” Litt said.
“His last win was on January 30, 2016.”
That was as a two-year-old in the Group 3 Canonbury Stakes at Rosehill at his second race start while he also won on debut at Randwick.
“I remember John O’Shea telling me that he was a very promising two-year-old,” he said
“I’m not sure why he missed the Golden Slipper that year but obviously something went wrong and he has struggled to regain that form since but he has been a real good money-spinner for his owners in between.
“He won well the other day and the Cowra track might just suit him.
“This is a race he can really run well in.”
National Guard, the American-bred son of War Front, is capable of springing somewhat of an upset in the Cowra Cup.
The seven-year-old is resuming from a spell and Litt has been pleased with the gelding.
“I’ve been happy with him since he’s come back into the stable. He’s going well,” he said.
“He’s first-up so whatever he does here, he will improve from the run but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did happen to win.
“This is grade and I think he will make a really good Country Cups horse.”
Last campaign, National Guard struck a number of wet tracks which he just didn’t appreciate.
He best run was a two length fourth at Hawkesbury on a Soft 5 which was the best surface he managed to find for the campaign.
“He has run a lot on soft tracks and he likes it like the road. He really likes the firm ground so the harder the track the better. I’m sure we’re going to get a firm track today,” he said.
Litt’s other two runners for the day, Grey Mantra and Wicked Willy, are both ready to put their best foot forward.
Grey Mantra is resuming from a spell and trialled very well at Warwick Farm recently while Wicked Willy wasn’t suited by the heavy track at Moruya last start.
“Grey Mantra needs the track hard as well. She found it a little bit tough on soft ground,” he said.
“I expect her to run a good race from barrier 1. She should get a nice soft run just behind the speed.
“Wicked Willy is very hit and miss but this is his sort of race.
“The other day, he got back in very heavy ground at Moruya. He went to the inside where it was like quicksand and that was the last race they ran on the day.
“Barrier 8 today is good for him. He’ll be able to step away nicely and roll forward to sit outside the leader.
“He is probably the best chance of the day.”
ROAD TRIP COULD BE WORTH IT
By Adam Sherry
Gosford trainer Tony Newing doesn’t mind travelling with his horses and he looks to have found the perfect races for his three runners on Sunday afternoon.
Alpha Go and Loburn Lass look very well placed in their respective assignments and have drawn nice low gates while Camp Rifle is improving and capable of a big showing.
“They have landed in the right races and excluding Camp Rifle, I think the track will suit the other two,” said Newing.
“Both Alpha Go and Loburn Lass are forward running horse who have drawn well and can quicken around the corner.
“You have to be up there by the corner. You don’t see many horses come from worse than midfield and winning.”
Alpha Go was placed either side of his stylish win at Grafton at his second start back in September and has come on following a break according to Newing.
“Running in a restricted three-year-old race today, he has landed in the right race.
“Apart from the topweight, I think he is really well weighted against mostly maidens.
“I’m just hoping the 63.5kg on the topweight just levels him up. It will be a good effort to carry that because I’m not going to make it easy for him.
“My bloke is progressive and heading in the right direction, that’s why he’s going to be hard to beat.”
Loburn Lass has placed in two of her three runs since joining Newing and should appreciate getting out to a more suitable distance.
“I think she is my best chance for the day based on the fact she is getting up to a distance that will suit her.
“Richard Litt’s horse is the one to beat but we have drawn to get every chance.
“At her first run for me, she finished second to a horse that had run a couple of placings in provincial grade and who went on to win his next start as well. That run just about wins this race.”
Newing said it has taken a little while to work out Camp Rifle but the gelding is now heading in the right direction.
“He has gone fantastic at his past two runs.
“He’s a bit of a stress horse so we gave him a trip away to a different environment for a while.
“He has really improved and come home and done even better. I’m thrilled with him.”