They'RE travelled far and wide since mid-February but all roads this Saturday – barring the usual traffic snarls – will lead to NSW’s headquarters of horse racing, Royal Randwick.
The Country Championships final run this weekend brings a massive $400,000 in prize money to the table for country-trained gallopers.
The first qualifier at Scone in February saw Clearly Innocent burst into contention and become the first ‘ticketholder’ to the final.
This big, strapping chestnut is a horse that will go onto much bigger things on racing’s stage and it’s pertinent that many weeks on, that same horse – installed as TAB’s $3.50 favourite for the final back then – still holds clear favouritism for the rich race, now at $2.30.
Trained at Scone by the Akubra-wearing Greg Bennett, Clearly Innocent had a ‘pipe-opener’ at Scone last week, sizzling down the outside to score with consummate ease from a strong line-up that included his stablemate and runner-up All Summer Long, himself a Randwick winner.
“Obviously the 1100-metres [at Scone] was not going to suit him as much as the 1400-metres will at Randwick so it was a very satisfying win,” Bennett said. “The horse is right where we want him and will be cherry ripe on final day.”
Bennett said Clearly Innocent is a horse that impressed him from day one: “I’ve always liked him, but funny thing I don’t think he’s ever gone through all his gears; and there are plenty of them.
“He was one of those horses that took a bit of time because he had issues as a young horse but he’s now a lovely strong type.”
Clearly Innocent will be partnered by Tommy Berry in the 16-horse final.
One of the last horses to qualify for the Country Championships final was Something Borrowed who saluted at Dubbo.
Trained by Justin Stanley, Something Borrowed scored by half a length from the fast-finishing roughie, Not a Shadow. Attending Dubbo’s race day was NSW’s Racing Minister and Deputy Premier, Troy Grant, a local boy.
“The country has been crying out for a showpiece event such as the Country Championships,” Mr Grant said. “There’s so much competition on the entertainment front and people are looking for something of quality and I think that is what The Championships brings.
“Last week at Wellington we saw the biggest crowd ever at a Country Championship qualifier — there was around 6000 people.”
This preview of The Championships is brought to you by Racing NSW. Mark Brassel writes for Racing NSW Magazine, racingnsw.com.au and thechampionships.com.au