THERE has been drama in the lead up to the $400,000 Country Championships with Scone trainer Greg Bennett having to scratch one of his favourites and leading contender Clearly Innocent battling injury.
Bennett had two of the favourites for the event, Clearly Innocent and All Summer Long, and on Friday morning it was revealed both were battling stone bruises in their off fore hooves.
Then late Friday afternoon it was announced All Summer Long had been withdrawn from the Country Championship Final.
That came as a huge blow to Bennett, who had high hopes of a one-two finish in Saturday's rich event. There remains the chance Bennett could go from two to zero competitors in the race with Clearly Innocent having improved throughout Friday but still battling injury.Bennett also reported to stewards on Friday that following the removal of the off fore shoe on Friday morning his condition improved.
Stewards then gave Bennett approval for Clearly Innocent to race in bar shoes in front in the Country Championships Final.
Clearly Innocent, who was paying $2.60 yesterday afternoon, has been the favourite for the Final ever since he won the Hunter and North Western Districts Qualifier on his home track at Scone on February 21.He followed that up with a dominant win at the same track on March 22.
With All Summer Long having been scratched, Rodney Northam's emergency After All That has been promoted to the starting field.
James McDonald, who had been scheduled to ride All Summer Long, will now sit in the saddle for Northam. Late on Friday afternoon Clearly Innocent remained the clear favourite for the race. Lofty's Menu, who won the South East Qualifier at Goulburn, was second in the betting at $4 while Pera Pera, the Mudgee based horse who won at Wellington, was next best at $17.
Dubbo's two hopes, Something Borrowed and Not A Shadow, are big outsiders at the respective odds of $101 and $126.