Country Race Day at Flemington
Racing at Flemington on Saturday was a celebration of the contribution that country racing has made to the industry.
With 54 provincial and country clubs scattered around Victoria, the VRC Country Race Day provides an opportunity for those clubs and members to meet at one central location – Flemington.
Benalla-based trainer Wayne Nichols was honoured as the Australian Trainers’ Association, Country Racing Victoria and Victoria Racing Club’s Country Achiever for 2023.
Also celebrated were former past members of the VRC executive including former secretaries Rod Johnson and Murray Cox, chief executive Brian Beattie, chairman David Bourke along with committee members Bruce Gadsden, Sir Henry Bolte and Ken Cox.
Racing was conducted under fine skies with a strong tail wind which kept the weather cool, but in a rarity for Victorian racing during the winter the track was upgraded for a Good 4 to a Good 3 after race seven.
Three from three for Steparty
Trainer Paul Preusker and jockey Dean Yendall both expect Steparty to rise to a far greater level after keeping his winning record intact.
After wins at Ballarat and Flemington, Steparty stepped out to 1420m to claim the Rod Johnson Handicap after showing an explosive turn of foot soon after turning for home.
Preusker said Steparty was unlikely to return for the Listed Taj Rossi Final on July 1, instead preferring to give the colt a break to concentrate on richer spring assignments which could include the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas in October.
Yendall went a step further saying the 2040m of Group 1 Cox Plate at Moonee Valley could be a suitable race declaring the colt as potentially the best horse he has ridden.
Winter Championship Final an Option for Moroney mare
The Mike Moroney-trained Not An Option earned herself a soft at the Listed VRC-CRV Winter Championship Final with his win in the Brian Beattie Handicap (1420m).
Not An Option appreciated getting on top of the ground after a disappointing effort I n the Group 1 The Goodwood (1200m) at Morphettville last month.
Moroney said he would discuss options with connections of the gelding and whether they would like to give him a short at 1600m.
“He had been placed at a mile before I got him. He’s a nice horse but just needs things going his way,” Moroney said.
Double up for Hefel
Carleen Hefel joined fellow apprentice Celine Gaudrey at the top of the Melbourne Apprentices’ Title with her double.
After winning aboard the Peter Moody Sigh in the 2023 Country Achiever Wayne Nichols, Hefel had to overcome a tricky drawn aboard Unusual Culture in the David Bourke Handicap (1620m) to claim victory.
“From that gate it could go horribly wrong, or it could go perfect, and luckily everything worked out just how we wanted it,” Hefel said.
“She’s a lovely mare and today was probably the best she has felt for me.”
Jack Turnbull, deputising for Ciaron Maher and David Eustace who are in the UK preparing Coolangatta for the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot on Tuesday, said Unusual Culture was now likely to head to the Listed VRC-CRV Winter Championship Final at Flemington on July 1.
Harry has soft spot for Port Guillaume
Jockey Harry Coffey has always had a soft spot for the Ben and J D Hayes-trained Port Guillaume who registered his first Australian flat win when successful in the Murray Cox Handicap.
Purchased from France as a potential spring contender, Port Guillaume has had a number of problems since joining Lindsay Park before eventually finding his way over jumps, registering a win over hurdles at Ballarat last August.
Port Guillaume ran in the 2021 Melbourne Cup, finishing 21st behind Verry Elleegant.
“He’s got ability, but he needs everything to pan out his way because he is a bit of an old thinker,” Coffey said.
“I said to J D that I nearly rode him then as I did in the Melbourne Cup, but there was a lot of difference in the finishing positions.
“To be fair he’s a pretty special horse. I got to have my first Melbourne Cup ride and even though he went terrible, it was good to get a win on him today.”
J D Hayes said Port Guillaume was unlikely to record to Flemington for the final of the Banjo Paterson Series at Flemington on July 1 with a planned return to hurdling coming up.
Ton up for Prime and Payne
Prime Thoroughbreds principal Joe O’Neill and trainer Patrick Payne have continued their successful association with Seonee taking out the Bruce Gadsden Handicap (1420m).
The Devil In Her notched the pair’s 100th winner together at Tatura on Friday and O’Neill said Seonee’s win on Saturday was the pair eighth winner since May 29.
“He’s done a fabulous job for us,” O’Neill said.
“I spoke to him in 2013 and I said, ‘can you train two-year-olds' and he said, ‘of-course I can’.
“I bought him Husson Eagle, and he won $1 million, and I think we have spent $2 million on 31 horses and won $8 million in prize money.”
O’Neill said Seonee, a winner of six of her 16 starts, was still 12 months away from reaching her full potential.
“I think at the Sydney Carnival next year, she could be a player as she loves wet tracks,” O’Neill said.
“We have to get her rating up to run in the better mares’ races.”
O’Neill said Seonee may return to Flemington on July 1 for the final of the Leilani Series, but added he would not be surprised if Payne recommended a short break to prepare for the early spring mares’ races.
WA youngster lands first Flemington win
West Australian apprentice Luke Campbell crossed the Nullarbor with high expectations, but it took until the win of First Immortal in the Sir Henry Bolte Handicap (2000m) to land his first Melbourne winner.
It was on the recommendation of champion jockey Damien Oliver that Campbell try his luck in Melbourne, and he made the trip over last month.
Campbell has now ridden 80 winners in his brief career, but his first thoughts were for Linda Meech who had a fall with Bitcoin near the 100m mark.
Campbell said it was a big thrill to finally land his first winner in Melbourne.
“It has taken me a while to ride a city winner here, especially coming from WA where I was riding a winner nearly every Saturday,” Campbell said.
“To be able to come here and stick it out and persist, to get the job done at Flemington is a terrific thrill.”
First Immortal registered his second 2000m victory at Flemington for Mark and Levi Kavanagh.
Levi Kavanagh said the stable will now see how the gelding comes through Saturday’s victory, before deciding whether to return for the final of the Mahogany Series (2500m) at Flemington on July 1.