Country Star is a five-time winner over 1200m at the Valley.
John Size and his ace Brazilian stable rider (Joao Moreira) will team up with Country Star in Wednesday evening’s penultimate contest at Happy Valley, the Class 2 Grass Island Handicap (1000m).
The three-year-old has enjoyed a fine first season with five wins from nine starts but ran his only below-par race last time when 11th in a 1200m contest on 6 March.
“Last time he raced he got a bit of blood but he’d had a fair bit of racing before that so he was due for a break anyway,” Size said. “He’s had some time off and he looks in good shape.”
Country Star has spent much of this season being trained at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Conghua Racecourse facility, including a three-month span up to 6 June, since when he has had two barrier trials in preparation for his final race this term.
“He’s had two trials at Sha Tin and one in Conghua – the trials have been sound,” Size said. “He’s healthy and well; we’ll go to the races and see if he can keep up with these 1000-metre horses, they’ll be pretty fast for him, but, if he gets a nice trail, he might get home.
“If he can get away with a race like this before the end of the season, that will be a good ending for him. He’s done a lot of work this season and he’s done an excellent job. He’s had time to have a break and have another run so he might as well have it.”
Country Star will step down in distance to 1000m for the first time since his career debut and faces 11 rivals, including the seven-time course and distance winner Moment Of Power who has reached a career peak rating of 94.
Paul O’Sullivan’s charge has won two of his last three starts under 7lb claimer Victor Wong. With that rider on the injured list, Jack Wong is set to takes the reins with his 3lb allowance.
“It’s pretty straightforward, we’ll just go and lead,” Wong said. “Being drawn 10 is ok over 1000 metres at Happy Valley but he is facing some good horses and he has to carry a big weight so it will be a tough race.
“But he’s pretty fit, he has trialled well and he’s a very good horse at this course and distance. Last time he had the benefit of the seven-pound claim so he loses some of that this time.”
True Grit and Joao Moreira are shooting for four in a row together.
John Size is five wins clear in the trainers’ premiership heading into the campaign’s final six meetings but with John Moore packing plenty of ammunition for a grandstand finish, the 10-time champion is looking over his shoulder.
“I certainly don’t feel like a winner at this point because John’s got a lot of horses running well,” Size said at Sha Tin this morning, Tuesday, 25 June.
Their tallies stand at 73 and 68. Both handlers have four runners engaged at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (26 June) and Moore has 16 in the early entries for next Monday’s Sha Tin fixture against Size’s 11. The chaser is set to unleash two of his brightest young talents at the latter meeting – Aethero and Thanks Forever – in a bid to close the gap on Size.
“He’s got some pretty classy gallopers so there’ll be a bit of luck involved in the next six meetings and whoever has the luck will win the championship,” Size observed.
Happy Valley’s midweek fixture sees Size roll the dice again with a smart young prospect of his own. True Grit is set to go in the finale, the Class 3 Cheung Chau Handicap (1650m), seeking a fourth win on the trot.
“He’s rising up in class all the time – it’s a pretty competitive race and there are some nice horses in it. There seems to be quite strong speed in the race so it’ll be a good test,” Size said.
The four-year-old had four runs before hitting the mark over the course and distance back in April and completed the hat-trick at the track and trip late last month. Joao Moreira is seeking to maintain a perfect sequence on the Wanted gelding, who saw off the re-opposing Harmony Hero when scoring last time.
“He’s done everything right, he’s been good and he’s shown some potential,” Size said. “He won his last start a length and a quarter and that was a fairly solid win so he’s probably entitled to run well again.
“At Happy Valley he seems to be running well there since we started racing him, so there’s no need to change at the moment. Eventually he’ll have to come to Sha Tin.”
Wyndspelle winning at Awapuni last November. Photo credit: Race Images
Otaki trainers Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard are hoping to ditch the bridesmaids tag with their consistent galloper Wyndspelle next season. The five-year-old entire recorded two runner-up performances at Group 1 level this season and a further placing in the Group 1 Windsor Park Plate (1600m) in September, and they believe he can breakthrough at elite level next term. “He was triple Group 1 placed, he probably should have won the Anniversary (Group 3, 1600m) as well, he was pretty unlucky,” Benner said. “You can’t complain, although he is not winning, he is still going very well every time he races. “He’s gone pretty close, so hopefully this year he can get one.”
Wyndspelle has returned after spelling since his runner-up performance to Melody Belle in the Group 1 Haunui Farm WFA Group 1 Classic (1600m) on his home track in February, and the son of Iffraaj is being set to take a similar path next season. “He is back in work, he returned to the stable in late May. He looks sensational and he is happy to be back,” Benner said. “He will follow a similar path (to last year), he will go to the first two Group 1s at Hawke’s Bay, all going well, and we will just go from there.”
Benner and Wynyard are enjoying their busiest season to date, with nearly twice as many starts as last season. They have been rewarded with 15 wins, their highest season tally, and are enjoying operating out of their Otaki barn. “We are chipping away and have a few more horses around us now, we have had an okay season so far,” Benner said. “We trade a few horses too along the way, so you find a lot of your better ones leave the stable, but that’s the only way to get ahead. “We always try to work around 20. We have pretty much got Otaki racecourse to ourselves, it’s a nice little set-up, nice and quiet. “We have got good facilities and have the beach nearby too, and it seems to be working well.”
Benner is looking forward to next season and is hoping they can uncover another young star. “Wyndspelle is the marquee horse of the stable at the moment,” he said. “We will see how the season goes, you never really know where the next one is coming from.”
Te Akau Shark winning the Gr.2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m). Photo credit: Race Images South
The Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) has been a long held ambition for connections of dual Group winner Te Akau Shark, but the Jamie Richards-trained runner is being set for another Group One target before he heads to Melbourne. The four-year-old son of Rip Van Winkle drew gasps from the crowd when winning the Group 2 Coupland’s Bakeries Mile (1600m) by six lengths in November and the exciting galloper is being set for a big spring.
Te Akau Shark was given a lengthy spell after pulling up with a few soreness issues after his Riccarton triumph and Te Akau Principal David Ellis said his team is pleased with what they have seen since his return last month. “We gave him a long spell through the summer and autumn,” Ellis said. “He had his first bit of three-quarter pace last Saturday morning and Jamie Richards is really happy with the way he is coming to hand. “I think he has just matured and strengthened a little bit (since last year). I was over at the stable in Matamata on Monday and he certainly is a very happy horse and is hitting out pretty freely, which is the most important thing with him.”
A large contingent of his owners hail from Sydney, including Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks captain Paul Gallen, and they will likely get a chance see their horse in action in the Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Randwick in September. “We would love to win a race like the Epsom on the way to the Cox Plate,” Ellis said. “It is a pretty exciting time. He is owned by a lot of the boys from the Cronulla Sharks in Sydney, so they are pretty excited that we are bringing him to Sydney first. “I think he would be really well weighted in an Epsom Handicap. We would probably give him two runs before the Epsom and then straight from the Epsom into the Cox Plate.”
Ellis believes Te Akau Shark is well suited to the month break between the two runs. “He’s a pretty clean-winded horse and doesn’t seem to need a lot of work,” he said. “When he won his last start he went five weeks between races, from 1400m to 1600m, and he seems to enjoy that.”
Ellis purchased Te Akau Shark out of Lyndhurst Farm’s 2016 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready to Run Sale draft for $230,000 and he has been impressed with the gelding from the very beginning. “He has only been beaten once and he has shown a lot from day one,” Ellis said.
One More Try (r) will be accepted in two cities with trainer Matt Cumani to weight up the fields.
Ballarat trainer Matt Cumani is keeping his options open with four-year-old mare One More Try who is nominated for races in two states.
One More Try is entered for the 1800m-handicap at Caulfield on Saturday and also the Kensei Handicap (2000m) at Rosehill.
Cumani indicated it was more likely One More Try would remain in Victoria to run at Caulfield but said they may well accept in both races on Wednesday morning.
“Sydney looks like it might be quite weak, the problem is obviously the travel,” Cumani said.
“I’m not afraid to run her against good horses down here but we’ll just keep an open mind until tomorrow afternoon probably.”
Melbourne’s premier jockey Craig Williams has been booked for the ride should One More Try take her place at Caulfield, while Cumani said no jockey had been locked in for the Sydney race.
One More Try has won five of her 12 starts highlighted by a 1700m handicap for mares on Melbourne Cup day at Flemington last year.
After an unplaced run over 1400m at Flemington in her return from a spell last month, One More Try stepped up to 1800m at Flemington at her most recent start on June 8 and finished second, beaten 2-3/4-lengths by Dr Drill who is among the nominations for Saturday’s Caulfield race.
Dr Drill led at Flemington and kicked away strongly in the home straight while One More Try, who sat behind the leader, beat the third placegetter Masculino by 3-1/4-lengths.
Cumani is expecting another good showing from One More Try, regardless of where she races on Saturday.
“I’m really happy with her,” Cumani said.
“I thought it was a great run last time. I just think the other horse is probably quite good and also just got a little bit of a run on us.
“I think she’ll put in a really good effort and she’s a tough, genuine mare.
“I think she’ll keep progressing through the grades.”
Cumani is hopeful of a really good showing from lightly raced Doroza in a 2000m-handicap for three-year-olds at Caulfield, with the colt’s performance likely to determine whether he presses on to the Mahogany Challenge Final (2500m) a week later.
Te Akau Shark, part-owned by Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen, is gearing up for the Cox Plate.
Leading Cox Plate contender Te Akau Shark is progressing well in his New Zealand stable as he is prepared for his Australian campaign.
He will be aimed at the Epsom Handicap on October 5, the day before the NRL grand final which may or may not be a cause for celebration for his part-owner, Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen, with his team currently seventh on the ladder.
Another of his owners, Te Akau Stud principal David Ellis, said the four-year-old was in fine shape after his last campaign ended when he showed signs of general soreness.
“We gave him a long spell through the summer and autumn,” Ellis told Sky Sports Radio.
“He had his first bit of three-quarter pace last Saturday morning and (trainer) Jamie Richards is really happy with the way he is coming to hand.
“I think he has just matured and strengthened a little bit. I was over at the stable in Matamata on Monday and he certainly is a very happy horse and is hitting out pretty freely, which is the most important thing with him.”
“We would love to win a race like the Epsom on the way to the Cox Plate,” Ellis said.
“I think he would be really well weighted in an Epsom Handicap. We would probably give him two runs before the Epsom and then straight from the Epsom into the Cox Plate.”
Te Akau Shark is a $15 Epsom chance with the TAB and on the fourth line of betting at $11 for the Cox Plate on October 26 behind Mystic Journey ($4), Avilius ($6) and Almond Eye ($8).
The gelding has won five of his six starts from 1100m to 1600m.
Toowoomba trainer Ben Currie has been charged with fraud over performance enhancing drugs.
Queensland’s most successful trainer of winners this season, Ben Currie, has been charged with fraud involving allegations he used performance enhancing drugs to win prize money.
It is believed to be the first time since the late Hayden Haitana in 1985 was charged with fraud out of the Fine Cotton substitution case a Queensland trainer has faced the charge when it involved the results of races.
The Toowoomba-based Currie is currently serving seven-and-a-half years disqualification imposed by racing authorities on multiple charges ranging from race day treatments, to positive swabs, to cocaine and improper conduct.
He is seeking internal reviews or appealing those convictions but faces a further 20 charges before racing stewards.
Currie is still the leading trainer on winners in Queensland but several of those winners face disqualification.
Queensland Police released a statement on Tuesday afternoon saying a 28-year-old Toowoomba man had been charged following a 14-month long investigation by officers from the QPS Queensland Racing Crime Squad.
‘It is alleged the offender has engaged in systematic fraudulent behaviour over a period from November 2016 to March 2019 where he has sourced and administered unregulated horse supplements designed to enhance race performance in a manner to circumvent current testing methodology in Queensland thoroughbred racing,” the statement said.
The statement continued as a result, it is further alleged the offender has dishonestly gained a benefit through entitlement to prize money distributed by Racing Queensland for thoroughbred races in Queensland over that time.
It further read the man has been charged with one count of aggravated fraud (Criminal Code) and has been bailed to appear in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court July 15, 2019.
Currie’s barrister, Jim Murdoch, said he was in no position to make any comment.
Spokespeople for the Queensland Racing Integrity Commission and RQ said they were aware of the arrest but could not comment at this stage.
RQ chief executive Brendan Parnell has announced prize money increases for the northern carnival.
Racing Queensland is hoping to attract record numbers of visiting trainers from southern Queensland and NSW after a major boost to prize money for its northern carnival this year.
The carnival was launched in Townsville on Tuesday and RQ is hoping it will be the start of a record year on several fronts.
The winter northern circuit was once popular with southern trainers but the number of visitors has dropped away with static prize money.
The 2019 Northern Queensland Winter Racing Carnival will start in Rockhampton next week with a record $2.7 million on offer throughout the campaign.
Running from July 5 to September 14, the three-month carnival has been bolstered with an additional $250,000 for the five Cup races held across Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns and FNQ Amateurs, ensuring each of the staying features now carries $150,000.
In addition, the TAB Queensland Northern Crowns Series provides up to $350,000 in bonuses for any sprinter or stayer that can secure three of the five respective features held throughout the carnival.
RQ chief executive Brendan Parnell said there had already been increased interest in the carnival from southern Queensland and NSW trainers.
“This year we’ve made a conscious decision to bolster the prize money for our Cups, while continuing the popular Northern Crowns series,” he said.
“Thanks to the support of the Queensland government, we’ve also been able to implement significant prize money increases over the past eight months for northern provincial showcase meetings (36 per cent), standard meetings (21 per cent) and Saturday provincial (2) meetings (25 per cent).”
First introduced in 2018, the Northern Crowns Series offers a $150,000 bonus to any horse that can secure three of the five staying races – the bonus swells to $200,000 should one of the three wins include the FNQ Amateurs Cup on September 14.
The incentive scheme is mirrored for sprinters with a $100,000 bonus initially on offer, which rises to $150,000 if victory includes the Cairns Amateurs Open Sprint.
In addition to the staying races, the Rockhampton Newmarket Handicap and Townsville’s Cleveland Bay will be run as $100,000 features this year, while the Mackay Newmarket will boast $75,000.
The Cairns Newmarket and Cairns Amateurs Open Sprint both rise to $75,000 in further prize money increases.