A LATE rally to qualify for a place in the $150,000 Mid North Coast heat of the Newhaven Park Country Championships at Manning Valley Race Club's rich meeting on Sunday was staged at the club's meeting on Friday.
The "Showcase" eight-race card boasts a record $370,000 prizemoney and local trainers on Friday signalled that they want part of the "action"--hoping to entice a similar bumper crowd that flocked to the Bushland Drive Racecourse for the first qualifier in 2016, it being won by Another Valley, trained locally by Bob Milligan.
The feature Tabcorp Benchmark 66 Handicap over 1250m was won on Friday by four-year-old gelding Tupou ($11), trained for its second win in a row by Newcastle's Paul Perry and aided by a three kilo claim by apprentice jockey Benjamin Osmond.
It led all the way to score by just under a length from gallant Taree gelding Imatruestar ($1.70) which has been set for the qualifier by Taree trainer Grant Jobson.
It should be joined in the heat on Sunday by Milligan's Being Naughty ($9) which will be better suited by the 1400m after finishing fourth.
Jobson said Imatruestar's win at Taree at its previous start was impressive and he hopes his charge will "switch on" for the qualifier.
Tupou was placed to advantage in getting 4.5kgs relief off Imatruestar to make it four wins and four placings from 15 starts.\par
It was a good meeting for Mid North Coast gallopers, Taree winning three races and Port Macquarie one.
Former top Port jockey Peter Graham, now a trainer as he mends from injury suffered two years ago, has made a belated run to qualify by having four-year-old gelding Gold Card ($12) winning its past two races with his daughter Cejay in the saddle.
Gold Card led in the Saxbys Soft Drink Class 1 Handicap over 1250m to score by just over a half-length from $1.80 favourite Reggie's Boy, trained at Gosford by Angela Davies.
"Cejay took the initiative to lead even though I have been teaching my horse to settle," the trainer said.
"It was a nice ride," Cejay said Gold Card showed he is versatile...it was a solid effort."
Dad piped in: "I was thinking of making a comeback but I won't have to while Cejay is riding winners.
He hopes the win will elevate Gold Card to a place in the heat.
Six-year-old gelding Clay Pan Boogie ($6.50), trained at Taree by Joe Burges and ridden by Grant Buckley, settled just behind the pace early but when opened up it scored by 1.5 lengths in the Kennards Hire Taree Benchmark 58 Handicap over 1600m.
Burges said his charge "found a good spot" then looked like a spider with big legs" when going to the lead on entering the straight.
"He is still learning...I am stoked," he added.
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Biggest win of the day was by Taree three-year-old gelding Super Bonus ($19) in the De Bortoli Wines Maiden Handicap over 1250m,it trained by Joel and Wayne Wilkes and ridden by Adrian Layt.
It led all the way to score by just over two lengths in a gallop said by Joel Wilkes as being "a big improvement.
"He just kept going but he has shown ability at home."
Taree hobby trainer Trent Potts and Port jockey Ben Looker combined to give five-year-old gelding Prince Of Trust ($16 to $9) its first win in two years of having a trainer's licence in the Tooheys New Maiden Handicap over 1000m.
It settled sixth before taking the lead on the good rated track to score by a half-length from $1.40 favourite Pressita, trained at Port by Neil Godbolt and ridden by Andrew Adkins.
Favourite punters were on good terms when four-year-old mare, $1.50 shot, Yes You Think bounded away for just over a three lengths win for Gosford trainer Angela Davies and jockey Andrew Gibbons in the RHMCE Maiden Plate over 1400m.
"I fiddled around with her gear (tongue-tie and visors on), got her breathing and mind right..she's maturing," Davies said.
Another leader, four-year-old mare Apalala ($4.80), trained at Coffs Harbour by Sally Taylor and ridden by Digger McLellan, scored by just under a length in the Horsepower Class 2 Handicap over 2000m.
"She was a hot head but now she has her head screwed on and she tries hard," Taylor said.
Former top Port Macquarie apprentice jockey Andrew Adkins, now a senior Sydney rider, had to wait until the last race, the XXXX Gold Class 11 & Maiden Plate over 1600m, to grab his first win at the meeting by a nose with mare Millenium Jewel ($10), trained at Wyong by Nathan Doyle.
"I thought she was gone entering the straight...she has a big heart," he said
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