One of country racing’s feelgood stories will feature on its biggest stage yet, when Tamworth trainer Melanie O’Gorman and Suncraze take on The Kosciuszko at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
But the odds of the five-year-old gelding supplying O’Gorman with her fourth metropolitan win (the previous three have come from him) in the inaugural $1.3 million race over 1200m are, according to the bookies and the trainer herself, not good.
With the track expected to be heavy on Saturday, following a week of rain in Sydney (more rain is forecast for race day), the popular O’Gorman doubts her dream horse will deliver a dream result.
In my favour is he does like Randwick. But I honestly couldn’t guarantee any performance if it’s very wet.
As of early Friday afternoon, Suncraze was on the eighth line of TAB betting, in a field of 16, paying $21 for the win.
That is despite him winning twice at Royal Randwick, including his breakthrough metro triumph – and O’Gorman’s too – in a Highway Handicap on July 22 last year. The win ended a run of six straight second-place finishes.
O’Gorman said: “I’ve got him in good shape and he’s settled in well here in Sydney … and everything’s going along well. I’m just worried about the rain, really … At this stage I'm worried that it’s gonna be a heavy track. So that’s out of my control.”
She added: “I thought he liked the wet … But I took him to Rosehill first up this preparation over 1100 [metres]. And I felt he was in great shape for the race. But it was a very wet track that day and he ran last. He just followed them around. He couldn’t handle it at all.”
The following Saturday, in a benchmark 88 handicap over 1200m on a good surface at Randwick, he finished third – a length behind winner Trekking. Trekking then went to Melbourne and won a stakes race.
Corey Brown, who has ridden Suncraze for two of the horse’s metro wins, will steer him on Saturday. The horse has five wins, seven seconds and a third in 16 starts, for more than $312,000 in prize money.
The Kosciuszko is a sweeps concept and is part of The Everest mega meeting. Each of the 12 winning ticket-holders earned an entry in the race and selected a NSW country-trained horse to race, subject to agreeing with the horse's owner(s) how any prize money would be shared.
O’Gorman had three syndicates contact her the day after Suncraze’s third place at Randwick on September 15. She said the second syndicate, which consists of friends from Dorrigo, was “very keen to do the deal” with Suncraze’s owner, Anthony Gow-Gates.
Gow-Gates, she said, offered the syndicate “very generous terms” and a deal was struck that same day.
O’Gorman described the concept as “brilliant”. “I really hope it’s here to stay. It’s such a boost to country racing. And it should be a great help to country trainers, giving owners more incentive to leave their good horses in the country and to have a good horse with a country trainer.”
She said concepts like The Kosciuszko, the Country Championships and the Highway Handicaps “helped someone like myself keep a horse like Suncraze in my stable, because it’s provided so many city opportunities for him”.
Following The Kosciuszko, O’Gorman wants Suncraze to tackle longer distances – 1400m first and then the mile. “I’m really looking forward to seeing him when it gets to a mile,” she said, adding that the horse was “definitely worthy” of a start in The Kosciuszko.
The Monstar, trained by Scone-based Brett Cavanough, is third favourite for The Kosciuszko, at $5 for the win.
After All That, trained by Scone’s Rod Northam, is fourth favourite ($8 the win), behind favouriite Victorem ($4 the win).