VEGA de Lago was bought as a Country Championship horse but just failed to measure up.
Instead, the six-year-old bay gelding, a son of Lope de Vega, will run in Friday’s $50,000 Akubra Quirindi Showcase Cup (1600m).
It will be just his second run at his new home track but his trainer, Geoff O’Brien, believes he will fare better than his performance on debut at Quirindi, when he finished 10th to Akasaki in the 1100m Lightning Handicap at last year's Cup meeting.
He was beaten by six lengths that day but all his other runs, bar on, a nine-length blowout in the 1400m Inverell Cup on January 1, have been fair efforts.
“That was the only blot on his copybook for us,” O’Brien said. “He got beat nine lengths. All his other runs he’s been beaten four lengths or less, for us.”
In Vega de Lago's most recent start, at Muswellbrook on January 29, he secured his first win since moving to his new stable about 18 months ago.
Bought as a Country Championships prospect out of Victoria, he has never been far away - other than his home horror run.
“That was the original plan, the Country Championships,” O’Brien said. “Just could quite get that extra length or so [out of the horse]. He hasn’t had much luck, either, but you never do when you come from behind.”
Second last most of the way at Muswellbrook’s Skellatar Park last start, apprentice jockey Reece Jones skirted back to the inside to secure a run with the cutaway rail, and skate to victory. “He was overdue for a win,” O’Brien said. “Hasn’t had any easy runs though.”
Vega de Lago carried 57.5kg, after Reece Jones’ 3kg claim, at Muswellbrook - and will carry 54kg in Friday’s Cup.
He will also carry Greg Ryan, the leading Hunter and North West Racing Association jockey.
In more Cup news, Tamworth trainer Troy O’Neile has nominated Onemorechoice and Fields Of Red for the $35,000 River Ridge 2YO Showcase Handicap (1000m) and thinks both are good chances.
“I’d love to win the River Ridge,” O’Neile said of a race named after one of the best country sprinters with a phenomenal record. My uncle, Geoff Smith, used to train River Ridge. My mum used to strap him and she works at my stable now as well.”
Onemorechoice is a last-start winner - successful at Tamworth last month after finishing eighth on debut to Deviate at Scone. The bay gelding son of Onemorenomore impressed at Tamworth, where his stablemate, Fields Of Red, a chestnut gelding son of Deep Field, was 11th.
“Both have come on really well from Tamworth,” O’Neile said.
“They’ve had a little bit of work to get ready for this race. There are quite a few first starters in it, whereas mine have a bit of race experience."
In the Cup, O'Neile has entered Bianbitten,a six-year-old daughter of Sharkbite.
Bianbitten has won just the one race in 30 starts but races well at Quirindi and over 1600m Cup distance.