Leading Northern Rivers trainer Matt Dunn has celebrated country racing’s biggest prize by the smallest of margins with Gracie Belle at Randwick.
A $21 chance in Saturday’s $400,000 Country Championship Final, Gracie Belle put her nose down on the line under hard riding by Kerrin McEvoy to get the decision over Al Mah Haha by a short head.
In a season that has already brought drought, fire and floods to country NSW, the final at Randwick was held under exceptional conditions with no crowds for the flagship autumn carnival meeting because of coronavirus protocols.
Dunn’s wife Keira was the only person from the stable there to cheer on Gracie Belle, who qualified by running second in the heat at Grafton.
But she was not completely alone.
“It’s super special. Every country trainer that just walked past me said congratulations and that’s so much about what we are about,” Dunn said.
“It’s a great community. We’re proud to be in the country and it’s just a huge effort by everyone in the stable.
“It’s a huge thing to be here, to be racing, and especially to get a win.”
Dunn said the wet track was also an advantage for Gracie Belle.
“She gets through it really well,” she said.
“This morning when I rang Matt and said it’s raining still he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s fine’, so he definitely grew in confidence.
“It’s a real shame he can’t be here today but obviously with the restrictions on travel he can’t be here.”
McEvoy was confident he had nailed the finish over the Tash Burleigh-trained Al Mah Haha, who made amends for being scratched at the barrier a year ago.
“I was happy over the last 100 yards. Admittedly it wasn’t a big margin but she’s been running well in races up in the northern part of the state,” he said.
“She has got here today and enjoyed the ground. That ruled a few of them out.”
McEvoy has ridden all over the world but said the series and the final was a boost for grass-roots racing.
“It is a great initiative for everyone involved in the country and provincial regions,” he said.
“It is what they really look forward to. I am really thrilled to have won one for Matty Dunn and his team.”