Queensland trainers made a statement of their own when stopping the invasion from the southern trainers in its tracks in both the Group 1 Kingsford-Smith Cup (won by the Desleigh Forster trained Apache Chase) and the Group 1 Queensland Oaks (won by the David Vandyke trained Gypsy Goddess).
The message was clear to the marauders from the south … ‘we will not lie down lightly.’ The attitude in that message has been backed by performance as can be seen by the current Group 1 score over the Queensland Winter Carnival which stands at Visitors 3, Queensland 2.
Two more Group 1 races will be decided on Saturday … the Stradbroke Handicap and the J J Atkins.
Desleigh Forster, Mark Currie, Robert Heathcote, Steve Tregea and Tony Gollan, and possibly the Steven O’Dea and Matt Hoysted training partnership (they have the first emergency), are the local trainers looking to again put the visitors on the back foot in the Stradbroke, the carnival’s showpiece event.
Robert Heathcote has the distinction of having qualified three runners for the Stradbroke … the most of any stable.
While Heathcote is upbeat enough about his chances, he is also mindful of the fact that racing can bite back and leave your hopes and ambitions stranded.
“The number of horses you have in the race doesn’t really mean anything unless they race well,” offered Heathcote. “I’ve trained enough feature race winners to know that it is all about performance and not numbers.
“Having said that, I do believe I’m going into the race with three, genuine, live chances.
“There were some gasps of horror when Rothfire drew a wide barrier draw. I actually don’t mind it.
“He is a horse who is very quick. He breaks the gates very well. Tommy Berry can look across and see what is happening. He can see what Buffalo River is doing. He can see what Jimmy Byrne is doing on Apache Chase … and he can decide … no, you are not going fast enough, I’ll cross you … or …yes you are, I’ll sit outside you … or … you are going too fast and I’ll take a trail.
“The perfect scenario for me is that Rothfire will sit outside or trail Buffalo River … and maybe sit outside Apache Chase. I’d like to see Emerald Kingdom tracking in behind those runners. Startantes is going to get back. She will probably have to get on the back of Soxagon or Law Of Indices or one of those horses who can take her into the race. I have told Taylor Marshall (who rides Startantes) just to be patient and to wait for the run to come.”
I’ve got an on-speed horse, a horse that can race just behind the speed and one who can come from behind, so, hopefully I’ve got some bases covered.”
Does Heathcote have any preference between his three runners?
“Rothfire!” That response came without any hesitation.
Bookmakers have the same view with Rothfire quoted at $14. Startantes is $19 while Emerald Kingdom is the outsider of the Heathcote trio at $41.
The betting also shows that Apache Chase at $10 is the leading Queensland contender according to the betting boards.
Should Apache Chase complete the Kingsford-Smith / Stradbroke double for trainer Desleigh Forster and jockey Jim Byrne, it would be a rare feat and you would expect the growing fanbase of Desleigh Forster’s extravagant big race celebrations to be able to witness that emotion being taken to another level.
Trainers Mark Currie (Soxagon), Steve Tregea (Niccanova), Tony Gollan (Isotope) and Steve O’Dea and Matt Hoysted (Scallopini … if they get a run) will also be charging under the Queensland flag. Their presence should not be underestimated.
As the final field of eighteen stands at the moment, visiting trainers have eleven runners while the locals are represented by seven runners.
As Heathcote said though, it is not about the numbers.
Queensland are right in this … and the chances of a Queensland trainer gaining that absolute distinction of winning their state’s biggest is very much in play.
It is going to be a no hold barred contest though and, when the dust has finally settled, the certainly is that the winner will certainly have earned their bragging rights.