Southern raiders chasing Rocky Carnival riches
IT'S time for Rockhampton-trained horses to step-up if they are to stop the southern raiders taking home the big prize money on offer over the 2015 XXXX Gold Winter Racing Carnival.
Friday's Cambridge Hotel/Motel Tattersall's Sprint Open Handicap (1200m) at Callaghan Park carries a $25,000 prize purse and is a traditional lead-up to the XXXX Gold Rockhampton Newmarket (1300m) on June 18 - a feature race which has this year been boosted to $100,000 prize money, up from $75,000.
One of the main contenders in the Tatt's Sprint is Sporting Page, a six-year-old gelding trained at the Sunshine Coast by Pat Donnollan.
Donnollan has based himself and his galloper at Rockhampton for the winter as he eyes the feature races over the local carnival.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing to date for the trainer.
Sporting Page missed a run when scratched from the Rockhampton races on April 30 due to a rain-affected track and at Mackay on May 23 he lost rider Jeff Felix shortly after the start.
After viewing patrol films, stewards that day established that as the start was effected Sporting Page knuckled, resulting in the jockey being dislodged and the gelding was not denied a fair start.
It was another hiccup Donnollan could have done without but it's something he's getting used to.
"Last year I came up here for the Tatt's Sprint and then he (Sporting Page) got a stone bruise and I had to go home because he got an infection in it," the trainer recalled.
Donnollan is not altering his plans with Sporting Page who'll head to the Newmarket after the Tatt's Sprint all going well.
"The horse has pulled up fine (from Mackay) but I wanted those runs before the Newmarket," Donnollan said.
"I was thinking of sneaking another run into him but he's a horse you can't push so I'll just stick to the plan."
Donnollan said Sporting Page was a "good doer" and his track work recently had impressed.
Sporting Page, a winner of 10 races from 21 starts and stakes earner of almost $140,000 carries the top weight of 59.5kg in the Tatt's Sprint.
Among his main challengers on Friday will be the Bill Kenning-trained Hotel Paradiso.
The Townsville trainer has been based in Rockhampton for some months while his home track is out of action and during that time he has enjoyed good success training eight winners at Callaghan Park.
Hotel Paradiso has won three of those races - his only unplaced Callaghan Park run this campaign coming last time out on May 9 when he finished seventh behind the in-form Playtime.
Rockhampton's Lyle Rowe, who leads the local trainers' premiership with 19 winners this season, is represented in the Tatt's Sprint by Mythologist.
Group 1 winning trainer, the Sunshine Coast's Natalie McCall, has Not Too Sure in the race who has solid southern form and wasn't disgraced last start in the Listed Glasshouse Handicap (1300m).
Meanwhile Saturday's (June 6) $25,000 DLV Finance Tattersall's Gold Cup Open Handicap (1600m) is a key lead-up to the $100,000 Advanced Exhausts Rockhampton Cup (1600m) on June 20.
Rockhampton horse Vandalised won both the Tatts Cup and Rocky Cup last year and trainer Jamie McConachy has nominated him in this Saturday's race.
But unlike last year, Vandalised is not the horse on everybody's lips heading into the Winter features.
The horse-of-the-moment is Bundaberg galloper Victory Hotel, trained by Darryl Gardiner, who is also nominated for Saturday's Tatt's Cup.
With an overall race record of seven wins from 14 career starts, the four-year-old gelding is unbeaten in two Callaghan Park runs this preparation - the last of those on May 9 being over the Cups distance of 1600m.
"He's a very good horse and we hope he can go all the way and win the Rocky Cup," Gardiner said.
"He's a horse that's bred to go no further than 1800m to 2000m so the mile isn't a problem and it won't be a problem.
"He's a pretty easy horse to train - he's just a good horse in Central Queensland."
Last start Callaghan Park winner, the John Pointon-trained Rockhampton galloper Casino Benjo will be looking to get one up on Victory Hotel in the Tatt's Cup on Saturday ahead of a likely clash in the Rocky Cup.
"I think there's a good bit of improvement to come from our horse," Pointon said.
Sunshine Coast trainers Garnett Taylor and Krystle Johnston have nominated Billy Da Boss and Craiglea Falcon respectively while Toowoomba's Steve Tregea may bring Mac's Addiction north for a crack at the Tatt's Cup.