Hellenism may be the raging $3.40 favourite for the $150,000 Country Championships Qualifier (1420m) at Grafton but trainer Aiden St Vincent has concerns despite her red-hot form.
That’s due to the change in venue and date of Thursday’s race, which was scheduled for last Saturday at Coffs Harbour before being moved to Tuesday and then to Thursday because of wet weather.
The four-year-old has been to Grafton once for a third placing but St Vincent thinks her chances aren’t as good as they would have been on her home track.
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Hellenism has won two from two this campaign, including a last-start win in a TAB Highway at Randwick. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“I have lost a little confidence, for sure,” he said.
“I’m not worried about her fitness. Mentally, I am a little because I don’t race her or gallop her much and considering she’s lightly raced, it’s just her head space I’d be worried about.
“When the rail is out at Grafton the races aren’t suited to every horse. I’m just hoping it is for mine. We’re on target but I haven’t been able to gallop her since last Tuesday. I was very happy with that gallop, though.”
Every horse is in the same boat preparation-wise but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily coming into today’s event on an even playing field.
“Some horses need a gallop two days before a race and some don’t,” St Vincent said. “This will be an advantage for some and I’m hoping we’re one of those ones.
MATT JONES’S TOP PICKS
BEST BET: GRACIE BELLE (Race 8, No.2)
Go back to her run two starts ago and you will see why Matthew Dunn loved her so much. She has a very good turn of foot and might just have the class edge on her rivals.
NEXT BEST: MALAWI GOLD (Race 6, No.3)
He’s only won once from 15 starts but has run a place seven times and looks ready to win again after two seconds leading into this.
VALUE: QUARTER CHARGE (Race 7, No.3)
He flashed home late over 1100m last start and needs more ground, which he gets here. This is his chance to break through.
LATEST BETTING: TAB FIXED ODDS
Race 7: 1, 3, 5, 7
Race 8: 2, 3, 6, 12
Race 9: 2, 5, 6, 7
Race 10: 2, 5, 10, 14
TRAINER TO WATCH
MATTHEW DUNN has a stack of runners competing here. He also has a huge hand in the Country Championships Qualifier with Gracie Belle. Expect him to do well in other races, though.
JOCKEY TO WATCH
BEN LOOKER has some big rides, including Country Championships favourite Hellenism, Firefly Poppy and Thousand Island.
SCROLL DOWN FOR MATT’S EXTENDED PREVIEW & TIPS
Ben Looker has the ride on race favourite Hellenism in the Country Championships Qualifier at Grafton. Picture: AAPSource:AAP
“In those regards it hasn’t been ideal but it’s been the same with every horse. I just hope she’s as switched on as she has been in other runs.
“I’m confident in the horse’s ability. There’s no doubt about that.”
Hellenism has been made favourite thanks to her stunning 11th-to-first performance in a Highway race at Randwick last start over 1100m.
She has also won three of her first five starts and placed the other two times.
St Vincent has booked Ben Looker for the ride and he will jump her out of barrier 11, which might not be too bad on the rain-affected track.
“The rail being out 4.5m really does change the dynamics of the race but usually we just let her be where she’s comfortable and hopefully that’s midfield,” St Vincent said.
“I’ve galloped her on a wet track but the Grafton wet track is a little shiftier. There’s a lot more kickback, but hopefully she can stay out of trouble three deep.
“I’ll let Ben figure the race out. He knows what to do but a lot will depend on how the track plays and we won’t know where the best part is until late in the day.”
St Vincent will also race The Eulo Queen in the 10th race and Kingoftheharbour in the third event, a Maiden Plate (1015m).
“If Kingoftheharbour repeats his Coffs Harbour run, he will be very competitive,” St Vincent said. “He just needs to jump clean and press forward.”
Trainer Aiden St Vincent couldn’t be happier with Hellenism heading into the Country Championships Qualifier at Grafton. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Meantime, Coffs Harbour trainer Warren Gavenlock has plotted Plonka’s path to Thursday’s Country Championships Qualifier for months but last-minute changes in date and venue have made his plan work even better. He didn’t mind when officials moved the race from Coffs Harbour last Saturday to Grafton today.
“We’re ready and the couple of days delay probably didn’t hurt us and it may work to our advantage a little bit,” Gavenlock said.
“We worked him on Sunday and did a little bit of beach work, so he hasn’t missed a beat.
“If it’s a drier track I’ll be happier than staying at Coffs Harbour on a wet track.”
Plonka’s only run on a heavy track came last start when he ran fourth in an Open company race but Gavenlock knows he has him ready to peak third-up.
He will jump from barrier two with Rachel Murray on and the start will be vital.
“It’s fair to say the wet track is a question mark but I wasn’t too unhappy with his run,” Gavenlock said. “He stepped up to 1200m in Open company and he came through it unscathed.
“I think he’s got enough speed to put himself where he wants. There is some speed inside us so we should able to be one off the fence and just in behind them.”
Gavenlock will also run outsider Alternative Facts but he doesn’t think punters should rule her out.
“If she puts it all together they will want to be looking over their shoulders at the 100m,” he said. “She drops 8kg in weight off a run on a bog track. If she can handle the going she will be hitting the line.”
So who is the one to beat?
“I fear them all,” Gavenlock said. “Hellenism has been a handy horse for Aiden St Vincent and I wouldn’t write off Northern Knight. Sometimes you’ve got to watch the ones that have been a bit quiet.”
Sky Racing News Update: 18th February 2020
Sky Racing News Update: 18th February 2020.
MATT JONES’S INSIDE MAIL
RACE 1 (1.25pm)
Rival Mo looked strong on the line in winning a similar race last start at the track and appears to be back in form. Lets Torque A Deel was disappointing when well supported last time. Even though no abnormalities were found after the race, his trainer thinks he can run this trip out. Tickets For Youth and Lady Grande are hopes.
BET: RIVAL MO to win.
RACE 2 (2pm)
Venusian is knocking on the door with three straight placings since arriving at Brett Bellamy’s stables. Mini Me has also run a series of placings but mainly in lesser grade, although she handled a wet track last time. Della’s Sidekick can run well on debut.
BET: VENUSIAN to win.
RACE 3 (2.35pm)
Vivid Fortress won her last trial by a good margin and is by a sire who loved wet tracks. It looks pretty open and a bunch of debutants bring in plenty of unknowns. Kingoftheharbour isn’t one of them and has been freshened to bounce back here. Reappear is an each-way chance, too.
BET: Quinella 2, 12.
RACE 4 (3.10pm)
Allied Invasion almost won last start and may have to adopt similar tactics and go forward from a wide gate. Very fit now. Zavy’s Hope ran fourth behind Allied Invasion last time but looked to go through the line strongly. Extra ground may be in her favour. Daramer gets a good gate as an outside hope.
BET: ZAVY’S HOPE to win.
RACE 5 (3.45pm)
Greg Hickman is keeping Kareno at Grafton after she broke through there last start and she gets the gun run again. Two starts back, Firefly Poppy was just beaten by Hellenism, who is the favourite for the Country Championships race here. Zellymay is a hope, as is Devine Grey in a competitive race.
BET: FIREFLY POPPY each way.
RACE 6 (4.20pm)
Malawi Gold looks primed to figure in the finish now he’s at 1420m. But with one victory in 15 starts, punters will be worried about him. Wowsers finds an easier race, while Bondi Boy should be right in this second-up after a good fresh performance, although he does have a wide gate.
BET: MALAWI GOLD to win.
RACE 7 (4.55pm)
Enterprise Keren ran through the line pretty well at Doomben last start and looks primed for a 1420m run. Thousand Island would have won in another two or three strides on debut and will probably sit back and look to swamp them again. Hitman will look to do the same thing, while Quarter Charge caught the eye late and looks suited here.
BET: QUARTER CHARGE each way.
RACE 8 (5.30pm)
The rail being out 4.5m will disadvantage those who get back but some of them, like favourite Hellenism, are the better horses so you will have to back them to overcome this disadvantage or pick an on-speed horse with form to hold them out. Plonka is one of them as long as he handles wet tracks. Matthew Dunn loves Gracie Belle. She has a super turn of foot and could exploit that from a wide draw.
BET: GRACIE BELLE to win.
RACE 9 (6.05pm)
Helfuchi seems to like a wet track and has a light weight to go with good enough form. She’s Choosie can be a bit up and down but she’s won three races on this track and she could lead all the way, which is a good plan with the rail out. Penfold at her best is right in this type of race. Saxophone likes it wet.
BET: SHE’S CHOOSIE to win.
RACE 10 (6.40pm)
Cinco Star is by Snitzel so he should handle the wet track. Can lead from barrier one with a light weight and should give a good sight. Lady Clare will need a little luck but if she gets a clear path in the straight will run on. She also likes soft tracks. Sparkling Facet is bred to handle heavy ground, while Vernazza will be hard to catch.
BET: CINCO STAR to win.
Originally published asGrafton tips: Hell-uva test for favourite
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