By Neil Evans

If ever punters, fans and widespread race-goers wanted a tonic from the land in this bizarre time, here it is!

This Friday’s feature Listed Darley Scone Cup over a mile is believed to be the strongest country-based Cup in Australian racing history, all a time when the nation is under unique pressure, and many economic wheels are threatening to grind to a halt.

But as the Sport of Kings keeps powering through, off-course punters are set to unleash a record amount on Day 1 of the hugely popular Scone Cup Carnival – and for very good reason!

The feature Cup is one of the best and most open in recent times, with former Group 3 and Provincial C’ship Final winner Archedemus, smart Godolphin four-year-old and last start Randwick winner Phaistos and Rosehill five-year-old Live And Free all battling for wide favouritism around the $5.50 to $6.00 mark.

Across the full field of 16 accepted runners, there have been a staggering four Group 2 wins, six Group 3 wins, 4 Listed wins, and two Provincial C’ship Final winners, amassing an incredible $11 million in career prize-money.

It’s almost impossible to find a non metro or provincial race anywhere in the country that has boasted such depth and black-type quality.

Leading Newcastle trainer Kris Lees saddles up three runners, among them former Group 2-winning eight-year-old Big Duke who hasn’t started since last year’s Caulfield Cup, and resumes at huge odds.

The Chris Waller juggernaut also unleashes a three-prong attack, including resuming stayers Japanese-sired eight-year-old Satono Rasen and consistent six-year-old Black On Gold who have both had two lead-up trials.

*Meanwhile, a terrific field of 16 is set to battle for the Noel Leckie BM 84 Country Cup over 1400m, and again there’ll be value left, right and centre.

The home track charge will be led by smart five-year-old Hit The Target, a last-start fourth-up winner for the Stephen Jones yard, while talented mare Luna Mia from the Paul Messara stable is getting back to her best with consecutive strong closing runs in Highway company at Randwick.

Throw in high class and lightly raced Dubbo four-year-old Sneak Preview, Newcastle top-weight Chalmers, and Tamworth five-year-old Over And Above, and this will be a race to remember.

*And the two-year-olds don’t miss out either with a smart field lining up for the Inglis Challenge (1100m) at set weights, including four last-start winners.

Good Luck