After checking out the Muswellbrook track surface for himself following the big wet of the previous week, trainer Brett Cavanough says he’s confident Fender will justify favouritism by winning the Newhaven Park Country Championships Wild Card over 1280 metres there on Friday.
Fender has great form on rain-affected tracks – having won on a soft five, heavy eight and heavy nine – but Cavanough was mindful of not setting the lightly-raced four-year-old gelding too tough a target when he will be racing first-up since October 31.
But after heading from Scone to visit the race venue on Wednesday once the sun had finally re-emerged and there was wind as well to help begin the drying process, Cavanough was his typical upbeat self as he looked forward to the event.
Cavanough is bidding to keep his chances of completing an in-season double of The Kosciusko and the Country Championships alive after his star mare It’s Me won the first leg at Randwick in the spring. Fender was seventh in that race.
The trainer will have to get at least one of his three starters into the first two placings at Scone to have representation in the $500,000 final over 1400 metres at Randwick on April 10 and Fender is currently the $2.60 favourite in TAB fixed odds betting on the wild card.
His other runners, Eiger and Dubai Tycoon, are at $15 and $23 respectively.
“Until I walked the track I had a bit of a question mark about whether I’d run Fender, but not now,” Cavanough said.
“I’ve walked a lot wetter tracks than that. They’ll cut up and get into it, but with a bit of drying weather no way it’ll be a bog-hole. It’ll just be a fair dinkum wet track.”
Fender was scratched from the Hunter & North West qualifier of the Country Championships run at Tamworth on March 7 because Cavanough felt he wasn’t quite ready to produce his best, but he firmly believes the extra time to prepare him has made the necessary difference.
“I like 12 weeks (of preparation) to have horses absolutely spot on and we were inside week 10, 11, and things weren’t going to plan,” Cavanough said.
“The option was there that you can scratch and get a run in the wild card, so I took that option.
“He just wasn’t ready for a tough 1400 and as it turned out it was a pretty good 1400-metre race, but I’m pretty happy now.
“He’s had enough work to beat these sort of horses and he comes into barrier eight with the emergencies out. I’m confident about his chances.”
Cavanough said the Tamworth track didn’t suit Eiger when he finished 11th of 14 in the qualifier. Dubai Tycoon was scratched from that race because of a foot abscess, but the trainer says that horse has since recovered well.
Story by Greg Prichard, Racing NSW