By TONY WHITE
THE chances of a home town win in tomorrow's $125,000 Black Toyota Ramornie (1200m) soared following the official barrier draw yesterday.
Starlactic, alias 'Nipper' and the Tucabia Tornado, Umatrick, drew gates one and five respectively in the 16-horse Listed event.
Grafton trainer Phil McLeod's luck was mixed however. Forestreno, the first reserve, snuck into the race when Queensland-trained Panzer was scratched yesterday but Forestreno drew shockingly in barrier 19.
This year, following special NSW Government legislation, Tabcorp for the first time has been given permission to offer fixed odds pre-post betting on both the Ramornie and $160,000 XXXX Gold Grafton Cup.
Following the barrier draw, Starlactic was installed as the clear-cut $2.25 favourite, with Umatrick at $21 and Forestreno at $35.
Starlactic's trainer Wayne 'Henry' Lawson was over the moon after his four-year-old gelding came up with the inside gate.
"Unbelievable, someone's looked after us," Lawson said with a huge grin at yesterday's barrier draw function attended by 270 guests at Grafton racecourse.
"It takes some of the guess work out of the race now.
"I couldn't be happier. We'll definitely come out and look for the lead from there but if someone else wants it badly enough, then well and good but we'll certainly be going forward to take advantage of the alley."
Lawson said Starlactic had done extra well since the gelding's final gallop at Grafton on Saturday.
"The horse is great. Everything is in place now. The rest is up to him (Starlactic)," Lawson said.
"He's a horse who has just kept improving, the sky's the limit and his full potential is still untapped."
Starlactic will be ridden by Brisbane apprentice Ric McMahon, Lawson sticking solidly with the lad despite being unable to utilise his claim.
"Ric's done a fantastic job. Starlactic can be a hard horse to work out, he's got a few tricks, but Ric has worked him out and knows the horse well. He'll do us," Lawson said.
Umatrick, the gelding purchased for just $2000 in Melbourne and now the winner of just under $154,000, is flying, according to trainer Felicity Firth.
"I'm fine, no nerves, the horse is exceptionally well," she said.
"The track rider got off him on Saturday and just shook her head. She couldn't believe how good he is.
"The horse is really well. He loves his work, he loves his tucker and he loves to race.
"The barrier is beautiful. From there he should get a lovely run in the race. He's got great first-up form. It's full steam ahead now."
McLeod had little to say about Forestreno.
"Nineteen alley, no comment," was his reticent reply.
Obviously the four-year-old, a Matthew Paget mount, has his work cut out to win from such a wide alley.
The last Grafton horse to win the Ramornie was Mother's Gift, trained by John Shelton in 2000.
What odds the quinella this year?
At yesterday's racecourse function, Grafton-born race caller and MC Steve Hawkins, brought the house down with his phantom call of the Ramornie.
Hawkins first told of his long association with Lawson and Firth and after calling the race from the 800m, it came down to two horses ? Starlactic and Umatrick.
"And they hit the line locked together, Starlactic and Umatrick. Gee it's close ... and the winner is?
"You don't think I'm that stupid to split them," Hawkins said to hysterical laughter.
Late yesterday the Bryan Guy-trained San Franfrisco, (barrier 14), was scratched from the Ramornie, with second emergency $17 chance, Sectagonal (barrier 4) gaining a start. Sectagonal will be ridden by Chris Whiteley.