By TONY WHITE
WHILE promising Stormhill drew favourably at yesterday's official barrier draw for the $175,000 XXXX Gold Grafton Cup (2400m) on Thursday, the three-year-old's major rivals face horror barriers.
The Tim-Martin trained Stormhill, to be ridden by champion Sydney jockey Chris Munce, came up with gate nine and is certain to vie for favouritism in the Group Three event.
The big guns ? Ipswich Cup winner Forest Jim (barrier 20), Winter Cup winner Verb (16), McKell Cup winner Dancing Daggers (19), Caloundra Cup winner Empyreal (12) and Tattersall's Cup winner Sky Love (17) ? fared badly.
If the four emergencies ? Aquatic Drive (6), Break The Bank (10), Crimson Gown (1) and Parameter (14) don't start, at least most of the big guns move in closer to the inside rail.
Early markets have the Peter McKenzie-trained Empyreal holding favouritism at $5 but a wave of support is expected to come for Stormhill ($5.50).
Locally-trained South Grafton Cup third placegetter Sandy Shore (Greg Howells), drew barrier three and will be ridden by Terry Treichel.
Munce, who will also partner the Bruce McLachlan-trained Mastermind in tomorrow's $125,000 Qantaslink Ramornie (1200m), hasn't been to Grafton for several years but he's no stranger to success, finishing third on Loud Speaker in the 1993 Ramornie and winning the 1999 Grafton Cup aboard Count Scenario for Howard Norman.
"I haven't ridden at the carnival for the past three or four years but hopefully this year will be a successful trip," he said.
"I've got a couple of good rides in the big races."
Munce has partnered Stormhill at the gelding's past two starts, a fourth to Lachlan River in the Queensland Derby (2400m) and a strong win over 1800m at Rosehill on May 7.
"He was a more seasoned, a fitter horse at Rosehill," Munce said. "He had to beat them to come to Grafton but he did the job very well.
"I think he's a horse improving with racing and definitely a horse on the way up.
"I'm happy to be on him in the cup."
Stormhill is scheduled to arrive from Sydney tomorrow.
Martin said Stormhill's Derby effort was much better than it appeared.
"He got left a sitting duck when forced to go to the front at the 500 metres when the leader collapsed," he said.
"Realistically he's a Class Three horse taking on a Grafton Cup but I think you'll see how well the Derby form stands up on Thursday. I've always thought he was a horse of the future. We've been trying to teach him to stay and he'll only get better.
"Danehill either throws quick two- and three-year-olds or staying classic types. Stormhill falls into the latter category.
"The horse has thrived since Rosehill. I wouldn't be bringing him up if I didn't think he can win. These sort of horses come in on the limit and if he's a good as I think, and we have bigger plans for him, he should just about be winning.
"If he can win the Grafton Cup that will qualify him for the cups races in the spring."
Other cup horses to draw well include Precise Timing (5) and Sunnah, a Blake Shinn mount, barrier four.