By TONY WHITE
TUCABIA Village Store owners Russell and Diana Ball can't believe all the fuss and attention 'Team Tucabia' has created.
Their in-form five-year-old gelding Umatrick has catapulted the tiny village of Tucabia and the Ball family into the media spotlight.
Trained by Diana's sister, 35-year-old Felicity Firth, Umatrick will be carrying the hopes of Tucabia and plenty of Graftonians when the gelding lines up at 4.02pm today in the time-honoured $125,000 Qantaslink Ramornie Hcp (1200m) in Grafton. A crowd of around 7000 is expected at today's meeting.
Since Umatrick's win in last Thursday's John Carlton Cup, life has changed for all concerned with the Tucabia partnership.
"We've had heaps of congratulations from locals and plenty of visitors who have heard about the horse," Russell said.
"We've even had people come out to Tucabia just to say hello.
"One bloke from Melbourne heard about it on the radio and drove all the way out here. He just decided to come and see us.
"I guess people would just love to see a local rather than a city horse win the race."
Diana is trying to play down the hype surrounding their Ramornie hope.
"People have been just so good and supportive, it's terrific," she said. "Everyone is happy. I think most of the locals are more nervous than us. We just think he was lucky to get in, but he did it on his own merits. He's drawn well and that's half the battle.
"It's a matter of what will be, will be. We're just thrilled to be part of this and have a runner in the race."
Russell and Diana had several gold Umatrick hats printed up which the gelding's supporters wore yesterday when The Daily Examiner visited the Tucabia store.
Umatrick has also been the subject of buyer interest.
"The latest one was an offer of $50,000. I said 'thanks, but no thanks'," Russell said.
Asked if there were any pre-race nerves, Russell and Diana replied 'no, not really'.
"This race doesn't worry me," Russell said.
"Umatrick is in fine form. Win or lose he's been an unreal horse to us."
nIN other Ramornie news, Brisbane-trained Top Marc was yesterday declared as 'very doubtful' by Eagle Farm trainer Kelly Schweida.
"He really needs a wet track. If he'd drawn well I would have probably still come down but that is looking doubtful with no rain. I don't want to bust him."
The news was music to the ears of fellow Eagle Farm trainer Liam Birchley, who prepares second emergency Sir Mukafast (Allan Robinson).
Birchley was dismayed when Sir Mukafast, a reserve last year, failed to get into the 16-horse field.
"If he gets a start and gets a bit of luck, I think he'll be right in the finish," Birchley predicted.
"His recent form is good and you'll see a better horse on a firmer track."
Birchley and owner, Sydney opal dealer Leo Chan, are seeking their second Ramornie win after Sir Breakfast's success in 2003.
Tuncurry trainer and horse breaker Stuart Phegan admitted promising filly Rich Megadale disappointed in her final Ramornie gallop, but he was prepared to overlook the workout.
"She can do that (work poorly) every now and then. Maybe it was a bit of wear and tear but we've worked on it," Phegan said.