FRONTRUNNER: The Matthew Dunn-trained La Scopa (centre) is the early favourite to take out the $150,000 NRRA Country Championships Qualifier after his scintillating win in a Highway Handicap at Randwick in January.
FRONTRUNNER: The Matthew Dunn-trained La Scopa (centre) is the early favourite to take out the $150,000 NRRA Country Championships Qualifier after his scintillating win in a Highway Handicap at Randwick in January. SIMON BULLARD/AAP PHOTOS

Dunn scoping out a rich payday

RACING: Fourteen of the region's best horses will face the starter's pistol at Grafton tomorrow, all with the hope of earning a place in the ultra-rich $500,000 Country Championships final at Royal Randwick on April 6.

One of the features on the opening day of The Championships, only the first two placegetters in tomorrow's $150,000 qualifier will advance to the final.

Murwillumbah trainer Matt Dunn will saddle up four runners in the qualifier, while Sydney jockeys Glyn Schofield, Adam Hyeronimus and Jason Collett will all make the seven-hour trek north to race.

We take a look at the chances of all the Northern Rivers hopefuls.

1. Evopex (6)

Evopex has won at Randwick in a 1600m Highway Handicap last year before being sent for a spell. Coffs Harbour trainer Jim Jarvis has given Evopex one trial at Grafton in preparation for his return to the track and the five-year-old is set to run well first up. He has drawn a nice gate and will be given every chance with Michael Cahill in the saddle.

She's Choosie wins race 4 at the Clarence River Jockey Club.
She's Choosie wins race 4 at the Clarence River Jockey Club. Adam Hourigan

2. She's Choosie (13)

She's Choosie has good recent form with placings at the Gold Coast and Armidale, but is yet to win beyond 1100m and could struggle to make the step up.

3. Queen Of Kingston (8)

The Daniel Bowen-trained Queen Of Kingston will strip fitter for one run back from a spell when third over 1005m at Ballina and has Ben Looker sticking with the five-year-old mare. She is a winner over the same course and distance and is one of the main chances.

4. Kitteau (7)

The Ballina-trained Kitteau is the winner of two of his last three starts on his home track but is stepping up sharply in grade following his last-start win in a 1405m Class 2. It will be tough.

5. Lawan (15)

Lawan picked up some valuable travel expenses when trainer Jim Jarvis took him to Sydney during the spring last year, where he finished second and a fourth in two Class 3 Highways at Randwick and Rosehill. Has had one run back for a fourth in the 1100m Armidale Newmarket but will need plenty of luck to figure in the finish after drawing barrier 15.

Jockey Glyn Schofield (red, white, and navy) rides Wallander to win race 3, the TAB Highway Plate, during ATC Owners Recognition Race Day at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney, Saturday, July 28, 2018.
Jockey Glyn Schofield (red, white, and navy) rides Wallander to win race 3, the TAB Highway Plate, during ATC Owners Recognition Race Day at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney, Saturday, July 28, 2018. SIMON BULLARD/AAP PHOTOS

6. Wallander (11)

Wallander is the first of Matt Dunn's four runners and heads to Grafton on the back of a last-start win in a 1305m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Ballina. The four-year-old is on the improve and Glyn Schofield will be able to manoeuvre into a handy position from an awkward draw. Has each way claims.

7. Ten Taubada's (17)

The Dunn-trained Ten Taubada's led and weakened last start when eighth in a 1400m Class 3 at the Gold Coast and looks tested again after drawing one of the outside barriers.

8. Cinnamon Missile (9)

Cinnamon Missile was back in the winner's stall two starts back in a 1255m Class 1 at Ballina and heads to Grafton on the back of a nose second in a 1350m Doomben Class 2. Matthew McGillivray is in the saddle and is certain to give the gelding a good ride from a midfield barrier. Each way.

9. Vacate (18)

Vacate is yet to win beyond 1100m and has been installed as one of the outsiders with Ladbrokes after coming off a last-start second in a 1215m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Coffs Harbour.

10. Viking Raid (2)

The Stephen Lee-trained Viking Raid has some pretty handy recent form with two placings and a win from his last three starts. Robbie Fradd will give him the run of the race from an inside gate.

Grafton horse owner Fleur Henley with Country Championships contender Rakhish.
Grafton horse owner Fleur Henley with Country Championships contender Rakhish. Matthew Elkerton

11. Rakhish (3)

Rakhish will get a cosy run just off the pace from a good barrier but will find the step up in grade tough following his last-start fifth in a 1350m Class 2 at Doomben.

12. Sawtell (5)

Sawtell showed plenty of improvement at his second run back from a spell and could sneak into a place if he can repeat his last-start third in a 1315m Class 4 at Coffs Harbour.

13. La Scopa (12)

Matt Dunn took La Scopa to Randwick two starts back for a win in a 1300m Class 3 Highway Handicap on the Kensington Track and was then beaten half a length when fifth in a Saturday Class 6 (1300m) at Eagle Farm. Is one of the main chances and has been installed as the favourite with Ladbrokes.com.au.

14. Portuguese Tart (10)

Portuguese Tart has been racing well at the Gold Coast in weaker company with a win in a 1200m Class 1 followed by a third in a 1400m 0-65 Handicap. Will face tougher opposition here.

Stable strapper Candice Woodhouse with John  Shelton-trained gelding Caro Cavallo at the Turf St stables.
Stable strapper Candice Woodhouse with John Shelton-trained gelding Caro Cavallo at the Turf St stables. Matthew Elkerton

15(e). Caro Cavallo (16)

The locally trained Caro Cavallo (first emergency) has been installed as one of the outsiders of the qualifier and is coming off a last-start ninth in a 1215m Benchmark 66 Handicap at Coffs Harbour.

16(e). African Academy (1)

African Academy looks tested on his last-start sixth in a 1200m Gold Coast Class 2.

17(e). So Shy (4)

Third emergency So Shy is resuming and if he gets a run will start as a far outsider.

18(e). Skylaazem (14)

Skylaazem has won a Lismore Maiden and a Murwillumbah Class 1 at his last two starts but will be up against tougher company if he gains a start.



Preferential voting a cause for confusion: Labor

premium_icon Preferential voting a cause for confusion: Labor

Gilbert laments lack of understanding of preferential voting

Grafton race in honour of 'Moose'

premium_icon Grafton race in honour of 'Moose'

'He made himself a personality. He wasn't just a name in the paper.'

What a majority government will mean for the Clarence

premium_icon What a majority government will mean for the Clarence

Majority Coalition Government 'critical': Gulaptis