FIELD OF DREAMS: Nominations strong for Blues, Brews and Barbecues race day
RACING: For months Clarence River Jockey Club chief executive Michael Beattie has harboured concerns the scheduling of the time- honoured Walcha Cup tomorrow would negatively impact the number of runners lining up on Sunday's Blues, Brews and Barbecues Yamba Cup Race Day.
But he can now sleep easier, with a strong field of 142 nominations across the day providing potential for dramatic racing action for local racing fans.
"It was a very unusual clash, with the Walcha Cup running only days before the Championships qualifier,” Beattie said. "But we are very happy with the standard of nominations for this meeting.
"If it was further from the Walcha meeting, I am sure there would be more nominations but still we are very happy.”
Beattie said the track is expected to host a number of external bookmakers in the betting ring for the feature meeting, which will deliver more options and potential for better value for money betting options for punters.
Running the $150,000 Country Championships qualifier in conjunction with the three B's race day has proven a successful marriage of quality racing and increased social activities and Beattie expects a large crowd will turn out for the event once again in 2017.
"Blues, Brews and Barbecues is a day where we traditionally get massive support from the local community and plenty of faces through the gates,” he said. "There is a jumping castle, face painting and plenty of free activities for the kids as well as eight hours of live blues music.
"With entry prices only $15 for adults, I wouldn't think you would get the same value for money anywhere in town.”
While there is plenty to keep racegoers entertained, they will not have to look past the track for the best entertainment of the day with the $150,000 feature welcoming the best runners to Grafton outside of the July Carnival.
But it will not be a clear-cut finish for the foreign runners with a strong field of Grafton horses champing at the bit to book a dream start in the $400,000 Country Championships final at Royal Randwick in April.
While acceptances for the races are not released until this morning, Beattie expected at least five home track gallopers to face the starter's gun.
Former Gai Waterhouse stable hand Scott Henley will have Hotel Drive in the race and after putting five lengths on the rest of the field in a recent trial at Grafton, the gelding will be a hot favourite for punters.
Greg Howells is likely to have Teo Torriate in the gates with the mare first up over the 1400m after spelling in the paddock since October.
While leading Grafton premiership trainer Dan Want is likely to take a three- pronged attack into the feature race with stable champion Dantga, Clang's Victory and Spun Dry all aiming for a start.
"Having five genuine starters in the race all coming from Grafton is a good reflection on the level of racing in our area,” Beattie said.
The local contingent will need to come up with a special run to overcome the might of NRRA heavyweight Matthew Dunn out of Murwillumbah, who is expected to have at least six runners in the qualifier after nominating a stable of eight.
Leading the charge for Dunn is 2017 Magic Millions Cup runner-up Perfect Dare, who was just beaten by Testashadow in a head bob.
"He did everything but win,” Dunn said.
"He ran the best race of his life against a very good field and was unlucky not to walk away with the trophy.”
The qualifier is a Class 5 race with set weights.
Despite having won more than $350,000 in prize money, Perfect Dare is only a Class 3 horse and will carry 56kg - just 2kg more than in his Magic Millions run.
"He gets in well at the weights and I think 1400m is the best distance for him,” Dunn said.
"If he turns up and does what he did in the Magic Millions Cup they won't get near him.”
While having six runners in the race vastly increases Dunn's chances of clinching his first finals berth at Randwick, Beattie said it was not an issue of fairness.
"He does dominate but Matthew Dunn should not be penalised for being a victim of his own success,” he said.
"They all have different owners and they deserve the opportunity to get a chance at this prize money.
"The fact Matthew Dunn will likely saddle up the two race favourites, does not mean he has already won the qualifier. There is enough talent in this field to know it is not a sure thing.”