Extra Happy Birthday for country horses
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Grafton trainer Scott Henley with his horse Glimmer celebrate August 1 - the horses' birthday. PHOTO: ADAM HOURIGAN
THIS year country trainers have a good reason to celebrate the horses' birthday. The 2015/16 season is shaping up as one of opportunity.
Last week Racing NSW announced the addition of a class 2 or 3 Highway Handicap, between 1000m and 1800m, with prizemoney of $40,000 to each of its metropolitan Saturday race programs and implemented changes to the spread of weights to encourage greater field sizes.
This comes on the back of the successful introduction of the Country Championships series earlier this year, which gave country-trained horses, including Alan Ryan-trained Redwolf, a shot at a $300,000 final at Royal Randwick during the Autumn Carnival.
"It's great they're showing more interest in country racing," Ryan said.
"They've had problems with field sizes in the city, whereas in the country it's the other end of the scale, trying to get runs for our horses with full fields."
Scott Henley has seen both sides of the fence. He has a background at leading metropolitan stables prior to setting up in Grafton as a trainer in his own right.
"The championships was the best shot in the arm," Henley said. "It was exciting for every trainer, even if you didn't have a runner."
"Anything to help the country is a good initiative.
"The only problem we have at Grafton is we are eight hours from Sydney by float.
In his first 12 months as a stand-alone trainer Henley has 'tested the waters' in Brisbane with his better horses, including Glimmer who ran unplaced at Doomben on July 18 on the back of a win at Grafton on Ramornie Day.
"I'm only just feeling my way," he said. "I took a couple up there and dipped my toe in the water to see how hard it is and what horses you need.
"Brisbane is three hours up the road so it's easy as Campese. I suppose Albury's the same, it's easier to go Melbourne."
Henley did have another fillies and mares race in mind for Glimmer this weekend, but instead has opted for the 1030m Class 3 Handicap at Murwillumbah on Monday, where the five-year-old has drawn barrier 16.
"She hasn't put in a bad run this whole preparation. The furthest she got beat was five lengths at Brisbane when she was out of class on a hard track.
"She needs soft tracks and a lot to work for her these days and she gets that at Murwillumbah. She'll be first out on the outside which is where they go when it gets soft at Murwillumbah."
Apprentice Samantha Polo recently moved to Henley's stables from Stephen Lee in Ballina and is booked for the ride.
Polo finished runner-up by one win behind Andrew Adkins in the 2014/15 Northern Rivers Apprentice Jockey's Premiership despite only starting her career four months ago.
In another boost to the industry the NSW Government has announced an increase in the ceiling of race fields fees, which are a crucial source of revenue for Racing NSW.