By Isaac Murphy
Lockyer Valley township Helidon Spa is a long way from the bright lights of Wentworth Park, but that’s exactly where trainer Craig Schmidt will be cheering on his star sprinter Rio Brave in The Group One National Derby Final on Saturday.
The chaser burst onto the scene In Queensland last year romping home by six lengths in the Molly Campbell Silver Dollars final and qualifying for a Group One Ipswich Cup by the age of two.
Schmidt said he knew he had a special dog on his hands and recently made the decision to send him to champion Victorian trainer David Geall, giving him access to Australia’s biggest races, while also maintaining full ownership of the dog.
“I knew what a frontline dog he was and wanted him to have the opportunity to race in the Southern states on a regular basis,” Schmidt said
“In order to do that it just wasn’t feasible to be flying back and forward each week as my main priority is to keep the kennel running at home, so I that’s when I decided to approach David (Geall) about taking the dog.
“Everyone has seen David’s training ability over a number of years and we thought he’d be the man to get the best out of the dog.”
The move has already paid dividends, with Rio Brave running a luckless fourth in the Group One Silver Chief Final at the Meadows and with time the dog looks poised for Group One glory.
“If he jumps as well from the two this week as he did from the seven last week he should be able to hold a fairly prominent position and with his closing sectionals if he can be close to them I’d give him a big chance,” Schmidt said.
“He doesn’t walk out of the boxes he actually musters fairly quickly, it’s just those first few steps if he gets knocked off balance that can be the race.
“Looking at the field there isn’t any one dog with outstanding early speed, which plays into our hands on a leader friendly track.”
Another dog well known to Queensland punters looms as perhaps Rio Brave’s biggest threat, with the Northern Rivers trained Fernando Blaster heading the markets after running the fastest qualifying time in last week’s heats for trainer Terry Jordan.
Fernando Blaster has done most of his racing at Albion Park of late, boasting a 29.78 personal best over the 520 along with a close second to Common Ground in the Young Guns Final earlier this month.
Jordan said the dog hadn’t seen Wentworth Park in any capacity before his heat victory last week and was hoping he could take the confidence into the final.
“He lived up to my expectations and the rest in his heat, he’d never seen the track before and put down a really nice time (29.61),” Jordan said.
“The one isn’t a bad draw for him for the final, but I’d certainly trade it for the eight he’s not a brilliant beginner and is a bit hit and miss at the start.”
“If he gets it right he could be off and gone, but if he misses it he could get shuffled back pretty quickly.”
Jordan said he couldn’t be more excited to have a two-year-old of Fernando Blaster’s ilk on the verge of becoming a Group One winner.
“It’s a dream come true, he’s run time everywhere he’s been the breaks just haven’t gone his way in the finals, but I know he has it in him to be a Group One winner,” He said.