By Craig Sheppard
The TAB Battle of the Bush heats up this Saturday with four qualifying races taking place at Gordonvale, Longreach, Mount Isa and Warwick.
Here’s a look at some of the top contenders in each qualifier.
The Greatest (3) is a regally bred gelding (Street Cry-Samantha Miss) from the astute John Manzelmann yard. He’s having his third-run back this preparation so should be primed for a big performance. He won’t know himself with just 55kg after lumping 63kg last start at Mackay in the heavy conditions. He won is only other start over 1100m.
How Can I Help (1) resumed recently at Atherton over 1000m and finished sixth of six but was only 2.55 lengths from the winner. The eight-year-old gelding put in a solid showing in the Country Cups final at Doomben last year so he’s no stranger to this style of event. The 1100m here is well short of his preferred distance but he certainly gets his chance against this field.
Fab’s Cowboy (1) wasn’t content on winning the opening qualifier at Gladstone by a space. In true Cowboy fashion, he’s fronted back up at Longreach. The Bevan Johnson-trained bush star will look to make it five wins in on the trot and it’s hard to see him not doing so. He again looks extremely well-weighted after Minonette Kennedy’s 4kg claim.
Chief Advocate (4) is poorly drawn but looks the most likely to challenge Fab’s Cowboy. He’s rarely far away, having finished no worse than fourth in his past eight starts. At his only other start over this course and distance he won by two-lengths.
Deadly Choices (4) resumes here following a 22-week break and has raced well fresh in the past. He finished off last preparation with a massive 8.25 length win on his home track over 1450m. The former Victorian, who boasts a second placing at Moonee Valley, has taken well to Queensland Country racing, as shown by his record of four wins from eight starts since arriving in Mount Isa.
Bush Caviar (1) is out to avenge his heart-breaking last stride, runner-up finish in last year’s Battle of the Bush final. It won’t be easy as the handicapper has assigned him 65.5kg. He did successfully carry 64.5kg to a 2.5 length victory at Betoota over 1000m last preparations so it’s not beyond hm. Legendary country jockey Dan Ballard takes the ride.
Mystic Forces (2) makes his way down to Warwick from Rockhampton for Tom Button. His Battle of the Bush campaign started in less than ideal circumstances at Gladstone where he finished 18-lengths behind Fab’s Cowboy. He has since started at Rockhampton where he finished 2.5 lengths fifth on a soft track. He’ll appreciate being back on a dry surface and the weight relief.
Baker Boy (1) will be first-up here following a 23-week break. The Brenton Andrew trained gelding was last seen winning the Country Cups final in December. Fab’s Cowboy was second that day. While this distance maybe short of his best, he has run well first-up in the past as shown by his record of 9:2-2-1 when fresh. He’s also a previous winner over this course and distance.
Go Get Sum (4) finished third by a narrow margin in last year’s Battle of the Bush Final. He’s been racing in decent form this preparation with a second in the Flinton Cup last start and a half-length third in the Goondiwindi Picnic Cup on resuming. He is yet to fill the placings in three starts at the track but gets his chance to do so here.