By Glenn Davis
The opening two heats of the Country Cups Challenge gets underway at Longreach in central Queensland and Ewan in the State’s north on Saturday.
The $15,000 Longreach Country Cups Challenge qualifier over 1600 metres has attracted a strong field of 12 horses.
Ewan, near Townsville, also will host a Country Cups Challenge qualifier with 14 runners including four emergencies entered for the $20,000 Ewan Cup (1600m).
A total of 16 qualifying races will be held around the State culminating in the $105,000 Country Cups Challenge final on George Moore Stakes day at Doomben on November 30.
Topweight in the Longreach leg is veteran campaigner Heroism who has started 60 times for 17 wins and 10 placings.
The Henry Forster trained seven-year-old drew barrier eight and is coming off a last start failure behind the Todd Austin-trained French Hussler in the Birdsville Cup on September 7.
Apprentice Tessa Townsend’s three kilo claim will reduce Heroism’s weight to 60kgs.
Townsend has been in great form and landed a winning double at Nanango on September 14.
French Hussler drew perfectly in barrier two and will be ridden by jockey Stanley Watkin.
A surprise omission from the race was original topweight Fab’s Cowboy who was crowned Queensland Country Premiership Horse Of The Year while his trainer Bevan Johnson picked up the Country Premiership Trainer of the Year.
However, Johnson still has a strong hand in the race with last start Birdsville winner Money Ad and the consistent eight-year-old Arigold representing the stable.
Birdsville Cup runner-up Eschiele, who also finished second in the Betoota Cup, also lines up in the central Queensland feature and will jump from gate three.
The series is restricted to horses than have not won a metropolitan race in the past two years.
If eligible, all placegetters in the 16 qualifying races are automatically nominated for the final.
Trainer Olivia Cairns has five runners, including third emergency Follow On in the Ewan Cup.
She has the first three in weight order with topweight Level Eight, drawing barrier nine while Mason’s Chance drew gate 13 but comes in to nine if the emergencies don’t obtain runs.
Mustarrid, barrier two, is Cairns’ other runner.
Mason’s Chance is best known for his memorable win in the Battle Of The Bush Final at Doomben in June last year.
Racing Queensland webnews September 26