By Andrew Adermann
The race to be crowned Queensland’s best will commence this week with the TAB Country Cups Challenge and TAB Country Stampede poised to enjoy a blockbuster opening.
Each series will host 16 heats across the Sunshine State, culminating in two thrilling finals to be held on George Moore Stakes Day at Doomben on December 5.
Heats will commence at Taroom, Longreach, Ewan and Mount Isa, where there will be a familiar name leading the market.
Deadly Choices claimed last year’s $105,000 Country Cups Challenge Final at Doomben, and will attempt to go back-to-back by kicking off his title defence this Saturday at his home track of Mount Isa.
The seven-year-old enters this year’s series in top form, claiming the $65,000 Cleveland Bay sprint at Townsville last month in dominant fashion.
After firing up pre-race and proving difficult to load into the barriers, Deadly Choices sat just off the speed before tearing away down the straight to claim an emphatic two-length victory, beating a number of credentialed Brisbane horses in the process.
“This preparation we sent him over to the coast when COVID hit because we thought he might get stuck out here with no races on that he could run in,” trainer Damien Finter said.
“He’s going really well at the moment, especially on the back of winning the Cleveland Bay up in Townsville.”
Deadly Choices was initially trained by Trevor Andrews in Victoria, but made the move to the Queensland in mid-2018.
Since heading north, he has gone on to claim 13 wins from just 20 starts along with nearly $250,000 in prizemoney.
“We got him when he’d had nine starts for just the one win, and he was quite highly strung and was a bit of a handful in the early days,” Finter said.
“We’ve done a fair bit of travelling with him – I think last year we did over 10,000 kilometres with him – and that really matured his mind and helped settle him down.
“His mind is just in a good spot now, he’s always been a good horse but a little inconsistent, but now he knows how to put in his best.”
After running second in the 2019 Battle of the Bush, the gelding claimed two qualifiers in Mount Isa and Cloncurry to earn a spot in the Country Cups Final, before going on to claim a half-length victory and Finter thinks his boy is primed to strike again.
“It was a great result for everyone involved to see him win the Country Cups Challenge at Doomben last year, everyone was over the moon,” Finter said.
“We are hoping he can go back-to-back and we are confident he can do it, but it looks like it’s going to be a much stronger field this year – the Townsville Cup winner (Shiranda) is apparently targeting a heat as well.”