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Mark Oates eager to represent his stable in Country Cups Challenge Final

Photo credit: Skinn Deep Photos


IMG-6393.JPGBy Jordan Gerrans

As a proud Indigenous man, Longreach trainer Mark Oates is eager to represent his area and stable on the big stage of the Country Cups Challenge Final at Doomben later this year.

Oates’ Van Winkel was a striking winner of Saturday’s $27,500 Longreach Cup, which booked his entry for the $105,000 Final in Brisbane in early December.

The breakthrough Longreach Cup victory was more than 12 months in the making for seven-year-old gelding Van Winkel, who was purchased for the 2020 version of the race but ran a gallant second.

Oates, who rides all his own track work, as well working a full-time job as a spray painter on top of training a team of horses, is one of only a few Indigenous thoroughbred race horse trainers within Queensland.

Van Winkel won in owner Richard Simpson’s colours on Saturday afternoon but there is other gallopers within the Oates barn who don colours as a nod to his heritage.

“It is great to represent the Aboriginal people,” Oates explained on Saturday afternoon with the Longreach Cup in his hands.

“My mother was Aboriginal and my father was white, white Irish.

“We have a few horses with the colours of a green shamrock in the middle with black everything else on the silks."

Ridden by Jason Missen, Van Winkel sat behind the leader at a slow pace for much of the mile trip and was able to present himself as they turned for home, scoring by a length as the field tried to close the gap but battled to do so.

The 2021 Longreach Cup boasted a strong field of bush Open Company gallopers, which first-year Longreach Jockey Club president Andrew Watts believes was only enhanced by being a CCC Qualifier.

“The concept is still in its infancy but how good is it because most of our stakeholders out here in the west do the horses as a part-time job, or as a hobby, we have very few full-time trainers out here,” Watts said.

“To get a horse to Brisbane and race for the city riches, it is fantastic.

“We have seen the success of the Battle of the Bush and the evolution of how far it has come in a short number of years, the Country Cups Challenge and the Country Stampede are certainly following in their footsteps as well.”

Since transferring to Oates’ stable earlier this year, Van Winkel has now won three times from 16 efforts, going around at $17 in the TAB meeting from Longreach on Saturday.

“The horse has had a few problems, he has been out of form,” Oates said.

“To the horse's credit, he has come through it as the horse has got the ability. He toughed it out.”



IMG-6394.JPGWith his family, including his sons who help with the horses, and owner Simpson in the mounting yard post-race, Oates declared it a victory for the Central West.

“We are locals, the owner is a local – a local businessman – he bought this horse to win a Longreach Cup,” Oates said.

“He gave me the horse at the start of the year, he has been inconsistent all year and he just took it to another level today, he took a step up.

“He showed that he belongs as an Open Company horse.”

The Magnus gelding went around in the 2020 edition of the Country Cups Challenge Final – beaten just over 15 lengths by Mareeba marvel Paniagua when he was trained by Simpson – with his new trainer hopeful of a better showing later this year.

“He will definitely go to the Final, that will be his target now,” Oates said.

“He will go for a break and he will come back for that. The prize money and to take our bush horses to the city, it is exciting.”

The opportunity to race a galloper on George Moore Stakes race day in December is not lost on Oates.

“I do this as a hobby with six or seven horses; I do not do this for a living, I love the horse,” Oates said.

“I ride my own horses in work.

“It is not a chore for me, it is the love of it, I get up every morning and look forward to it.

“We start early because we need to get to work after, which my son’s help me with.”

Racing Queensland Deputy Chair Sharon Dawson, who was on hand to watch the Longreach qualifier on Saturday, believes the Cup is an exciting concept for region stables.

“It gives these bush trainers a chance to take their horses to the big smoke at the end of the year,” Dawson said.

“Country racing is absolutely apart of the fabric of racing within Queensland, it brings communities together as it is the biggest event on the social calendar for a lot of these small communities.

“It is a great driver and a fantastic opportunity to get out and celebrate.

“Longreach has put it on for everyone.”

The Country Cups Challenge and Country Stampede returned bigger and better in 2021.

Over 20 heats will take place across regional Queensland with the best horses in country racing chasing a berth to battle it out in a Metropolitan final held at Doomben during the TAB Queensland Summer Racing Carnival. 

Four qualifiers were run on the first weekend of the series - John Manzelmann’s Bernie’s Tiger winning at Ewan, Grand Symphony getting the money at Mt Isa and in Taroom, it was Coach for trainer Rodney Hay.

In the Stampede qualifiers, Jason Judge’s Hard Stride booked a ticket at Gladstone while at Mt Isa, Wicked Wiki defeated gun bush galloper Tango Rain.