MUDGEE trainer Cameron Crockett flexed his Country Championships muscle at Tyers Park on Sunday and could have as many as four runners in the Central Districts heat on February 25.
Lightly raced four-year-old Ori On Fire burst to top seed among Crockett’s quartet for the $150,000 CDRA Qualifier thanks to an important win at the Bathurst Thoroughbred Racing meeting.
Crockett said he wanted the gelding to prove he can be effective when ridden off the speed, having led in his two previous runs this preparation.
He passed the test easily, claiming the Tulloch Cup (1,200 metres) on Sunday as a $2.25 favourite to book his spot in the Mudgee qualifier.
“I told the stewards I wanted to settle him because he wanted to run 1,400 metres at Mudgee and that race will have a whole different complexion than 1,200 metres at Bathurst,’’ Crockett said.
“Chad [Lever, jockey] said he hit a bit of a flat spot then really picked up which gives me an inclination that he will run the 1,400 metres.
“I’ve been watching the majority of the runners around our area and a lot of them are natural pace horses. I have two going in it that you really have to ride forward.
“I think there is going to be a lot of speed so that’s why I wanted to see him settle and finish off, that’s the best way to race at Mudgee.’’
Ori On Fire was beaten in a Highway at Rosehill when heavily backed on January 27 and Crockett blamed himself for the defeat.
The Country Championships is by no means a throw at the stumps with Ori On Fire, as the trainer revealed he’s been readying the horse for the 2018 series for 12 months.
At just his fourth start, basically fresh off a maiden win, he contested the Central Districts Qualifier last year and finished fifth behind Distinctive Look.
“He proved himself last year in the Wellington heat,’’ Crockett said.
“He only got beaten a length and a half by a couple of horses that had performed in town. He stamped himself that day as a Country Championships horse.’’
Crockett is also aiming Turcotte, who ran third at Bathurst on Sunday, Kingsbridge and Prince Of Thebes at the Mudgee event in two weeks.
He said he’s in a race against time with Turcotte, who has proven to be hard work in the six months he’s trained the gelding, to “get his head right’’.
“If he can’t find the rail and has to balance up, he’s very wayward,’’ he said.
“I thought he should have won easily. He just threw the race away at the finish [at Bathurst], it was the Class 4 Championships Preview.
“We only have two weeks to sort his head out and if we can get him running straight he’s a very good chance.’’