The country championship continues to dish up remarkable racing stories.
Dean Mirfin and Eleanor Webster-Hawes’ win with Cosmologist in Sunday’s Central Districts Racing Association heat at Mudgee is the latest unforgettable moment the series has produced.
From last year’s stunning run by Stoneyrise – a picnics runner and part-time stock horse – in the western heat to just last Saturday at Goulburn with Danny Williams, who’s south east qualifier champ Kopi Luwak nearly killed the trainer in a trackwork accident three years ago.
But Sunday’s heat at Mudgee is completely unique to both of those yarns.
Mainly thanks to the conditions.
The torrential rain enveloped the race course, reducing visibility completely.
A unflappable professional in every sense of the word, veteran race caller Col Hodges could do little more than admit he had no idea who was leading the $150,000 race.
Given everyone else was in the same boat, the anticipation around the track was palpable and when the pink silks of Webster-Hawes and Cosmologist – third emergency on the morning of the race – appeared from the mist anyone with any racing pedigree knew that was it.
Mirfin’s yelling when he saw his $51-outsider out in front told the story.
No one was catching the wet-track specialist and Webster-Hawes, who went on to win by two-and-a-half lengths ahead of Grant Buckley on board Noel’s Gift.
Buckley had no idea he was second, his head turned to the right for the duration of the 1400m so he could both focus on the rail and avoid having rain and mud smash into his face.
But Webster-Hawes’ ride was easily the most incredible.
In abhorrent conditions, to win so impressively, in a class field, she and Cosmologist handled the trip better than anyone.
But, given those absolutely terrible conditions, the question still has to be asked: should the race have been run at all?
Anyone with a stake in any of the favourites would be quick to say no.
Mack Griffith’s pair Most Exalted and Schedule, along with Cameron Crockett’s Ori On Fire were the three best-backed runners.
None qualified, and there were plenty of punters unhappy after it after the run at Mudgee on Sunday.
But if you had an interest in a horse that’s, as Kramer puts it, a mudder, then you’d run the race again in a heartbeat. Who doesn’t love a slop!
Bottom line, stewards and jockeys both deemed conditions safe enough for the championship qualifier to go ahead at the scheduled start.
No one could have predicted the weather to turn quite so bad mid-race.
Which it did. One minute you could see the barriers and horses, the next they were gone and they didn’t reappear until there was about 300 metres to go.
It was simply incredible.
The fact everyone made it round the 1400m safely is a credit to the skill of the hoops on show during the race.
Post qualifier and back in the rooms, champion jockey Greg Ryan took off one of his boots and emptied out enough water to fill a small baby bath.
It’s certainly a race day I won’t forget in a hurry.
As a fairly inexperienced race-goer, it takes a lot for me to get excited about the gallops.
I’m warming to them, though, as I venture to more and more tracks and get to know the people involved.
But the lead-up to Sunday’s meeting, for me, was brilliant.
Heading out to David Smith’s stables to get a first-hand look at Stilettoed Vixen in work was enough for me to go all in on the chestnut mare. Sorry, Dave.
Chatting to a number of trainers about their horses, their championship hopes, you get to understand the time and effort involved in the sport.
And then Sunday’s race-day action – Kaylee Kirkwood riding the winner in the maiden, her only run of the day, Mirfin kicking off his day with a victory with Art ‘N’ Ollie, a mare nearly put to stud last year before given one last shot.
Then there was Greg Hook’s victory with Subway Surfer – Hooky is as popular a winner as there was on Sunday.
Clint Lundholm’s Sprezzatura proved he’s up for the western championship heat in a few weeks with a break-through win and Webster-Hawes closed the day out with a double, the last being that stunning ride in the qualifier.
The championship has done it again and there’s still five more heats before the April 7, $500,000 final at Royal Randwick.
“I hope it’s wet in the final,” Mirfin smiled post race.