THE Country Championships Final has been an opportunity for regional racing's standout horses to have a crack at the big prizemoney in front of a massive crowd, but while the latter part won't be woven into the experience during this Saturday's race the former statement remains true.
And two Bathurst trained runners - Gayna Williams' Healing Hands and Dean Mirfin's Electrified - have the chance to take a share of the $400,000 pool.
Saturday's race marks the first time two Bathurst-trained runners will contest the final after Healing Hands and Electrified led home an all-Bathurst top seven in the Central Districts Racing Association (CRDA) Country Championships Heat.
It will be an eerie atmosphere at the Sydney track for the opening day of The Championships as the thunder of hooves will be easier to hear than ever before.
But what the track will lack in spectators it will undoubtedly make up for in its quality of racing during the Country Championships Final.
And when you think 'quality' in this race you have to talk about Williams' CDRA heat winner Healing Hands.
The I Am Invincible five-year-old gelding has built up a reputation for charging over the top of his opposition down the home stretch.
It's a method he's used to perfection over all four of his runs this preparation, resulting in three wins and a gallant third placing in his latest start at Kensington.
Healing Hands gets an inside draw for Saturday's race and a new jockey in Adam Hyeronimus, who recently picked up his first Group 1 victory in the Vinery Stud Stakes.
Williams is interested to see how those changes play out.
"In his last couple of starts he's drawn wide and him doing the chasing is just the way those races panned out for Greg [Ryan, jockey], but I don't believe he's a front running type," she said.
"He needs a bit of galloping room. He's a big horse with a very long stride. Wide gates aren't good but they do give him a lot more galloping room. With the inside draw in this one Adam will just have to be careful about not getting caught in traffic.
"He can't take the gap quickly. He doesn't quicken - he lengthens. He'll need a bit of luck from the inside draw but what he does is up to the jock.
"It was disappointing for Greg not to be able to come down and ride him since he's been on him the whole way through but Adam's a very good rider so we're happy to have him on."
Healing Hands provided Williams with a long awaited breakthrough in the CDRA heat after finishing runner-up on the past three occasions (Noel's Gift 2019, 2018 and Galaxy Warrior in 2017).
He's made a huge impression in the space of just eight career starts and can attain a new level of recognition with a strong performance this Saturday.
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Williams said the journey with Healing Hands so far has been extraordinary.
"His success has been a huge positive for the stable and our family," she said.
"My husband Frank and I own him, along with our daughter Lauren and her finacee so it means a lot to us, the fact that we own the horse. We never take anything for granted with him and just take each run as it comes.
"We appreciate everything he does and never put too many demands on him."
Healing Hands has drifted since acceptances for the race were made, moving out from $11 to $14, but remains among the better-backed chances in the lucrative event.
Meanwhile Mirfin's runner will be out to cause an upset.
Electrified finished hot on the hooves of Healing Hands in the recent heat at Mudgee and was recently fourth at Hawkesbury where he hit the line well.
Despite that, he's sitting much further back in the market than his Bathurst counterpart.
Predicted rain for Saturday definitely won't help the cause of Mirfin's runner but he's always capable of putting in a big turn of foot when required.
His runner-up finish in the CDRA Country Championships Heat looked unlikely when he sat ninth with 400m to run, before he turned up the tempo.
It's a lead up which has Mirfin feeling pleased.
"It's a hard race ... but I won't tell the horse he's 50 to 1, I'll tell him he's the favourite and give him confidence," he said.
"There's does seem to be a bit of disparity between him and healing hands considering they didn't finish far apart, but I leave it up to other people to make those decisions on the market.
"The horse is in the best shape I've ever had him and he's ready to run the race of his life. The one concern is the condition of the track and I'm convinced he's a horse who performs better on a firm surface.
"Through he's career we've run into wet tracks, but his run at Hawkesbury the other day on a wet track wasn't too bad so he might be handling it."
Former Bathurst apprentice Hugh Bowman returns for his third ride on Electrified.
And this time he won't have a wide barrier to contend with - an issue which forced him to come from a long way back in the CDRA qualifier.
"Obviously I've got a great jockey on the horse. If anyone's going to help him get through a wet track it's going to be Hugh," Mirfin said.
"He's drawn well, so there's some positives, and sometimes the weather predictions don't come true."
Saturday's final originally carried a $500,000 prize pool but was reduced by $100,000 due to economic impacts left on Racing NSW by the coronavirus. Many Group-level events were also affected.
The race is the third event on the Randwick card, and jumps from 1.20pm.
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