Ray Thomas, The Daily Telegraph
Clearly Innocent is a dominant favourite for the Country Champiosnhips Final.
THE Country Championships series, one of the real success stories of NSW racing, brings the best of bush racing to Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Derby-Doncaster Day boasts four Group 1 races with $10 million prizemoney on offer on an outstanding 10-race program.
The only event that is not a stakes race is the $400,000 Country Championship Final (1400m) — but this doesn’t detract from the quality of the field or interest in the race’s outcome.
The Country Championships Final achieves one of the main aims of Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club which is to bring together every region of NSW country racing in a race to decide the best bush galloper.
Over the last two months, there has been seven regional qualifiers in various racetracks around the state — Goulburn, Scone, Wagga Wagga, Taree, Grafton, Wellington and Dubbo where the winner and runner-up from each heat qualified for the Country Championship Final at Randwick.
Lofty’s Menu, trained by John Bateman, was the first into the Country Championship Final when he won the Goulburn heat from Bank On Henry (Barbara Joseph and Paul Jones).
Trainer Greg Bennett celebrated a quinella in the Scone heat when Clearly Innocent ran down stablemate All Summer Long, before the series went to the Riverina region where the Brett Cavanough-trained Steakandbearnaise defeated Mitchell Road (Chris Heywood).
At Taree, legendary local trainers Bob Milligan and Cliff Bashford qualified runners when Another Valley edged out Ever So Natural before Profiler, trained by Stephen Lee, was too good for Ultimate Dreamer (Jim Jarvis) in the Grafton Qualifier.
Mack Griffith’s talented Pera Pera raced away with the Wellington heat from Iron Blue (Cameron Crockett) then the Justin Stanley-trained Something Borrowed won at Dubbo, defeating Not A Shadow (Peter Nestor).
There was a final opportunity to secure a start in the Randwick final with the Muswellbrook Wild Card last Sunday and Jane Clement’s Chrysolaus held off Ashjata (Danny Williams) to complete the 16-horse field.
Clearly Innocent, winner of five of his seven starts, is the $1.90 favourite with TAB Fixed Odds for the Country Championships Final ahead of Lofty’s Menu at $6, with All Summer Long and Pera Pera at $15.