You can usually bank on the majority of the nation being interested in horse racing for about a week leading into the Melbourne Cup.
Everyone has a tip. Almost everyone’s tip is wrong. And still, come 3.05pm on cup day everyone tells anyone who’ll listen they tipped the winner – there’s scrunched up TAB dockets everywhere, though.
Normally, that’s the case for this scribe as well.
That first week in November I scramble through form guides looking for the words ‘stayer’ and ‘grey’ in order to determine where best to blow my money.
I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but I’m yet to back a Melbourne Cup winner.
I’m not deterred though. And as a result, I’m branching out.
The next two weeks will be all about the thoroughbreds in the lead-up the Central District country championship qualifier at Mudgee.
I’m wrapped up in it.
And if you’re not, you should be.
For the uninitiated, the country championship was launched in 2015 with the view of supporting and promoting NSW racing in country areas.
It’s an unequivocal success, too.
The series includes seven qualifying races, each held at a club representing one racing region in NSW and each is worth a massive $150,000.
The first and second horse in each regional race will qualify for the $500,000 Country Championship final to be held at Royal Randwick, which also includes provincial and metropolitan finals as well.
For country trainers, this sort of prize money is way too juicy to knock back.
For everyone in this region – which includes racing centres like Orange, Wellington, Bathurst, Mudgee and Gulgong - it’s essentially our Melbourne Cup.
As jockey Mathew Cahill said in the lead-up to the Bathurst Cup on Sunday: At this time of year, anyone with a horse is looking at the championship.
The series officially kicks off on Sunday with the Mid North Coast heat at Port Macquarie, before heading to Goulburn for the South East region’s heat and Mudgee for the Central Districts qualifier on back-to-back days on February 24 and 25, respectively.
There’s then heats every Sunday until the championship final on April 7 at Randwick.
The Western heat, which will be run at Dubbo, is on March 25.
But my interest is firmly on Mudgee come Sunday week.
How many of the Cameron Crockett stable will get a run? Prince of Thebes, Ori on Fire, Kingsbridge and The Frick are all quality horses aimed at this race.
After winning the district’s championship preview in Bathurst on Sunday, is Lee Van Den Bos’ Loves A Hassle one of the horses to beat heading into the heat?
The five-year-old’s near-length win over a quality field at Tyers Park, which included the impressive Crockett four-year-old Turcotte, was a tremendous run.
What will the likes of Gayna Williams, Brett Thompson and David Smith, on their home track, nominate as hopefuls? The latter prepared the winner of last year’s heat, Distinctive Look.
You can bet Bathurst trainers Dean Mirfin, Andrew and Don Ryan and Peter Stanley have had their stable working towards the $150,000 heat as well.
Don’t count out Alison Smith either. Both Absolute Ripper and Missy Rhythmos have worked this preparation towards the championship.
This 1400 metre race at Mudgee might not stop the nation, but it’ll certainly stop this region.
With $150,000 on the line, why wouldn’t it.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Who starred across the zone?
There were plenty of stand-out performers across the zone last weekend. From past Western guns to some of the genuine stars of the future, check out this week’s gallery to see some of the best from Saturday’s association cricket in our Team of the Week XI