For Mudgee trainer Cameron Crockett, that country championship dream was so close, yet so far on Sunday.
Crockett’s heavily backed Ori On Fire ($4.80) was the second Central Districts qualifier hope to emerge from the mist behind eventual winner Cosmologist at the Mudgee Race Club.
With the top two places qualifying for the $500,000 championship final, Crockett was looking good to sneak into the Royal Randwick on April 7.
But a rail’s run from Gayna Williams’ Noel’s Gift snatched the final place in the final, meaning Crockett’s stable will now have to revert its attention to the wildcard heat at Muswellbrook on April 1 – six days before the championship’s final.
Crockett said he’d prepare Ori On Fire for that heat, but is expecting a crackerjack field to nominate for the final chance to feature in the 1400m decider.
Raging hot country championship favourite Don’t Give A Damn failed to qualify out of his South East Racing Association heat on Saturday at Goulburn, while Mack Griffith’s highly rated Most Exalted and Schedule will also be in contention.
Although not qualifying, Crockett had little doubt Ori On Fire is up to the 1400m test and is confident a six-day turn around from the Muswellbrook heat to the Royal Randwick final wouldn’t be an issue for his chestnut gelding.
Securing that top two spot will be, though, as Crockett puts it “no walk in the park”.
“You get your hard luck stories in the wildcard, horses that should have won but didn’t,” Crockett said.
“Aiming for the wildcard, there’s only one reason to go. It’s worth decent money, but the intention, of course, is to get a ticket to the final and you have to place the horse strategically to back up six days later.
“If you go to the well too many times in the lead up the horse won’t back up six days later.
“I know Ori can back up but he has to be in the right order. We’ll freshen him up now rather than keep him going.”
Crockett wouldn’t be drawn in on whether or not the $150,000 Central Districts heat should have been run, considering the conditions.
Torrential rain blanketed the Mudgee course in the lead-up and only got worse as the race unfolded.
“That’s not my place to comment, the race was run and that’s the way it is,” Crockett said.
“In hindsight, (the weather) got progressively worse. That’s up the stewards though. It is what it is.”
Cosmologist emerged from the wall of rain in the lead, with Ori On Fire about three lengths back.
“I was standing there with the crowd and looking down the straight, all the TVs were out, and we were all looking for the colours,” he said.
“We were all waiting on colours and when they were pink I knew they were Deans and knew no one was catching him.
“It didn’t matter how close they were he handles the wet. We came out second but Grant Buckley on the rail got us.
“He didn’t know where he was in the field, he had his head turned to the side the whole time. It was unbelievable.”