By David Gilbert
ROYAL Mile, the pin up galloper of South Australian racing at present, continues to take all before him with an outstanding victory in the $127,495 Group 3 Chairman’s Stakes over 2040 metres at Morphettville last Saturday.
Once again, Limestone Coast racing was thrust into the headlines with the all-the-way win of the Lee Creek trained and Jacob Opperman ridden three-year-old gelding.
That made it five wins and three placings from eight career starts, all in the past six months with a ballooning $181,220 in stakemoney.
And, what a gutsy performance we saw last weekend with new tactics applied by Opperman.
The 17-year-old apprentice let Royal Mile ($3.60-$4.20) slide across the field to lead, something the three-year-old gelding had not done before and Royal Mile then defied a wall of challengers over the final 300 metres to win by more than a length.
For Creek and Opperman it was their first success at Group level, although Creek has won five Listed races with Casino Wizard.
With four wins in succession, there has been plenty of interest to buy Royal Mile, but Burrungule based owner Robbie Dycer has no intentions of selling.
It has been a dream ride for Dycer after Royal Mile was purchased at the Adelaide sales for $26,000.
“Lee has had phone calls with bids to buy the horse but my instructions have been, ‘tell them to bugger off’ in the nicest terms,” Dycer said earlier this week.
“He was purchased after looking through a catalogue at Hahndorf over a few drinks before the Adelaide sales and he has already proven to be a real good buy.
“I am not interested in selling him as I am treating it as a hobby and racing him is for fun, which I’m having plenty of.”
With forays to Adelaide becoming the norm this year for Dycer, he may have to do what his old mate Laurie Considine did decades ago and purchase a town house in the city.
Royal Mile is among the nominations for the $502,250 South Australia Derby at Morphettville tomorrow week and will take his place in the field on the proviso he continues to please Creek in the lead up to the race.
That will be another step to climb for Royal Mile as the Derby is a Group 1 race over 2500 metres and you can guarantee there will be stiffer opposition from the interstate contingent.
DARK CLOUDS HOVERING
JUMPS racing in South Australia received an enormous boost earlier this month with two classic versions of the Von Doussa and Great Eastern steeplechase at Oakbank.
It was just the promotion it needed, but dark clouds still hover ominously over its future in this state due to a few factors.
The pool of jumping horses in this state is at an all-time low and we are relying heavily on Victorian trainers – especially Eric Musgrove – to bring jumpers across simply to make up the fields.
So far this season we have had eight jumping races with only Barry Brook, Nick Smart and Grant Young supplying runners from this state.
Of the 43 runners who have competed in those races (average of just over five runners per race), 13 of those have been Croweaters and the remaining 30 from Victoria or the John Wheeler stable in New Zealand.
Locally there are only two trainers with jumpers in work at present that I am aware of, life long jumping stalwart John O’Connor and Millicent mentor Ray Gilcrist who has the hurdler High Rolla.
Further bad news for the future of jumps racing in SA is that jumping races are now a thing of the past in Adelaide and Gawler.
The only three tracks given jumping events this season are Oakbank, Murray Bridge and Mount Gambier (July 7 and August 22) and, as we now know, the Mount Gambir club will not be conducting any meetings here for the rest of the season.
Oakbank have picked up the Grand National hurdle and Grand National steeplechase on September 5 and September 12 respectively.
That means Oakbank is now firmly the home of jumping races in SA and I certainly have no qualms about that.
Its steeplechase circuit is truly unique, it has been upgraded in recent years and deserves to be used as many times as possible.
The new Murray Bridge track hosted its first hurdle and steeple chase last week and one can only hope field numbers improve for two meetings scheduled there in June after only four runners went around in both events.
The days of Oakbank getting more than 40,000 people to its feature Easter Saturday meeting are a thing of the past and, in one way, the Adelaide Hills club may be thankful.
Oakbank racecourse boasts four grandstands in the main straight, rather majestic structures, but the ageing process has caught up with them.
Most of them are now closed to the general public for safety reasons.
Easily the best place to watch at Oakbank for the public over the years has been the open air top deck above the member’s stand and that required a degree of fitness to climb the long staircases, but the view was worth it.
The only personnel allowed up there now are the judging staff, the course commentator and a television cameraman.
MAY IS CUPS MONTH
RACING in this region goes to another level during May with three cup meetings conducted, all terrific days in their own right.
It all starts next week with the three-day Warrnambool Cup Carnival on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, a country carnival that has not only survived the test of time but seems to go from strength to strength.
Due to COVID restrictions, there are crowd limits for Warrnambool and, already, the three days are sold out.
In contrast to the delicate state of jumps racing here in South Australia, it continues to flourish in Victoria and more than 100 horses competed in jumping trials last Friday at Warrnambool in the lead up to the carnival.
Just over a fortnight away is the extremely popular Casterton Cup meeting on Sunday, May 16, one of the great little cup meetings on the Australian racing calendar.
To complete the month, the popular Millicent Cup meeting will be run at Penola on Sunday, May 30.
Before all of the above, there is racing at Naracoorte this Sunday where it is Stock Agent’s race day and the club received more than 150 nominations for the seven-race program.
THROWING OUT A CHALLENGE
LOCAL harness trainer Graeme Howard is having one of his best seasons ever and, following last Tuesday night’s harness meeting here, is a challenger to Barry Finnis for the premier trainer here this season.
Howard supplied the quinella in the NR 50-59 pace when Burning Hot ($2.70 fav.) led all the way in fast time (1.55.8) to beat Auckland Miss.
That was his ninth winner this season and he is now two wins behind Finnis as we head towards the end of the season.
The other favourite to win was the Alyce Finnis trained Art Jester who led all the way and won like his odds suggested ($1.04).
Outsiders won the other two races, with trainer Terry Glynn producing the first starter The Stylist ($19-$41) to an all-the-way victory in the NR 42 pace for driver Jason Glynn.
Then reinsman Robert Mann made a welcome return to the winner’s stall when he piloted the Jonathan O’Connor trained Abbey Fields ($34-$23) to victory in the final event.
YAHL trainer Peter Hardacre continues to clock up the kilometres and Spin The Reward ($5) made the trip to Gawler worthwhile last Sunday.
The three-year-old gelding was never closer than three wide in the 1100-metre class 1 handicap, yet still proved too good by coming from near last to make it two wins in the space of a month.
That win complimented Hardacre’s success, also on the provincial circuit, the previous week with Chill With Teejay ($2.40 fav.), who also raced wide all the way in a class 2 race at Murray Bridge.
Meanwhile, jockey Kate Walters has returned to Mount Gambier following a couple of years at Sale and is already picking up plenty of rides in the area, mainly for her husband/trainer Kane Post.