Clash of the champions in Coffs Harbour
IT'S the race most trainers on the coast have had circled in their diaries for months.
The $150,000 Northern Rivers Racing Association's Country Championships Qualifier will be held this Saturday for the first time in Coffs Harbour.
The northern heat will see the first two horses win the right to contest the $500,000 Newhaven Park Final run over 1400m at Royal Randwick on April 4.
There the top two from the north will face off against a field of the best horses from seven other qualifier races around the bush.
Saturday's Coffs Harbour run over 1400m has attracted 33 nominations, but the field will be cut to 16 plus four emergencies with acceptances to be declared before Thursday morning.
Local trainer Brett Dodson is banking on a spot for his four-year-old gelding Galway, son of Pierro, that's now owned by Coffs Harbour connections, including racing club CEO Tim Saladine having been bought from Victoria.
"It's a tough race, they are hard ones to win, that's for sure, we've kept him on the fresh side, if we can get in there we are a chance," Dodson said.
"He's had three starts here for two wins he certainly likes his hometrack, it's a roomy track, which suits his style of racing.
"He likes to get back a long way, and loves a high pressure race up front early that gives him the chance to hit the irons late.
Another local charger Helenism, trained by Aiden St Vincent, has won three of her five stats and was a recent winner of the Sky Racing Highway handicap at Randwick and the Pink Silks Class 1 Handicap last year.
Warren Gavenlock's Plonka was also a Highway race winner in Sydney in November and tuned up for the Qualifier running second at Grafton last last month.
Brett Bellamy hopes six-year-old gelding Northern Knight earns a start in the first race feature on Saturday after a recent run at Doomben.
"We've done all we can do for him now, he's had his last lead-up he came through that alright, it might have been a bit disappointing to the eye, but the tempo of the race didn't suit him, he got in trouble, but he went up to Brisbane, he's come home safe and sound and no he just has to walk over the road," Bellamy said.
"He hasn't been out of a place here in Coffs, we just need to finish him in the top two.
"If it's rain affected you are going to need a good solid 1400-metre horse to win the race, but there will be a lot of champions here.
The Coffs trainers are hoping to end the claim Murwillumbah trainer Matthew Dunn has had on the Northern Rivers' heat, having won the past three qualifiers.
He has nominated nine horses for the race, including Malawi Gold, Badoosh, Dreaming of Biscay, GetYourGreyOn, Gracie Belle, One for Betty, Our Echo, Rest of the World, She's Spicy.
The prize pool in the big race is $150,000 including $76,500 for the winner.
Saturday's Country Championship race day, which coincides with feature racing from Royal Randwick, will have a beach party theme and there'll be plenty of children's activities. Entry is $10.