Homecoming King: McGuren back on home soil chasing glory
THERE is an air of excitement around leading Grafton jockey Matt McGuren as he prepares for his first start back on his home track.
And it could not have come on a bigger day.
McGuren sat for two months in summer, after breaking his jaw in four places in a horse float accident before Christmas.
But with the all-clear from the doctors, McGuren returned to the saddle at Coffs Harbour last month, and it did not take him long to return to winning ways.
Now he has his attention turned to one of the richest races in the bush, the NRRA Country Championships Qualifier, where he will pilot the Jim Jarvis-trained Lawan over the 1400m.
The Jarvis-McGuren combination has already tasted success in the qualifier when they ran second to Profiler in the 2016 edition with Ultimate Dreamer.
"Jimmy was pretty early to come forward and put his case to me about his horse," McGuren said. "He wasn't the only one, but he was the first and he has always been an honest bloke.
"We had that success with Ultimate Dreamer two years ago, and he wanted me to ride it in the final in Sydney but I couldn't. He has offered the ride in the final again this year if we make it, so I am especially keen for that.
"He has prepared this horse well for the race, we are meeting some tough horses, but at least we are in with a shot."
The ex-Godolphin galloper has been aimed at the championships since Jarvis bought him at a sale last year, and finished second behind Port Macquarie championships qualifier Awesome Pluck two starts back.
"His first-up run at Port Macquarie was full of merit. He was finishing every bit as good as the winner," Jarvis said.
"He now gets to a suitable 1400m in Sunday's race and I expect the track will be a soft 6 or 7, so that will be ideal conditions for him and may not suit a few of the others."
McGuren will have his work cut out for him in the qualifier, up against the two favourites Snitz and Runway Ready, from the Matthew Dunn yard.
McGuren had piloted both of the favourites to their first career wins, and said it might be something that worked in his favour.
"There are six horses in the race that I have ridden and won on before," McGuren said. "I haven't won on my horse, but at least I know where these horses need to be in the race and from my barrier maybe I can make it harder for them."
McGuren will be flying the Grafton jockey flag alongside Ben Looker with most trainers looking towards the big names of Brisbane racing, including Group winners Jeff Lloyd and Robbie Fradd.
"It is disappointing, they are flying the flag as the country championships, and you have all these city jockeys coming to your home to steal your thunder," he said. "But I think that disappointment will turn to determination very quickly."
The NRRA qualifier is the fifth in the series around Country NSW, with the first and second horses to contest the $500,000 final at Royal Randwick on April 7.