Warren Gavenlock's gelding Plonka will begin his campaign towards another shot at the $500,000 Country Championships today in Grafton.
Warren Gavenlock's gelding Plonka will begin his campaign towards another shot at the $500,000 Country Championships today in Grafton.

Racing action returns to Clarence River Jockey Club

Coffs Harbour gelding Plonka launches his quest towards a possible second tilt at the $500,000 Country Championships Final at Randwick in April when he resumes over 1000m at Grafton on Sunday.

Plonka finished a gallant third in last year’s Country Championships final after racing wide without cover for most of the race run in heavy 8 conditions.

Trainer Warren Gavenlock obviously would love to earn another crack in 2021 and is plotting a similar path to last year. Plonka resumes in Sunday’s Open Hcp (1000m) on the way towards the $150,000 Northern Rivers Racing Association’s Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Coffs Harbour on February 13.

Plonka resumed to finish second to All Stand in a similar race at Grafton at this corresponding meeting last year before winning the NRRA Qualifier at Grafton two starts later on February 20. He earned his trip to Randwick for the Country Championships by beating the Matt Dunn-trained Gracie Belle in last year’s Qualifier but the runner-up proved a shade too good for Al Mah Haha and Plonka in the Randwick Final a few weeks later.

Rachel Murray and Warren Gavenlock with Plonka at the Country Championships qualifying heat moved from Coffs Harbour to Grafton's Clarence River Jockey Club on Thursday, February 20.
Rachel Murray and Warren Gavenlock with Plonka at the Country Championships qualifying heat moved from Coffs Harbour to Grafton's Clarence River Jockey Club on Thursday, February 20.

Gracie Belle stuck to the fence at Randwick while Plonka had a much tougher run out wide.

“He did it tough in last year’s Final but was really hitting the line hard. Reverse the barriers and we probably would have gone close to winning,” Gavenlock said.

“But it was a great thrill to be at Randwick racing for that kind of prizemoney – that doesn’t often happen with us country trainers – and we’d love to be there again this year.

“All going well, we’ll follow a similar path to last year. After he runs on Sunday, he’ll trial at Grafton on February 2 then go into the Country Championships Qualifier on February 13.”

The NRRA Qualifier is the first of eight regional qualifying races around NSW through February and March. The first two placegetters in each Qualifier head to the $500,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick on April 3.

Northern Rivers gallopers have won the Country Championships Final, first run in 2015, on two occasions – Free Standing in 2017 and Gracie Belle last year.

Plonka is yet to win first-up in four previous preparations and Gavenlcok expects him to be hitting the line hard at the end of the 1000m on Sunday. Plonka’s rivals on Sunday include several 1000m specialists like All Stand and the former Adelaide galloper Itz Invincible now with Nathaniel Scott at Inverell.

“Plonka had a nice trial at Ballina the other day and he just hit the line under his own steam,” Gavenlock said.

“He’s come back in great order and this run should top him off nicely for the Qualifier on February 13.

“But if he were to win the Open Hcp on Sunday that would rule him out of the Country Championships as he’d no longer be eligible and we’d have to make other plans.”

Plonka, purchased by owner Peter Colley of Greenhaven Park Stud for $85,000 at the 2017 Inglis Ready To Run Sale, has so far earned just over $240,000 from his 14 starts. The gelding is by Epaulette out of Loving New, a former champion Brazilian filly who is also the dam of a couple of Group One winners in South America.

“Peter really liked his breeding and he’s already proven to be a nice buy at $85,000. There’s more to come from him as he’s lightly raced and still untapped,” Gavenlock said.

Gavenlock expects Saintly Sunrise, his one other runner at Grafton on Sunday, to race well in the Class 1 & Maiden Plate (1700m).

Saintly Sunrise is coming off a three-length fifth behind Valley’s Sister in Class 2 over 1615m in heavy 10 conditions at Coffs Harbour on December 30 and a last-start 3.7 length fifth to Predictable Miss in a Benchmark 66 over 1900m at Ballina on January 15.

“Not much has gone right for him lately and he is dropping in class on Sunday and is in a race he should definitely run well in,” Gavenlock said.

Sunday’s seven-race Grafton meeting also features the NRRA Country Championships Preview Class 4 Hcp (1200m) which features several possible other Country Championships contenders, including the consistent Lismore mare Amirykal and the Matt Dunn-trained pair Vivendo Il Sogno and Dreamtime Magic.



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