RACING: One of the early favourites to win the $388,000 Country Championships Final is the first to qualify after Perfect Dare plundered heat one at Grafton today.
Before a heat had been run the Matthew Dunn trained four-year-old gelding was this week quoted at $11 alongside Pumpkin Pie to win the 1400m final at Royal Randwick on April 1.
That price will no doubt firm into single digits after Brisbane jockey Jim Byrne shot Perfect Dare to a five lengths victory in the $150,000 qualifier.
Boasting more than three times the prizemoney ($358,167) of any of its rivals, including a last start second in the Listed $975,001 Magic Millions Cup at the Gold Coast on January, Perfect Dare started the $2 favourite at Grafton and did not disappoint.
"It's probably a relief more than anything because his form is obviously superior to that field," Dunn admitted.
"He did a good job though. He didn't just beat them, he belted them up. That's what we were hoping to do on that weight scale against those horses."
Coffs Harbour trainer Cathleen Rode was thrilled when Free Standing ($31, Raymond Spokes) ran second to book the second slot in the final in six weeks.
"He's not high maintenance so if he pulls up okay we'll be there," she said. "I was quite confident today. He's an honest, big horse and been working really well."
The best of the local hopes Hotel Drive ($11, Ric McMahon) took up the early running as expected but his trademark blistering finish was nowhere to be seen and he faded badly to finish third.
"He paddled the last hundred," despondent trainer Scott Henley said afterwards. "He ran out of petrol."
Henley will have the option of sending Hotel Drive for another chance in the Country Championship Wild Card at Muswellbrook on March 26.
While Henley was hesitant to commit that far ahead, Dunn was more animated about the possibility, having brought four runners from his Muswellbrook stables including Madame De Ban ($4, Jeff Lloyd) who came home late to finish fourth.
"We've concentrated a little harder to get some horses there this year," Dunn said.
"We had four in it, they all run well and it's a shame another one didn't run second. But we've got one through and hopefully we might go to the repechage heat in Muswellbrook in four weeks time and get one of the other ones in as well."
Dunn was not overly concerned by the six week gap to fill between the heat and the final for Perfect Dare.
"I don't know what I'll do with him between now and then, he probably needs another run somewhere," he said. "I don't know whether I'll run him in Sydney or keep him up here, I'll figure that out in the next few days.
"It's a little bit (of a logistical nightmare), particularly given that today's the same distance as the final. If today was 1200 it wouldn't be a problem, we'd go straight in.
"But he had a month between runs between Magic Millions and today, so there's no reason we can't stretch him out again."
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