COFFS Harbour has two chances of victory in Saturday’s Newhaven Park Country Championships Final being run at Royal Randwick.
The Warren Gavenlock trained Plonka has reached the final field for the second year in a row while Baileys from the Graham Payne stable has also got the local racing community excited.
Baileys qualified for the $500,000 race with a withering burst in the Coffs Harbour qualifier that saw the Fastnet Rock gelding come from last on the home turn to edge out odds-on favourite and fellow qualifier Tara Jasmine.
That performance where “he ran some time” has given Payne confidence heading to Randwick.
“He ran 34.37 on a Soft 6, that’s flying,” Payne explained.
“We had a couple of concerns in the race, he got chopped out by the favourite but because you’ve got a very intelligent, senior rider on, he didn’t panic and he followed the favourite and I’ll say this, he gave it a cold as he went past it.”
As the owner of the Stuarts Point Tavern, Payne said it will be a big night by the bar if his stable star wins.
He stopped short of doing a John Singleton and declaring free drinks for all if Baileys wins but admitted “there’ll be a big drink”.
“My wife does the cooking so maybe she’ll have to add a ‘Baileys Burger’ to the menu,” he said.
The heavy rain across Northern NSW has forced local trainers to find alternative methods to track work to keep their horses fit.
Gavenlock said he’s been hitting the beach with his Epaulette five year-old to keep him in tip-top condition.
And a trip to the beach is just the way Plonka likes it as a seaside stroll matches his nature.
“He doesn’t need a stable name.
“He’s just a cool dude, he’s Plonka.
“If he was a surf lifesaver on the beach all the chicks would want to be around him,” he said.
“Going down the beach seems to just make him all that bit more cruisy.”
Coffs Harbour has already had a winner in the short history of the Country Championships.
In 2017, Free Standing trained by Cathleen Rode claimed the major prize.
Last year Plonka came close to adding to that list by finishing third in the race, only a quarter of a length behind the winner Gracie Belle.
By qualifying again this year, the bay becomes only the fourth horse to gain a start in at least two Randwick finals behind Caerless Choice, Noel’s Gift and Bennelong Dancer.
The five year-old qualified for the final with a win in the last chance saloon Wild Card race at Muswellbrook.
The win came after a disappointing sixth place finish in the qualifier raced at Coffs Harbour six weeks earlier.
Gavenlock said he’s “probably more” excited about travelling down the Pacific Highway this year than he was 12 months ago.
“This year hasn’t been easy for anyone.
“We went down there last year and prior to going we had this great idea we were going to a big party and unfortunately COVID hit and destroyed that,” Gavenlock explained.
“This year has been a bit up and down and I lost my brother a week before the race which is sad and we had to deal with that personally and when the horse won it was just such a damn relief.
“Now I think he’s going a bit better than he was last year and I’m hopeful for a good draw and I’m pretty damned excited about it.”