NSW country: Opal next for luckless Rocket
By Tim Egan, February 22, 2021 - 4:24 PM

Before heading to Rosehill for the Group 2 Silver Slipper Stakes with his “little horse” Rocket Tiger last week, Wagga trainer Ross Spackman gave media an insight into what it means to a country trainer to have such an opportunity.
“Everyone is looking to find a better quality, (high) calibre horse.
“We come to town and take on the Gais, the Snowdens, the Hawkeses and Wallers. They’ve been to the sales and they spend a lot of money, a hell of a lot of money and here’s us with our little home-bred.
“It’s just mind-blowing. I’m struggling to explain it. A horse like this is what it’s all about for a trainer like me. This is why we get out of bed in the morning. It costs nothing to dream.”
Come Saturday afternoon, that dream turned into something of a nightmare. Rocket Tiger was blocked for a run in the straight and had to ease off heels then switch course before charging late to go down by just a short neck to the Chris Waller-trained Home Affairs.
Both youngsters are well on target for the $3.5 million Golden Slipper at the same track on March 20.
Spackman announced after the race that Rocket Tiger is likely to run in the Black Opal at Canberra in the lead-up to the Slipper.
The dream is still alive.
Perry prevails
Newcastle trainer Paul Perry and jockey Clayton Gallagher were the stars of last Friday’s Quirindi Cup meeting, taking the cup over 1600 metres with Salsa Man ($4.60) and 42 minutes later the Lightning Handicap over 1100 metres with $2.10 favourite Ragged Rascal.
Salsa Man scored by a half-length from Brother Bassy with $2.70 favourite Joigny third. Ragged Rascal cruised home by two lengths from Bryan’s Babe with Attila third.
The win brought up a treble for Perry, who’d had earlier won the 1600-metre Class 1 with another warm favourite, La Jolie Fille ($2.15), ridden by apprentice Mikayla Weir.
In Canberra the same day, the $150,000 Canberra Mile was won in comfortable fashion by Outback Diva ($4.20), ridden by apprentice Jean Van Overmeire and trained by Richard and Michael Freedman. Second placing went to Entente while Maid of Ore filled third spot.
So close, and yet …
With less than 100 metres to go, it looked like $81 chance Takissacod, who’d led for most of the race might hold on and win last Saturday’s Country Championships Qualifier at Wagga, only for the Gary Colvin-trained Another One ($4.80) to storm home over the top and win by a short head.
Heartbreakingly for Albury trainer Norm Loy, Takissacod couldn’t hang on for second either, with another Albury-trained longshot in Bautista ($61) nailing her on the line.
The official margin between second and third was a nose, but the digitised margin was 0.01 of a length — more of a nostril.
As a result, the Donna Scott-trained Bautista will be joining Another One in the $500,000 final.
No catching Missile
Last Saturday’s heavy 8 track at Rosehill was made to order for Nowra gelding Blue Missile, who was coming off an all-the-way win on a similar surface at the Sapphire Coast.
In-form jockey Rachel King sent the four-year-old straight to the front in the 1400-metre Class 3 TAB Highway Handicap and from there the $6 pop never really looked like losing.
Texas Storm finished strongly for second, beaten a half-length, with Philsburg third.
“That’s just wonderful. I couldn’t be happier,” said trainer Michelle Ritchie, who will now try to get the winner into the Country Championships Wild Card Qualifier at Muswellbrook in a bid to qualify.
Cup turn-up
Out west last Saturday, the Condobolin Picnic Cup (1400m) saw the $8 outsider in the six-horse field, Nevada Sunrise, score a two-length win over $3.90 favourite and last-start  Bedgerabong Picnic Cup winner Song One.
Nevada Sunrise is trained at Dubbo by Peter Reynolds and was ridden by Michael Johnston.
’Baby blows them away
Sunday’s action saw Taree mare Charmmebaby stamp herself as a genuine Country Championships Final contender with a dominant win in the Mid North Coast qualifier at Scone.
Ridden by Grant Buckley, the Bob Milligan-trained four-year-old settled towards the rear before weaving through the pack and racing away to record a 3½-length win over Subtle Grey with Chase My Crown third.
“I was confident she could win, it just concerned me where she was going to be in the run,” stable rep Glen Milligan said.
“She surprised me how she let down because she’s always a bit dour and takes a while to wind up.”
Buckley said the mare was “heading in the right direction”.
“She keeps stepping up to the mark. She finished off well,” he said.  
Action aplenty
The highlights keep coming this weekend, starting Saturday with the Yass Picnic Cup (1300m) at Goulburn and the Provincial Championships Qualifier over 1400 metres at Newcastle.
Sunday sees the Central District Country Championships Qualifier (1400m) at Mudgee as well as Armidale Cup day, with full form for both meetinfs in this edition.
On Monday, the action will be in the south with the running of the 1600-metre Merimbula Cup at Bega.
Man for all seasons
The Northern Rivers racing community lost one of its stalwarts last week with the death of Roger Kelly.
Kelly, who’d fought a long battle with illness, had been involved in the industry as an owner, a South Grafton committeeman, a Northern Rivers association rep and more recently as a sponsor.

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