Picnics: Five of the best for Champion Cooper
By Joel Marshall, April 2, 2024 - 9:11 AM

Great mates and formidable raceday partners Shaun Cooper and Don Dwyer both put an exclamation mark on another premiership-winning season for each of them in a huge final weekend of picnic racing action.
Cooper had already wrapped up his fifth Jockey of the Year title, but finished off the season in dominant fashion with seven wins across the final two meetings, including a five-timer at Swifts Creek on Sunday (his other ride ran second!).
He began hot with the first two winners at Balnarring, getting punters off to a flyer when steering the $1.70 favourite home in the first.
The Clayton Douglas-trained Forty Times broke his maiden at start five at his first run for the stable. The son of Savabeel is out of a half-sister to Group 1-winning sprinter I Wish I Win.
The second leg of Cooper’s Balnarring double was for Dwyer aboard the Glass Harmonium mare Strong Lady ($8).
The win was one of four over the weekend for the Trainer of the Year, who also finished like a train with a treble at Swifts Creek.
While Cooper finished the season with 40 wins and a margin of 19 over Dylan Dean, Dwyer’s title win was more hard-fought. He ended the season on 18 wins, five ahead of Troy Kilgower with the result not decided until the weekend.
Dwyer’s four winners to wrap up the season all carried owner Colin Butler’s colours. The one that got away for Dwyer, though, was the second placing of Kulina in the stable colours at Swifts Creek.
Kulina, along with the David Noonan-trained Shahin, was vying for Horse of the Year honours and after Shahin couldn’t add to his haul of five season wins at Balnarring 24 hours earlier, the door was open.
Standing in the mare’s way, however, was the flying Doctor Koto ($2.50) who won the Alec Manning Memorial Open Trophy (1200m) to finish the season with four wins. 
The eight-year-old has won five of his last seven starts, with a TAB win at Bairnsdale in between.
This meant Shahin with his two seconds and two thirds just pipped Kulina for the Horse of the Year, great recognition for an excellent season by Noonan who was third on the premiership with nine wins.
Bence brace
Sharing riding honours at Balnarring was Angela Bence who teamed up with Sale trainer Susie Wells for a double.
The pair were successful with $7 chance Bishop Rock, a son of Fastnet Rock, in race three, then closed out the day with a dominant five-length victory by Achaeus ($3.30).
Peter Foster’s Mr Zigmund ($2.60f) finished the season as one of six horses on four wins when he bolted in with the staying event (2808m) at Balnarring, and owner Colin Butler enjoyed more success with the Noni Shelton-trained Free Dawn ($7), who was ridden by one of the shining lights of the riding ranks this season, 2kg claimer Sophie Clayfield (who tied for third on 13 wins for the season).
Emergency strikes
The highlight of Cooper’s five wins at Swifts Creek was the Tambo Valley Cup (1600m) victory aboard Laststrikeyourout ($6).
The Nicole Dickson-trained mare needed scratchings to make the field (as did the runner-up Cheeky Prince) and she took advantage of the luck to notch career win number eight.
The daughter of Stryker was coming off a win at Alexandra and put another Cup on the mantlepiece of her owners, having last year taken out the Buchan Cup.
The picnic community get the chance to sign off the year with a bang with $25,000 in prizemoney up for grabs in the Victorian Picnic 23/24 Grand Final (1600m) at Cranbourne on April 12.

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