Thrilling finish to last race on Rocky's 2018 calendar
IRONICALLY, it was a classic case of saving the best until last when five sprinters crossed the line with less than a length between them in the $20,000 MM Happy New Year 2019 Handicap (1200m) at Rockhampton's Callaghan Park racecourse on Saturday.
In a finish that had their on-track jockeys as well as the vociferous "riders in the stand” well and truly pumped, outsider Four Excel (Natalea Summers, $41.00) defied Ragazzo Del Costa (David Simmons, $5.00) by a head.
Just a nose away in third was favourite Just Call Me Louie (Les Tilley, $4.90) while gallant mare Paradis Imperial ($6.00) was a head back in fourth, just ahead of Conca Del Sogno ($7.00).
Those five horses staged a courageous fight over the final stages, giving the large crowd on hand the magnificent spectacle of horse racing at its finest.
The Lyle Wright-trained Four Excel and Paradis Imperial, who was hailed the winner at the 200 metres, singled out in the straight before the "charge of the light brigade” arrived late.
Consistent with all the pre-race hype about how open the $20,000 race was given it comprised winners of 126 races and almost $2.5 million in prize money, the finish, touted as the busiest and closest of 2018 at the track, was an appropriate outcome.
Even more so was the official time of a scorching 1min 9.16sec given that the false rail was out five metres for the entire course, making it all the more meritorious.
Barriers were always going to come into play with the closest to the inside making the race all the softer for those horses so luckily drawn.
That's exactly what panned out as winner Four Excel jumped from gate 6 while runner-up Ragazzo Del Corsa left barrier 4 and third-placed Just Call Me Louie jumped from the rails gate.
While nothing could be detracted from the defiant win of Four Excel, deservedly under Rockhampton's long-shot queen in Natalea Summers, it begs the question just how good were the runs of Paradis Imperial and Conca Del Sogno given their wide draws.
Nathan Day answered so for the former by saying: "The barrier (11) beat her as I had to sprint on her early to get across. It told on her over the last 100 metres as I thought I had them, she just weakened a shade but, hell, can she fight. I just love her,” he said.
The stewards' report told the tale of Tim Cook's luckless Conca Del Sogno who drew 13, revealing the sprinter's first-up run was colossal given he "was held up for running in the straight”.
So too for that matter was John O'Sing's Ragazzo Del Corsa, vindicating that he too was unlucky.
The race and the finish were a fitting finale for racing in 2018 at Callaghan Park which was the nursery for some stellar racing during the Rockhampton Jockey Club's 150th anniversary.
Earlier during Saturday's card there were some other noteworthy performances, including the change of luck for that popular "man in the pink”, jovial trainer Allan Clark, when his Prescription (John Stephens, $12.00) finally delivered by winning the Maiden (1200m).
Tim Cook's emerging Cup's horse I Can I Will I Am (Ric McMahon, $8.50) demonstrated 2019 well could be his year by winning the BM 70 (1600m) under the big impost of 62.5kg.
The finish to that race changed complexion dramatically at the 75 metres when leader and subsequent third placegetter Let Me Say this (Nathan Day, $7.00) went from going like a winner to having to be eased up after faltering.
Ricky Vale's latest southern addition to his stable the "Twiggy” Twigg-bred and raced Mr Attitude (Dale Evans, $19) scored impressively in the BM 60 (1300m).
It was another fine training effort by Vale who changed Mr Attitude's attitude from loser to winner.
Winning rider Dale Evans copped a 15-day suspension for an alleged careless riding breach in the straight.
Ashley Butler was back doing what he is best at - "winning”, on family owned Shigeru Mahogany ($3.30) who is now trained by his mate, the in-form trainer Jared Wehlow.
Punters most likely did not fare as well.
Apart from well-tried Shigeru Mahogany ($3.30), other victors were at odds of $41.00, $19.00, $12.00, $9.00 and $8.50.
Racing at Callaghan Park resumes on Thursday, January 10.