By Duane Ranger
Fernvale trainer/driver, Darrel Graham, looks to have Sunday’s Listed Oakwood Capital Goldstrike Series final at his mercy.
Graham will line up two starters in the $25,000 feature event at Marburg. It is just the second time in its 36-year history that the Marburg Pacing Association (MPA) has received TAB backing for the meeting.
“It’s grassroots harness racing at its best and I’d travel anywhere in Queensland for a $25,000 race. Both my horses have drawn well off the front, and we have a good chance of taking it,” Graham said.
He was referring to My Ultimate Romeo and Escalera, who have drawn one and two respectively.
Adam Sanderson will drive the former, while Graham gets aboard the likely favourite, the talented Escalera, who is attempting to win his sixth race in seven starts - and fourth consecutively.
“Escalera is the better winning chance of the two. He beat My Ultimate Romeo by nearly two metres in the heat on the track last Monday. I think he's got more talent, and can go close. He's the best winning chance of the four horses I’ve got racing on Sunday," Graham said.
Graham and the $1.25 hot favourite, Escalera, drew three in Monday’s second heat while his stablemate started from barrier four. They led and trailed throughout, stopping the clock in 2:48.2. The mile rate for the 2200m stand was 2:03 even.
"He did it pretty easy that day. That was good dress rehearsal for Sunday. He's a nice 3-year-old. He does things easily. He's tough, has good manners and has a good gait," Graham said.
"Being by Bettor's Delight helps too. He's 'Mr Casual' but gets the job done. He went 55 as a 2-year-old. He's a nice little horse without being a superstar. I'll see how this season pans out but he will line up in all most of the Derbies here I think.
“From the good draw and on a tight 700m track, I think he’s the one,” he added.
Graham said Escalera hailed from New Zealand
The Woodlands Stud (Clevedon, South Auckland) bred Escalera sold for $12,000 at the 2017 Australasian Classic Yearling Sale at Karaka. He placed three times in six New Zealand starts for Canterbury trainer Gavin Smith, before being exported to Australia in June last year.
He's now had another nine starts in Australia for six wins and one placing ($30,068).
"He's the best of my 3-year-olds but My Ultimate Romeo is no slouch either. He's by Art Major and has won and placed three times in his last four starts. He will get a nice sit from the ace draw and can go close again," Graham said.
"Manners play a big part on small tracks and both of my horses stepped away nicely on Monday so I'm hoping they will be both on the pace again."
The Somerset horseman also has two other pacers lining up at Marburg on Sunday.
Here's what he said about their chances:
"Lethal Star (race 5) has finished fourth three times in her last five starts and has drawn the outside of the front row (5). The mare might need some luck.
"Totem Pole (race 6) will also need a bit of luck starting from 20m behind on a small track, but the race is 2,900m and he has ran first and second in his last two starts," Said Graham.
Totem Pole finished a 1.3m second behind The Shady One at Marburg on Monday and the start prior he was gutsy 1.8m winner as a $3.40 favourite at Albion Park two Saturday's ago. He started from the ace that night.
The 5-year-old Changeover gelding will greet nine opponents his 2,900m stand - the $11,000 Stanley Road Construction Diamond Run Series Final.
Racing Queensland will cover Sunday’s meeting LIVE via tweets, photos, and videos on its Twitter page and Duane Ranger’s Facebook page.