You get the feeling Rodney Robb rocks up to race meetings across the region, most of the time after travelling hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres from his base at Nyngan, sees a few big cars in the car park and shakes his head.
He’s probably thinking ‘here we go again’.
As was the case at Parkes on Thursday.
The Nyngan trainer prepared the quinella in the fourth at Parkes’ rescheduled Australia Day meeting and, normally, would have had a sneaky $10 on his pair doing the double. What trainer wouldn’t?
Not this time though.
Sure, Robb still had a bet on the race, throwing his hard-earned on country championship hopeful Mango Liston each-way, but decided stablemate Dead Reckoning was enough of a long-shot to leave the five-year-old, 33-race veteran out of his bets all together.
Dead Reckoning managed to pip Mango Liston, saluting at $21 to stun the majority of punters – including Robb – on course, meaning he picked up a quinella, but didn’t win anything on it.
And the one bet he did place managed to pick up a small dividend on his gelding’s second-place finish.
It was a win, but only a small one.
It’s why Robb looks at the cars in the carpark at the track and offers little more than shrugged shoulders.
“... results like that, that’s why punters go to the races in shorts and thongs and the bookies leave in big cars,” Robb said on Friday morning following the race.
It’s also why racing is such an enthralling sport to cover.
And why the next couple of months are as thrilling as it gets for racing in the bush.
Since Racing NSW kicked off the The Championships in 2015 – a series of races for both country and provincial trainers – the hype around the sport has built tenfold.
There’s been rich races in the bush before, but if Robb thought there were some big shiny cars at Parkes last week he ain’t seen nothing yet.
There’s $150,000 on offer for each of the seven heats across country NSW, and then another 50,000 up for grabs in a wild card race.
Throw on top the $500,000 carrot being dangled as the prize pool for the final at Royal Randwick in April and it’s little wonder the ears prick every time the country championship earns a mention.
And this Sunday the series earns its first mention.
Dubbo will host the Western District Racing Association country championship qualifier, nominations for the meeting land on Tuesday morning and the hype train will begin - choo, choo. Tickets please.
Who’s got the best chance?
Will Justin Stanley take out the race for a third year? Can his champion galloper Good Host win back-to-back heats.
Can one of Robb’s stable make the long trip from Nyngan and give the like-able trainer from the state’s far west a dream win and a ticket to Randwick?
Will Clint Lundholm, finally, break through?
Or will we see something truly remarkable like we did in 2017, when Stoneyrise defied all the odds for James Hatch’s tiny stable near Bourke, which is closer to the Queensland boarder than it is Dubbo, to claim the rich prize.
Anything can happen, and it invariably does.
After Dubbo begins the championship series on Sunday, heats will follow in the mid north coast (Port Macquarie), southern districts (Albury) and south east (Goulburn) regions before Mudgee, again, gets its chance to host the Central District Racing Association qualifier.
No one will forget last year’s heat at Mudgee.
Which is a touch ironic given no one could actually see what was happening during the race 12 months ago, not until Eleanor Webster-Hawes and Cosmologist appeared from a curtain of torrential rain to win the $150,000 heat, at long, long odds.
Dean Mirfin’s hope was the third emergency on race morning. He wasn’t even supposed to get a run.
And with that rain, veteran race-caller Col Hodges didn’t have a clue. Who could blame him. All you can do in such conditions is #prayforcol. And pray we did.
And so we pray again.
Pray the racing gods deliver us more of the same, basically.
But results like that, that’s why punters go to the races in shorts and thongs and the bookies leave in big cars.Nyngan trainer Rodney Robb.
It’s not even that long a shot, really. Something incredible will happen.
The characters – like Robb – involved in the sport ensure every race meeting is worth a note, but throw in the sheer weight or prizemoney around this series and it makes the country championship simply compelling to watch.
It’s must-see country racing. It’s must-see sport.
What we see over the next eight weeks when the series jumps on February 10 at Dubbo and reaches a climax at Randwick in early April is anyone’s guess.
At this stage, about the only thing we can bank on is big shiny cars rolling into the carpark, and Rodney Robb in his shorts and thongs.
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