Rhonda plots Cup targets for the talented Stratford

\"\"Caption: Trainer Rhonda Essery and handler Sharon Burnett with TAB Townsville Young Guns winner Stratford.

By MIKE HILL

OUTSTANDING North Queensland sprinter Stratford has hit a purple patch of form and trainer Rhonda Essery is enjoying every minute of it.

Stratford, winner of the $20,600 RQ Country Cup at Brisbane\’s Albion Park earlier in the year, crushed his rivals in last month\’s $5250 TAB Townsville Young Guns (498m), taking his winning run to six in a row – seven from his past eight starts.

\”He\’s come back from Brisbane a different dog,\” said Essery.

\”He\’s definitely moved to another level.

\”The trip did him the world of good … he\’s jumping better and running exceptional times.\”

In the Young Guns final, Stratford – a $1.70 hot favourite – exploded from the outside box to cross the field and set up a winning six-length lead down the back straight.

At the post, the brindle sprinter (Fernando Bale-Jingjing) had pushed his advantage to eight-and-a-quarter lengths, beating Robert Lound\’s Miss Verity ($3.90) with the Jay Schafer-prepared Mr Mendoza ($71) another three lengths away third.

Stratford clocked a smart 28.88s for the trip – the fifth time he has broken 29s this year.

His best was a super 28.48s in late February – just .15s outside Zabdon Ferrari\’s track record of 28.33s.

\”He\’s improved 100 per cent since his trip south,\” said Essery, who is one of the biggest trainers in the north.

Better known as Romeo around the Essery kennels, the black sprinter was under the care of Peter O\’Reilly  during his highly successful Brisbane visit.

At the time O\’Reilly said the sprinter was too good for Towsnville.

Not only did Stratford win the Country Cup in a slick 29.96s, he also defeated the classy Steve Kavanagh-trained Louis Rumble in an Albion Park fifth grade final in 30.01s and is unbeaten in his four Townsville runs since.

Essery reaffirmed an earlier commitment that Stratford wasn\’t going anywhere.

\”He\’s staying with me here … I won\’t be sending him away,\” she said.

\”He\’s only a young dog and we\’re going to enjoy racing him.\”

She said Stratford was a dog that loved his work.

\”The more work he has, the better,\” the trainer said. \”Without it he goes off his head.\”

Essery would love nothing better than to win the Group 3 Townsville Cup with her \’little champ\’ in August.

She is convinced the talented sprinter has a big victory in him and she could put that theory to the test in coming weeks.

\”We have the Grand Prix coming up soon, but before that we plan to take him to Rockhampton for their Young Gun series,\” she said.

And if Stratford can handle the track, the trainer said she would consider a tilt at the G3 Rockhampton Cup (510m) later this month.

The sprinter comes from a good litter that includes Sam Sultana\’s smart Sydney chaser Cape Fernando.

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