Rhonda sets her sights on back-to-back Country Cups

Caption: The Esserys – Rhonda and Steve – quinellaed the Listed NQ Cup (498m) at Townsville with litter mates Samshu (right) and Stratford. (Photos: Louise Partland)

Queensland Wrap by MIKE HILL

LEADING Townsville trainer Rhonda Essery is confident she can win back-to-back Country Cups in February.

Her optimism comes after she quinellaed the recent $24,000 Listed North Queensland Cup (498m) with littermates Samshu and last year\’s Country Cup winner Stratford.

The Essery pair dominated betting in the rich NQ feature after impressive heat wins seven nights earlier.

Another kennelmate Miss Priddle, winner of the third heat, missed the final after sustaining a hip support injury.

\”I was confident my pair could run one-two,\” a happy Essery said the morning after the final.

Samshu, a $4.60 chance, virtually had the $15,600-to-the-winner final wrapped up early.

The black daughter of Fernando Bale and Jingjing \’flew\’ the boxes, setting up a two-and-a-half-length advantage going down the back straight.

Stratford, the $2.30 favourite, joined his littermate on the corner and looked a definite threat before Samshu pulled away in the straight to win by a half-length with Henry Parker\’s Sprightly Bro ($9.50) three lengths away third.

The winner, who has developed into a highly talented FFA sprinter,  clocked a slick 28.69s.

\”She may be small but she\’s a very strong bitch with a big motor,\” said Essery.

\”Since we decided to step her up from 380m to 498m a few months ago she hasn\’t looked back.

\”She has just turned the corner … she\’s really surprised me.

\”She\’s won 10 of her 11 starts over 498m and was runner-up in the other -and her victories include the Futurity and now the NQ Cup.\”

Essery agreed that Samshu had won the final with her brilliant start, but \’I like the way she kicks on the top corner and just goes.

\”She\’s strong and kicks away in the straight,\” she said.

\”She knows where the line is.\”

The win took Samshu\’s impressive record to 23 wins and 33 placings from 79 starts and lifted her prizemoney to $63,370.

The same pair quinellaed the City Council Mayors Trophy (498m) seven nights later, only this time Stratford was victorious, beating his sister by a length.

Essery said she would now go into this month\’s Country Cup regional series with renewed confidence.

\”Samshu and Stratford are the leading two dogs up here and I just have to keep them going,\” she said.

\”It would be fantastic if I could qualify both sprinters for the Albion Park final.

\”And to win it a second year would be amazing.\”

Essery was excited and thrilled when Stratford led all the way in last year\’s feature.

\”It\’s fantastic, it\’s the best win of my career,\” she said shortly after the victory.

\”And it\’s great to go one better than last year.\”

Essery\’s smart chaser Naturally Gifted finished second to Ricky Hassall\’s brilliant sprinter Elegant Eleanor in the 2020 Country Cup final.

The regional qualifying heats and finals hit the track this month.

The series kicks off with the Wide Bay Country Cup (550m) at Bundaberg  (heats January 10, final January 17), followed by the North Queensland Country Cup at Townsville (498m, January 11 and 18) and the Central Queensland Country Cup at Rockhampton (510m, January 12 and 19).

The $8400-to-the-winner final will be run at Albion Park on February 3.

The series, introduced in 2018, has been dominated by Townsville-trained greyhounds.

Previous Country Cup winners: 2018 – Innocent Man (representing Townsville), 2019 – Dalmatynski (Townsville), 2020 – Elegant Eleanor (Bundaberg) and 2021 Stratford (Townsville).

*******

MEANWHILE,  Essery has already selected a sire for her smart bitch Samshu when she finishes her career on the track.

\”I have an SH Avatar straw for her when she finishes racing,\” she said.

\”We originally  bought her as a future brood bitch. We paid a bit for her.

\”She\’s a small bitch 24-25kgs. I think that sire will put a bit of size into her pups.\”

Another reason for selecting SH Avatar is that Samshu\’s mother Jingjing has already produced a smart litter to that sire including Group performers Shanjo Prince and Tennessee Tiger.

But at the moment Essery isn\’t thinking of retiring the bitch.

\”Samshu is probably the in-form sprinter at Townsville at present,\” she said.

\”While she\’s injury free and racing well we\’ll keep running her.

\”However, if she starts to get a few niggling injuries we\’ll reconsider.\”

*******

GUMLU-based owner-trainer Harold Hovi has been forced to retire his brilliant sprinter Excuse Me Jack.

The highly talented black speedster suffered a fractured offside hock in a heat of the Listed North Queensland Cup (498m) in late November.

\”He\’s had it pinned and we\’ll keep him until the leg heals,\” Hovi said.

\”Heath Ardle (Ayr owner-trainer) is going to take him as a stud dog.\”

Excuse Me Jack (My Redeemer-Fancy Dancer) set the Townsville track alight from his very first race start late last April.

He won a 380m maiden  first-up in a slick 21.70s, followed it up with a super novice victory clocking 21.47s and at his third start equalled the track record with a 21.42s demolition of his rivals, winning by eight lengths.

The combined winning margin of his first three victories was 24 lengths.

Feature wins followed with victory in the Young Guns Final (380m) in June, success in the Townsville Cup Prelude (498m) in late August and the Townsville Derby (498m) a month later with a flying 28.60s (track record 28.33s).

Excuse Me Jack ended his career with 14 wins and three placings from just 21 starts and he clocked the best-of-night 13 times.

Hovi, who refused several offers for the dog early in his career, said he didn\’t regret not selling.

\”He earned in prizemoney what they were willing to pay me and I didn\’t buy him to sell,\” he said.

What started as a highly promising year for Hovi, ended disappointingly.

\”Injuries happen, that\’s just racing,\” the trainer said.

******

ANDREW Wooler has also retired his much-loved sprinter John Strachin … just a few runs short of 100 starts.

Unlike most racing greyhounds, John Strachin\’s \’kennel\’ was the Wooler family\’s Townsville suburban home.

A bit under two years ago the Woolers almost lost the dog to a spider bite.

\”We think it was one of those spiders whose bite causes flesh-eating problems,\” the trainer said in an interview with Chase last year.

\”It took six months and a series of blood tests for him to come right – he was cramping up after runs and there were other issues.

\”It was during this time that we brought him into the house so we could keep a close eye on him.\”

John  Strachin  enjoyed the indoor life so much he never returned to his kennel.

But it didn\’t interfere with his racing.

Beginning his career in mid-2019, the black chaser finished with 30 wins and 30 placings from 95 starts and collected almost $47,000 in prizemoney along the way.

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