The field of 13, led by Freya’s Cloak, enter the back straight at Grafton in the $150000 Newhaven Park Country Championships NRRA Qualifier. Image: Emma Pritchard

Qualifying too easy for prolific country contenders

Emma Pritchard

Classy gallopers Far Too Easy and Zoukina have qualified for the $500000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final to be held at Royal Randwick during the 2022 Autumn Racing Carnival after finishing first and second respectively in the $150000 Newhaven Park Country Championships NRRA Qualifier over 1410m at Grafton on February 12.

With a quality field of 13 starters including progressive four-year-old gelding Parksville, who was stepping up in distance for the first time, the race was originally scheduled to be held at Coffs Harbour, only to be transferred to Grafton following persistent wet weather.

And the Clarence River Jockey Club (CRJC) was more than happy to accommodate.

With the rail out 3m and the track condition rated a Soft 5 for the eight-race meeting, nervous connections and racegoers had to wait until 5:45pm for the gates to fly open for the feature event on the program.

Unbeaten at Grafton and on a soft surface, talented three-year-old gelding Far Too Easy was a firm favourite.

Far Too Easy screenshot Feb 12 win

After opening at $2.50 earlier in the day, the son of All Too Hard was crunched late in the betting as punters rallied to support the Murwillumbah trained galloper.

Ridden by Ashley Morgan, Far Too Easy jumped cleanly from an outside barrier and sat three wide towards the rear of the field before coming with a well-timed run down the outside to secure victory by a long head over the gallant Zoukina, who was also well supported in the market at 4/1.

The third top pick in the race Parksville, kicked back strongly on the rails to finish third, narrowly missing out on booking a trip to Sydney while completing a popular trifecta.

During a post-race interview, trainer David McColm said it was a big relief to see his classy gelding prevail in a thrilling finish, adding the weeks leading up to the qualifier had felt like being in a pressure cooker.

“He did it tough,” McColm said of the tenacious victory, “I’d love to draw a good barrier in the final.”

 Describing Far Too Easy as a lovely natured horse and a very cool customer, McColm said it means everything to him as a country trainer to have a runner in the $500000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final.

An initiative of Racing NSW, the Country Championships were launched in 2015 to promote the sport in regional areas of the state and allow country trained gallopers to be a part of the annual Autumn Racing Carnival in Sydney.

A series of nominated races are held at clubs throughout NSW, each one representing a different region in the state, with the winner and runner up qualifying for the final.

“They’ve done a fantastic job for country trainers,” McColm said appreciatively.

Ballina trainer Stephen Lee spoke encouragingly of his runner up, five-year-old Zoustar mare Zoukina following the race.

Lee, who previously qualified Profiler for the Country Championships in 2016, identified Far Too Easy as the horse to beat in the final.

“Both horses will be very competitive,” he said.

“They’ve done the Northern Rivers proud.”

 The $500000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final will be held on April 2.

The next race meeting at Grafton is on February 18.