Who will stand up at Rocky Carnival?

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By Darryn Nufer

Last weekend’s Rocky Amateurs meeting is invariably a good guide to the Rockhampton Winter Carnival in terms of the local contenders and this year should be no different.

The winning performances of Barachiel, Mr Phenomenal and Now Ask Me (pictured) confirmed my view that they’re all capable of featuring at carnival time.

As always the challenge for the Capricornia brigade this year will come from the influx of southern horses which are expected to be greater both in number and quality this year with the bigger prize money on offer – namely the Rocky Cup which has risen from a $100,000 feature to a $150,000 race.

In winning last Saturday’s Rocky Amateurs Bracelet (1200m), Gracemere trainer Jim O’Shea’s Barachiel stamped himself as a worthy Rocky Newmarket (1300m) contender.

Stablemate Spring Creek, who finished a couple of lengths back in third, is on a Rocky Cup (1600m) path and her next couple of lead-up runs over longer distances will provide a better guide as to just where she sits in the challenging pack.

O’Shea, a man of select words, is on record as saying Spring Creek could be the best horse he has trained so you have to respect that opinion.

Rockhampton trainer Ricky Vale’s mare Now Ask Me showed last preparation that, with time, she could develop into a carnival prospect.

The four-year-old bounced back into the winner’s circle last Saturday at her second run back from a spell and provided she can get her rating up high enough, she wouldn’t look out of place in a Rocky Cup.

Speaking of a galloper who doesn’t look out of place, at least on physical presence alone, is Darryl Gardiner’s big lump of a lad, Mr Phenomenal.

A good judge spruiked the horse to me a while back and the Bundaberg based Gardiner, who won a Rocky Cup in 2015 with Victory Hotel, might be looking towards a Newmarket with him – if not this year then next year.

Interestingly, in six career starts in provincial Victoria prior to Gardiner getting him, Mr Phenomenal ran just the one placing.

Then Gardiner produced him first-up at Bundaberg in an 850m scamper on the sand in late 2018, and he trounced six maiden rivals by 11 lengths – some sort of feat over that distance regardless of the ability of those he left in his wake that day.

That win not only showed there was something “under the bonnet” with Mr Phenomenal but also reinforced what a good horseman Gardiner, who rides his own work, is.

The open expanses of Callaghan Park seem to suit the big fella Mr Phenomenal who is by a largely unheard-of sire in Phenomenons, a son of legendary American stallion Giant’s Causeway.

During a 17-start career in Western Australia, Phenomenons won five races including two over staying trips at Listed level before finishing third in the 2009 renewal of the Group 1 WATC Derby (2400m).

As well as obviously being able to gallop, Phenomenons had some stout bloodlines – dad Giant’s Causeway earned the nickname “The Iron Horse” after capturing five consecutive Group 1 races in England and Ireland over a span of 11 weeks when trained by Aidan O’Brien.

Giant’s Causeway then finished second in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot before being sent to Churchill Downs in America for the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) where he and Tiznow hooked up for one of the most thrilling stretch drives in Classic history, with Tiznow prevailing by a neck in the first of two consecutive Classic wins.

Giant’s Causeway retired with nine wins and four seconds from a 13-start career and became a champion stallion.

Phenomenons’s mum, Demanding – herself a two-time winner – was by Australian champion of the turf, Octagonal.

Whichever way you look at it, Mr Phenomenal is just a really interesting bloke and having notched five wins from eight starts under Gardiner, chances are we’ll get to know him a lot better over the coming months.

The other feature race last Saturday was the Rocky Amateurs Cup (1600m) which in all fairness didn’t attract a stellar field and because of that there are still some question marks over the winner Poetic Heart and runner-up Epic Rant heading towards tougher carnival assignments.

Sunshine Coast trainer Natalie McCall will be looking at the Rocky Cup with Epic Rant – a race she won in 2017 with Colour Charge.

While it remains to be seen what level the Adrian Coome trained Poetic Heart can get to, the four-year-old gelding is racing in great heart (pardon the pun) and is one of the most improved gallopers on the local circuit.

Let’s not forget about Rowe-Ireland Racing’s Lota Creek Gold who is set to return home to Callaghan Park for the carnival and Ricky Vale is just getting his ex-Victorian, new kid on the block, Fastnet Latina wound up.

I haven’t even mentioned Rocky’s leading trainer of the past three seasons Tom Button yet nor John O’Sing’s Marway who broke the great Our Boy Malachi’s track record last start.

The comeback kid, Conca Del Sogno – will he or won’t he tackle the big Rocky carnival races?

I’d love to see trainer Tim Cook give him a crack at them.

I know it has been a while between drinks but have we written off Tony McMahon’s grey darling Paradis Imperial too soon?

I’m odds-on to have left out some worthy horses (unintentionally) but the message is clear – the “boys from the bush” aren’t leaving town this Winter so bring on the southern city slickers and their big guns.


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