Strong entries shift market for $1 million The Hunter

Picture by Anna Warr

Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott-trained In The Congo was the new favourite for the $1 million The Hunter on Monday after strong nominations for Saturday’s 1300m race at Newcastle left the place of Waihaha Falls in serious doubt. The John O’Shea-trained Waihaha Falls was the $4.50 favourite with Bet365 on Sunday but it was left 24th in the ballot order for the race on nominations after 38 were received on Monday. A 94-rater, Waihaha Falls will need a high attrition rate come acceptances on Wednesday to make the 16-horse field.

Queensland group 1 winner Apache Chase was topweight with 59 kilograms as a 109 rater. In The Congo, with 57kg, was the $4.50 favourite ahead of Apache Chase and Godolphin’s Vilana at $6.50.

O’Shea-trained Lost And Running, which is spelling, was the headline act last year and duly won in commanding fashion. While the field this year may lack the same star power, the depth is encouraging. Newcastle Jockey Club chief Duane Dowell was ecstatic with the entries for the fourth edition of the race. “It’s good quality,” Dowell said.

“You might need a rating of 98 to get into The Hunter. “The depth of that race is just going to keep improving, and you look at it, that’s a group 2 race. “And I’d expect the acceptance rate to be pretty good. I don’t think trainers come to kick tyres for a $1 million race. I’d expect most to accept and it’s going to be a good race. “It’s going to be an incredible betting race and I wouldn’t be surprised that come jump time, it’s 6-1 the field. It’s a very even bunch. “It’s a race now that they target. I think the first couple of years it was a bit of an afterthought for some, but trainers are now targetting this. Desleigh Forster has gone a month between runs with Apache Chase, a group 1 winner, to target this race.” Also from the James Cummings-trained Godolphin stable is Ingratiating and Gravina, although the latter is equal 18th in the ballot.

Of the locals, Kris Lees-trained Gem Song (fourth in ballot) and Enchanted Heart (equal 15th), Paul Perry’s Sky Lab (equal 12th) and Sam Kavanagh’s Aramayo (equal 15th) are also in the mix. Overpass, Eleven Eleven, Bandersnatch, Lion’s Roar, Expat, Swats That, Skyman, Lavish Girl and Tycoonist make up the top 17 in the order. In the support races, Dowell was most pleased with the 18 entries for the Max Lees Classic (900m) for two-year-olds. The group 3 Spring Stakes (1600m) has 12 nominations, while the $300,000 Beauford (2300m) has 14.