Free Standing to overcome awkward prep in Country Champs Final

Free Standing
Free Standing takes out the TAB Highway Handicap in fine style. Picture: Bradley Photos.

DESPITE an imperfect preparation, Coffs Harbour trainer Cathleen Rode remains confident her consistent galloper Free Standing can make an impact in Saturday’s Country Championships Final (1400m) at Royal Randwick.

Free Standing has not faced the starter since finishing second in its heat at Grafton behind Perfect Dare on February 13.

Although the space in between runs is not a concern, Rode explains it hasn’t been all smooth sailing back at her training base.

“Two weeks ago we had a heap of rain and the [Coffs Harbour] track went under water, which meant it was closed – we had no training facilities,” Rode told Horse Betting.

“Even the beaches weren’t in proper condition to take them down there and work them, which made it tough.

“Because it’s the Country Championships we weren’t allowed to leave the area – the only place I could have gone was to Murwillumbah, but it was going to be too much on him to travel all the way there and then down to Sydney.

“I decided to stay at home with him and to be honest, I would have been happier if he had a bit more work going into the race, but he is a pretty fit horse so I am hoping it won’t be too much of an issue.”

Rode said she was happy with her charge’s effort last time out and the way he is developing on the race track.

A winner of three from 19 with seven minor placings, Free Standing already has winning credentials at Royal Randwick, having won his only start in Sydney in a Class 2 Highway Handicap in December.

“It was a really good run at Grafton. He would have finished a lot closer to the winner if he didn’t strike a bit of hindrance throughout the run,” she said.

“I am very happy with him – he really seems to have matured into a nice horse.”

The four-year-old gelding will start from barrier one on Saturday and will carry 56-kilograms under the guidance of Blake Shinn.

“I always prefer to draw barriers three to five, but barrier one is better than barrier 16,” Rode said.

“I took the blinkers off him for the heat at Grafton and he raced well, so they will stay off for Saturday.

“I am praying for rain – he can handle the mud and I give him a chance – I know there are two in there, Perfect Dare and Careless Choice, which are going to be very hard to beat, but my bloke is a tough, honest little horse so that’s the most important thing.”

Rode, who only has a small team in work, said it would be a massive boost to win the $400,000 feature with the son of Equiano and Motown Melody.

“I only have three horses in work – they are like my spoilt little babies.

“I used to ride all my own track work, but I stopped in the last six months and my partner Steven Thompson now does that now.

“He also owns this horse, which makes it particularly special – we purchased him, Steve broke him in, we’ve educated him and done it all.

“He was a bad bucker and gave us a few problems early on – he was definitely a late bloomer – he always showed some talent, but it took plenty of perseverance.

“It would mean a hell of a lot to win the race – financially, emotionally – it would just be a wonderful thing.”

The Country Championships final is race four at Royal Randwick on Saturday and is set to jump at 1.55pm.

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