With picnic racing finally returning to NSW at Gilgandra Jockey Club on New Year’s Day, Quirindi trainer Geoff O’Brien and Sydney amateur jockey Wayne Wheatley started the new year in the best possible way.
The pair combined for three winners on the day, which was highlighted by Vega De Lago winning the feature event, the Kate Smith Memorial Secretarys Cup over the 1280m.
The eight-year-old turned back time to win the race, getting home for a good one length victory as a $6 commodity over Hamish The Swift and race favourite, Zoutenant.
The winning combination was always destined to be, according to O’Brien, who explained that Wheatley once rode for him when he was a professional.
We actually go back quite a ways; because he was a professional early on and he would have rode for me over the years,” O’Brien said.
“You always want someone with his experience and if you are travelling three and four hours, you look for those sorts of riders and If you can get the best, you take best.”
O’Brien and Wheatley also won the first two races on the six-race-card, with Questing greeting the judge first in the 1200m Maiden Plate as the $1.60 favourite, edging Cheselbeach in second, while Hussniacki came in third.
In the third event, Wheatley then rode $2.70 race favourite Raffle to a comfortable 1.29 length victory in the 800m Maiden Plate, holding off Don’s Duck and Wee Lassie.
O’Brien praised the riding of Wheatley, who he believed was the difference for his stable of runners on the day.
“I would say with my first winner, without him being on board, she (Questing) probably wouldn’t have won, and the other two, he just rode them perfect and did exactly what we talked about,” O’Brien said.
“When I left home, I thought I could win one, and I thought the other two were a chance of winning if they put their best foot forward, and it worked out really well for us.”
O’Brien’s trip to Gilgandra for the picnics was a change up from his recent routine, but he hinted Vega De Lago could be one to watch in the NSW Picnic Racing Association Championship series going forward.
“I don’t go to the picnics as often these days; a few years ago, I was a regular on our circuit up here and travelled out that way a little bit,” O’Brien said.
“Old Vega De Lago is probably a little under TAB (standard) these days, and I own him, and he will probably poke around those meetings, and other meetings that are not quite as strong.”
O’Brien will now set his focus on tomorrow’s Gilgandra Cup meeting, with Chuck’N’Paul a $14 chance in the feature event and the visiting trainer said the course would hold up to a second day of racing.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the track look better and I’ve been going there for 40 something years and that little bit of racing there yesterday won’t impact their cup meeting tomorrow,” O’Brien said.
“We have Chuck’N’Paul and he is certainly chance. He is coming back from 2000m, but he should be thereabouts.”
In other races at Gilgandra picnics, Leandro Ribeiro rode a double, guiding Call Me Trinity to a win in the 800m Open Trophy Handicap for Connie Greig and Terzo Millennio to a win in the 1550m Class B Handicap for Karen Lunn.
Wes Boyd rode the last winner on the day, when he helped Japingka to a good win in the 1100m Class B Handicap.