By Kim Woods
In a cracking day of racing full of surprises and thrilling finishes, the Canberra trained Gunga Din triumphed in the Narrandera Cup on Sunday.
The eight-race program, carrying the richest prizemoney west of Wagga Wagga, drew 107 acceptances and 90 starters from throughout NSW to compete on the track, rated a Good 4.
Due to COVID restrictions, Victorian horses were banned, the public was not allowed on the track for the first time in Cup history, but owners were able to attend to see their horses run.
Canberra trainer Keith Dryden sent the four-year-old gelding, Gunga Din, as his sole runner for Narrandera and came away with the Cup in a time of 1.37.42 for the 1600m journey.
It was the first Narrandera Cup win for the stable.
Having his 17th start, Gunga Din was ridden by Brendan Ward to score by two-and-a-half lengths to Gundagai Cup winner, Monkery, and a long head to Hurricane Harbour in third.
The gelding paid $3.30 and was coming off a third placing in the Narooma Cup on June 26.
Stable foreman Libby Snowden said it was the first time the horse had raced at Narrandera.
“He had been struggling with heavy tracks and we were looking for a better track,” she said.
“In the Narooma Cup he was unlucky with a flat spot at the 500m but today he was on top of the ground.
“Keith spoke to Brendan (Ward) to race midfield and watch that he didn’t knockoff at between the 300-600m.
“Brendan was very mindful of that and picked him up before it happened.
“We will now be going back to the race calendar to find something suitable for him somewhere else.”
Race Club president Tony Paterson said the weather and track had combined for perfect racing at the Cup.
Mr Paterson paid tribute to the strong support from trainers, owners and strappers from as far as Canberra for the meeting.
“It was great racing and we got through the day well,” he said.
The program for the day got off to a surprise win for Delightful Dream in the Fabstock and Narrandera Jewellers Maiden Plate over 1000m.
The three-year-old gelding was having his first start under trainer Paul Jones, Canberra, and his owners were thrilled to be able to be trackside for the win.
Ridden by Aaron Sweeney, the gelding won by half a neck in a time of 59.31 over Money in Mud, trained by Phil Sweeney, Jerilderie.
Mr Jones said the horse was inspected at the Classic Sales in Sydney and bought him post-sale after Delightful Dream was passed in.
“We’ve had a big opinion of this horse for a long time but he was a little slow developing, taking a long time to mature,” Mr Jones said.
“He is a big, tall strong three-year-old, had a few false starts and a couple preparations.
“We are really happy – this was the first time we have pressed the button on him.
“Narrandera is a track I don’t mind – if you have got the horse to race back in midfield, you can run on – it’s a very nice track.”
Owners Des and Judy Costello travelled from Terrigal along with Kevin Ford from Canberra to see the win.
One of the highlights was a win by Pacific Tycoon, which paid $110, in the Elders Ltd Narrandera and Coleambally CG&E benchmark 58 handicap over 1400m.
Ridden by Bradley Vale, the Rick Freyer trained gelding found his footing on the better track to score by a half-length to Crimson Hoffa, with Dezzy in third.
Apprentice Josh Richards piloted Jailbird Jay Jay for Goulburn trainer Mark Gee to win the Charles Sturt Hotel Narrandera Maiden Handicap over 1400m in a time of 1.26.01.
Paying $4, the five-year-old mare scooted away to a three-length win over Lord Cedrick, with Louis’s Girl in third.
Narrandera is one of the few Riverina tracks to offer a 2100m race, taken out by Ocean Walzer by a length over She’s a Treasure.
The six-year-old gelding is trained by Danny Williams, Goulburn, and was ridden by Shaun Guymer in 2.09.84.
In the fillies and mare’s race, the Hutchins Brothers Narrandera F&M Benchmark 58 handicap over 1400m, Reason to Smile producing a thrilling finish to win by a nose over Snowbrook, with Ember in third.
Kayla Nisbet rode Reason to Smile in a time of 1.24.92 and it paid $12.70.
Albury trainer Rob Wellington scored with Nevada Dane in the Bendigo Bank Narrandera Benchmark 66 handicap over 1000m.
The six-year-old gelding was coming off a third placing at Wagga and was ridden by Nick Souquet in 58.46 to win by a neck to Vinnie Vega and a long head in third to Magnavale.
In the final race of the day, the Gary Colvin trained Zarsnip, paying $15.70, was ridden by Nick Heywood to win the 1200m race in a time of 1.11.55.
The four-year-old gelding scored by one-and-a-quarter lengths over Lady Brook, with Nicotera three-quarters of a length away in third.