The last time Warwick Farm trainer Greg Hickman took a horse to Grafton for the Ramornie Hcp was back in 2004 and he suffered a double dose of bad luck that day.
He saddled up Sportsman, the second favourite at $4.60, but that galloper finished 10th of 16 runners after being galloped on. And the Ramornie winner that year was a tidy little sprinter called Takeover Target, who proved a class above his rivals and would use his Grafton win as a stepping stone to conquering the racing world.
Takeover Target was having just his sixth start for trainer Joe Janiak when he took out the Ramornie by two lengths in 1.08.41. The champion sprinter would go on to win Group One races in Australia, Royal Ascot, Singapore and Japan.
“Sportsman was galloped on in the race and was never a threat that year but, anyway, fancy running into a horse as good as Takeover Target in a Ramornie!” said Hickman.
“We’ve had a bit of luck in other races during the Grafton carnival over the years – winning the Guineas and the James Kirby – but I haven’t had another Ramornie runner until now.”
Hickman certainly won’t have another Takeover Target to contend with when he has a second crack at the Ramornie as his in-form sprinter Top Striker tackles Wednesday’s $160,000 Listed 1200m feature.
Top Striker, winner of two of his five starts this preparation, is coming off a last-start upset win as a $41 outsider over 1100m on a heavy9 track at Rosehill on June 29.
“He’s been racing very well this time in, and he handles all track conditions. It looks like we’ll strike a heavy track on Wednesday and that won’t be a problem for him,” said Hickman.
“The Ramornie’s always been on the agenda for him. He’s drawn well enough, but you still need all the stars to align and everything to go right in these feature races.
“He’ll certainly arrive in Grafton a very fit horse. He pulled up well since his Rosehill win the other week and his work since has been very good. I think he’ll run very well.”
Top Striker has drawn barrier five in Wednesday’s 16-horse field and Hickman has booked leading Northern Rivers jockey Ben Looker.
Several of Top Striker’s main rivals didn’t fare as well at Monday’s barrier draw with Bon Amis drawing 20, Cradle Mountain (18), Whypeeo (15) and Smartypy (17).
Smartypy is one of two runners for Brisbane trainer Chris Munce, who is chasing his first ever win in the Ramornie – either as a jockey or a trainer.
Smartypy, a four-year-old mare by Smart Missile, has really blossomed over the winter in Queensland, winning three of her past five starts – all of those victories posted at Ipswich. She was also placed at Listed level at Doomben two starts back behind the good Sydney mares Multaja and Madam Rouge.
Snoopy is resuming in the Ramornie, but his first-up record is terrific with three wins and three placings from his eight previous fresh runs. He geared up for his return with an easy Doomben barrier trial win on June 20.
Gold Coast trainer Toby Edmonds will saddle up three runners – Keen Array, Whypeeo and last year’s winner Havasay, who is striving to become the first horse since The Jackal (2007-8) to win back-to-back Ramornies.
Havasay started the $5.50 second favourite last year, but doesn’t appear to be in the same form this campaign and hasn’t figured in his five starts in Brisbane over the winter.
Scone trainer Rod Northam and jockey Robert Thompson are hoping to repeat their Ramornie success with Big Money in 2014 when they team up with After All That on Wednesday. And Thompson is chasing a fifth Ramornie win after previous victories with The Jackal (2007-8), Youthful Jack (2013) and Big Money (2014).
– Racing NSW