Consistent sprinter River Lad has given trainer Natalie McCall the biggest victory of her trainer career by scoring a tough win in the 2014 Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm this afternoon.
The expected quick tempo in the Stradbroke Handicap did not eventuate and the race was dominated by on pacers; with veteran sprinter Temple Of Boom looking like the winner when he went to the lead at the 200 metre mark.
River Lad was slowly able to bridge the gap between himself and Temple Of Boom and the Top Echelon gelding hit the front in the shadows of the post to score a narrow victory from Temple Of Boom, while the well-backed Srikandi was third.
Jockey Damien Oliver admitted that he did not know a great deal about River Lad before today’s race, but was delighted to score his maiden win in the Stradbroke Handicap after finishing second on Falvelon in 2002.
“He is a tough Queenslander and it is a great thrill to win Queensland’s biggest race and I couldn’t be happier,” Oliver said.
“To be honest I had never heard much about him, but when I looked through his form, especially his second to Appearance in the autumn, I gave him some chance.
“I don’t mind speed horses from the outside because you are not forced to kick up and hold a position from the inside and you can take your time coming over.
“I felt a bit sorry for Tegan Harrison, it would have been wonderful for her to win her home town’s biggest race, but it is fantastic for Natalie McCall and a huge thrill for her.”
McCall was always confident about the chances of River Lad in the 2014 Stradbroke Handicap, but her confidence took a dip when she drew an outside gate for her star galloper at the barrier draw for the Group 1 event that was held on Wednesday.
The Sunshine Coast-based trainer has been involved in the Queensland horse racing industry from an early age and was clearly over the moon to take out a race that she has always dreamed of winning.
“It is unbelievable, he is so tough,” McCall said.
“I always loved this race as a kid and it’s always been my favourite race.
“I strapped the winner of it for John Hawkes when Crawl won, so it has always been super special for me.
“I was really happy with the horse and I couldn’t have been happier with him, but the alley was like a dagger to my heart and before the alley I gave him a really good hope.
“He is a much better horse over here than at Doomben and 1400 has always been his pet distance and we just haven’t had the races to get him there.
“Normally I am confident in a dog fight because I know how tough he is and I said to Damien before the race that I don’t know if he is as good as them, but he is tougher than any of them.”
The Stradbroke Handicap win was Natalie McCall’s first Group 1 victory, while Oliver was celebrating his 102nd win at the highest level of racing.