WHIRLWIND Ascent begins his Country Championship dream in Friday’s Country Championships Preview Class 4 Handicap (1300m) at nearby Scone.
Trainer at Muswellbrook’s Skellatar Park by Mark Schmetzer, the four-year-old is on the launching pad to the Sunday, March 5, Country Championships Qualifier at the same venue.
“That’s the plan,” he said of the $150,000 Country Championships Qualifier before the $400,000 Country Championships Final (1400m) at Randwick on Saturday, April 1.
“It’s been the goal since his owner bought him.”
Sydneysider Doug Mullins bought the lightly-raced four-year-old gelding specifically to race in the Country Championships and gave him to Schmetzer to train.
He had won his maiden at Mudgee for then trainer, former Muswellbrook horseman Mack Griffith, but has had five runs now for Mark, winning one and finishing an unlucky third at Canterbury.
“He was unlucky there too,” Schmetzer said of a half-length third.
“Unlucky not to win. He’s still doing a bit wrong too, still immature.
“Once the penny drops, though, he will be a nice horse.”
Schmetzer tasted success with him at Tamworth before his third to Sunny Fame at Canterbury in his last preparation.
Following a three-month spell, he trialled at Newcastle and then ran a 5.8 length eighth to Dubai Sights at Port Macquarie on February 3.
“You can forget that run,” he said.
“He can only improve.”
That Whirlwind Ascent has had just the eight starts means he might be able to have a double dip at the Country Championships.
“Whether this year or next, or both,” Schmetzer added.
“Be good to have a crack at both.
“The track at Scone is going to suit him, too.”
Drawing barrier seven is also a bonus with one of the favourites, Sassaby, drawing on his outside.
Sassaby is one of three runners from the Greg Bennett stable with All Summer Long (2) and Invienna (3) also drawing perfect inside barriers.
The Kim Waugh-trained Recife Beach also drew well in six and unbeaten Art D’Amour jumping from a good gate in four.
Art D’Amour, prepared at Tamworth by Cody Morgan, has won all three starts so far.
The four-year-old gelding son of Excellent Art debuted at Gunnedah when successful over 100m on December 5, 2015, then went to Armidale and won a March 28 1000m after a 16 week spell and returned from a 26 week spell to win a 1150m Class 2 at Newcastle’s Beaumont track on November 5.
After 13 weeks out he has just an 800m trial at Tamworth, finishing just over a length from open company galloper Mapmaker.