At last year’s Western Racing Association country championship qualifier, Darren Hyde watched on as Good Host claimed the $150,000 riches for Narromine trainer Justin Stanley.
Soon after, Hyde turned to connections of his Dubbo stable and said “we’re having a crack next year”.
Those connections were the owners of Westlink, the four-year-old bay breaking his maiden the same day as Stanley’s champion chestnut saluted in the feature race at the Dubbo Turf Club.
Now, Westlink is just a couple of runs off his chance at the big one.
“For sure, we’ve got to have a crack at it,” Hyde said.
“Of all the areas, our’s is probably the weakest. We’re not up against the likes of Danny Williams and Matt Dunn up at Murwillumbah, they’re both very good trainers.
He gives every impression he’ll handle the run.Dubbo trainer Darren Hyde on championship contender Westlink.
“In our own backyard, you’ve got to have a crack. (Westlink’s) all heart and never runs a bad race.”
Westlink’s preparation for February’s WRA heat will ramp up on Sunday when Hyde takes the Casino Prince by Comedy Express gelding to Wellington, where he’ll jump from barrier nine in the Geronimo Farm Equipment Dubbo Benchmark 58 Handicap.
The last on a seven-race program will be run over 1400 metres, which is the distance of the February 10 country championship heat.
Westlink is untrailed at that distance, but ran second over 1280m in his last start at Orange on December 30, and has a third-place finish over 1300m at Bathurst mid-last year.
“It’s his first trip out to seven furlongs. He had that third at Bathurst but was probably at the end of his prep and went for a spell after that,” Hyde said.
“He’s been aimed at the championship qualifier now for a while, and gives every impression he’ll handle the run … but I guess we won’t know until he gets out there and has a go.”
What Hyde does know, though, is Westlink will handle the tricky Wellington track on Sunday.
As a three-year-old, Westlink produced a stunning run when he flashed home through the middle of the track in the final 200m of the One Stop Autmotive Class 1 Showcase Handicap (1100m), making it two wins from five starts during last April’s Wellington Boot carnival.
That was the gelding’s last win, still he’ll enter the last at Wellington on Sunday as one of the horses to beat.
Last year’s WRA country championship hope Sprezzatura is also in the field, and will again be eligible for a run in the 2019 heat for Clint Lundholm.
While Kody Nestor’s Music Miss is another set for a tilt at the $150,000 qualifier in a few weeks time and will use the last at Wellington on Sunday as a tune-up of sorts.
Hyde, too, is no stranger to the championships.
The Flash One finished sixth in 2016 while Found At Last finished fourth in the inaugural heat at Dubbo in March 2015.
Westlink looms as Hyde’s first runner in the championship for three years.
Race one at Wellington jumps at 1.50pm on Sunday.
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