Trainer Stirling Osland is playing down any hype that has built up around former Queensland resident Midnight Gun who charges in from Armidale to Grafton on a hat-trick on Sunday.
The lightly-raced five-year-old has been nothing short of a revelation since he crossed the border.
Midnight Gun was beaten by a total of 20 lengths in his first two starts, both at Toowoomba in August, going around virtually friendless each time.
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The change of scenery has brought on a huge turnaround in form with the son of Americain winning his next – and so far, only two – runs in New South Wales by a cumulative margin of six lengths.
Even so, Osland is not getting ahead of himself, intent only on winning Sunday’s Book Tickets at Grafton Class 2 Handicap (1600m).
“What he has beaten would be the only thing,’’ Osland said.
“The reality is that that Coffs Harbour maiden was pretty poor but I suppose the second horse at Inverell is handy enough but at the same time, it was still only a 20-start Class 1er.
“So there are maybe question marks on what he beat but he has definitely been winning well.
“He was running in poor races in Queensland but they were over out-and-out sprint distances up there and we think he could possibly get 2000m.
“We realistically didn’t have this Grafton run on the list but the noms came up a bit soft so we accepted.
“It’s a nine-horse field and he drew nine but that’s probably not a problem. He will settle midfield or a touch worse anyway.”
Midnight Gun is well-equipped to get 2000m when the time comes given his exemplary pedigree.
The horse is a son of Americain, who denied Bart Cummings a 14th Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November in 2010.
On top of that, Midnight Gun’s third dam is Episode who won the SAJC Australasian Oaks and SAJC South Australian Oaks Group 1 double.
Episode is also known as the mother of Flight Stakes winner First Seal who once famously held a five-nil scorecard over the mighty Winx.
Midnight Gun has been on the end of two copybook rides by Osland’s stable apprentice Cassey Williams whose three kilogram claim which will see the Sutton family-owned gelding go around with just 53kg on board on Sunday.
Osland meanwhile is forecasting a much better performance from the stable’s Bull Point filly Billabull when she contests the Grafton Container Country Boosted Maiden (1700m).
The Hollymount Stud bred and owned three-year-old is unplaced in her three starts to date but is open to improvement off her most recent outing when she clocked in last at Grafton.
“She just got caught a bit flat footed over 1400m,’’ Osland said.
“She will appreciate the step up in trip on Sunday. It’s a nine-day turnaround up to 1700m, she will carry herself a lot better than she did at Grafton last start.’’
SHAYNE O’CASS’ TOP SELECTIONS
Race 3 No.9: STAR OF THE NORTH
Just missed on debut when runner-up on February 1. Spelled and looked razor-sharp winning her November 11 trial.
Race 1 No.4: MIDNIGHT SUN
Might not have beaten any champions at his last two but he won them both easily. Can keep progressing.
Race 7 No.10: SPIELE
Lightly raced and well-bred mare from the Stephen Lee stables who finds a suitable, and winnable, race again here.
Race 4: 1,8
Race 5: 1,4
Race 6: 1,3,7
Race 7: 1,10
JOCKEY TO FOLLOW
Les Tilley has two serious winning prospects for Stephen Lee in Star Of The North and Spiele.
Midnight Gun has a peerless pedigree, for starters he is a son of Melbourne Cup winner Americain while his third dam is the dual Group 1 winner Episode, aka the mother of First Seal. As for Midnight Gun, he has had two starts for Stirling Osland and won them both in impressive style. Mauriecently has raced 11 times, including in an Adrian Knox and the ATC Oaks after that. This is a perfect Class 2 for her, unless Midnight Gun is a really good horse. Shades of Frisco and Electric Miss are in the mix.
Bet: Midnight Gun to win
Polished was $41 when he won his maiden at start two of 10 so far. Looking back, he was “overs” on the day given what he has done on frequent occasions since then. Granted, Polished hasn’t won again since but he has run creditable races, none more so than when Donna Grisedale stepped him out over 2020m on Tuesday at Murwillumbah. Full of Flavour is one from 20 but it was here at home and maybe he is looking for this longer trip now, despite his lineage? Summit Special has been costly but is entitled to figure.
Bet: Polished to win.
Star Of The North is somewhat aptly named. Bit early to be declaring this Ballina-trained mare a star but she is going to be in better races as her career unfolds. She was runner-up on debut here on February 1 but went every bit as well as the winner. She has spelled and couldn’t have done anymore to impress when she won her trial at home 16 days ago. The master himself, John Shelton, has a pair of first starters lining up called Friar’s Destiny and Argyle Chieftain who trialled OK in the same heat here recently.
Bet: Star Of The North to win
Mirror One has been a frequent disappointment for all concerned. Matthew Dunn keeps finding the right races, in a lot of cases the perfect race, but Mirror One always seems to find one rival better or just wasn’t up to the job. Maybe this is “lucky 13”. Last chance for him. Mahomes remains winless after 27 starts but he has placed 11 times and is in good form. This could be the day for him. He has placed in two of four at this same track and trip. Peano Grigio went close in a mile race at Ballina last start.
Bet: Mirror One to win, exacta 1 to beat 8
Lucky Sham was very good indeed at her last campaign, winning two of her four starts. The daughter of Shamexpress was pretty ordinary to the eye first-up at Port Macquarie on November 10. Just would have thought a Highway winner on her own track with a good fresh record would have gone close. Anyway, she straps on the pads again here ready and able to atone. Andy, the little horse with the big heart, had excuses for his underwhelming first-up run at Ipswich. Back home now and racing over a favoured trip.
Bet: Lucky Sham to win, quinella 1,4
Noble Missile is a five-year-old with just a half-dozen starts on his CV. The son of Smart Missile was runner-up three times in a row but finally got his reward for effort when he won there at his home track in a 1115m Grafton maiden nine days ago. Has to go to a Class 1 now but has the draw and the talent to succeed. All Beans also banked three consecutive seconds leading into his last start but clocked in the dead centre of the 14-horse Class 1 at Taree on November 20. Good draw, expect better. Koondeeman could run a big race here fresh.
Bet: Noble Missile to win
Spiele is a valuable horse from a residual perspective given her breeding. Just for the record, Spiele’s grandam is Azzurro, who won the VATC 1000 Guineas 30 years ago, beating Burst as it happens. As for the Stephen Lee-trained Spiele, she’s been well placed in her seven starts and responded with a win and three placings. That victory was here. Franklin Corners is a tough, reliable and in-form horse. Stand up and cheer if he wins this one with 62kg and a wide gate. Gem of The Lochs and I Shot The Sheriff have claims.
Bet: Spiele to win, quinella 1,10
Originally published as Grafton preview: Tips, best bets and inside mail