Sapphire Coast, Scone preview: Trainer Norm Gardner has sights set on Winter Cup success

Norm Gardner has ensured boom apprentice Damon Budler’s incredibly merry month of May rolls over into June with stable kingpin Upper House on target for Tuesday’s feature Winter Cup at the Sapphire Coast.

Budler, who like Gardner is based in Canberra, rode 10 winners during May including a treble at Parkes and a double at home days after.

Budler’s 3kg claim will be invaluable to the Gardner-bred gelding Upper House who originally down to carry 63.5kg over the mile.

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Trainer Norm Gardner feels Upper House should go close winning the Winter Cup at the Sapphire Coast. Photo: Simon BullardSource:AAP

Not that the son of Zariz hasn’t earned every ounce with 10 wins and 10 placings from 50 starts including a Highway.

Upper House’s last five starts include a Canberra Cup, Wagga Cup, Canberra Mile and a midweeker six days ago where he finished fifth of eight but with excuses.

“I thought the run was very good,” Gardner began. “Jean (Van Overmeire) said he just got back a bit too far on him and probably erred trying to go around them.

“He said the horse worked home really well and if he had his time over again, he would have tried to go through them.

“Canterbury isn’t really his track either but he just needed to have a run.”

None of Upper House’s 10 wins have been beyond 1600m so for him to be beaten only four-lengths in both the 2000m Canberra and Wagga Gold Cups is testimony to his honest nature and just how well he is going at this time of life.

“He is a miler and he over-raced a bit too in the Wagga Cup but Jeff Penza was very pleased with him,” said Gardner.

“He ran in a few Listed races where they were a bit too good for him but he just hasn’t had a lot of luck this prep.”

Tuesday’s Winter Cup will hopefully ice the cake on what has been another tremendous campaign for the not so old-stager before a well-earned winter break.

“Provided he has pulled up okay and is not over the top or anything, he should go close to winning,” Gardner said.

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“He has got a lot of weight but that’s probably the easiest race he’s been in for a long while.

“Damon is riding very, very well and I probably wouldn’t have gone if I couldn’t have taken a claim like that.”

Gardner’s other runner at the Sapphire Coast is Markova who is a half-sister to the camp’s former designated stalwart, Le Cavalier, who won 9 races and over $270,000.

Markova is at least bred to win on debut; both her sire, Eurozone and dam La Ventana won their respective first starts.

Markova will be ridden by Kayla Nisbet which is fitting given her father, John Nisbet steered La Ventana to her emphatic debut win at Canberra on Melbourne Cup Day in 2003.

As for Markova, Gardner is advising punters to look beyond her face-value underwhelming trial at Queanbeyan on May 16.

“She goes very good. Don’t take any notice of the trial,” he said. “She is a place chance in that.”


Everest form will be put to the test, or at least on show, in the nation’s horse capital when up and coming filly Dawn Flight has her first run of her new campaign.

The daughter of the unbeaten Fighting Sun showed above average talent at her opening campaign which concluded with a narrow yet dominant style of win at Orange on January 8.

Trained at Warwick Farm by Jarrod Austin, Dawn Flight contested a 740m heat at her home trials on May 7.

Unfortunately for Austin, it was the same Heat that Joe Pride used as Eduardo’s lead-in to the Doomben 10,000 eight days later.

“I know it was only a barrier trial but she couldn’t have done any more that day,” Austin said.

“She progressed nicely last preparation. Every time we stepped her out, she improved so I was really happy with that and she has come back in and done the same sort of thing. She has improved again from last prep.

“She trialled up nicely and had a jump-out the other day and went well so I expect her to run really positively.”

Trainer Jarrod Austin is looking forward to the return of Dawn Flight. Photo: Simon BullardSource:AAP

Dawn Flight’s three runs have all been at Orange in the central west but there is no reason why Scone won’t be to her liking with the added benefit of an in-form jockey in Jean Van Overmeire to guide her.

“Scone is a great track, it suits most horses, but it will definitely suit her. She should be just off the speed somewhere and get every chance to run over the top,” said Austin.

“Jean is in great form at the moment as well but it is always good to get a jockey of his quality to go to the country meetings. That’s an extra bonus.”

Austin (and Dawn Flight’s owner, Jim Critchley) could be in for a couple of big days with their hugely promising Nikohli Beagle primed for a home track win at Warwick Farm on Wednesday.

Barrier 3 and Nash Rawiller set the scene for the son of Nicconi to post his fourth win at start nine.

“It was a super trial and his work has been really good since,” Austin said.

“I expect a forward showing from him, that’s for sure.”

Originally published asSapphire Coast, Scone preview: Budler gets Gardner’s vote for Upper House

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