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North West hoping their rebel can salute

Wed 26 June 2024

By Jordan Gerrans

All the way from Camooweal in the North West, to claiming city glory.

It has been done before in the white and maroon horseshoe silks.

Horseman Damien Finter and his connections completed the mission back in 2019 when former bush champion Deadly Choices claimed the Country Cups Challenge Final at Doomben.

They are back once again in the middle stages of 2024 with the same team aiming for Brisbane glory.

Finter now has Rebel Salute in his barn that races in the same colours and has a similar ownership group to that of Deadly Choices.

“We’ve travelled further than any other horse in the race,” Finter said.

Deadly Choices and Rebel Salute, among other horses’ Finter has prepared over the years, have been raced by the Miller and Hick families from the North West.

The Millers and the Hicks have raced gallopers together for decades and they are technically neighbours, both living on stations that are in the proximity of Camooweal, which is about 12km from the Northern Territory border.

Their houses are 'next' to each other, although their front doors are about 40kms apart, with the Hick family on the eastern side of Millers' property.

While they are separated by distance, they are bonded by their gallopers at their cattle stations near Camooweal.

Deadly Choices is living out his retirement at a property owned by his former connections, which is a couple of hours outside of Mount Isa.

Deadly Choices will go down as one of the best horses in regional Queensland over the last decade, winning a Cleveland Bay Handicap in Townsville, claiming a Country Cups Challenge Final in town as well as running second by a short margin in the 2019 Battle of the Bush decider at Eagle Farm.

They hope to go one better this year.

The seven-year-old gelding qualified for the decider by winning a heat on his home Mount Isa track in early May by almost three lengths.

Finter made the long journey from Mount Isa across three days much earlier than many other trainers, who will lob in Brisbane this week, so his galloper can settle into the conditions.

He has been stabled at Eagle Farm.

The North West team will have to contend with a wide barrier in Saturday’s 1200 metre show-piece event.

“It’s a hard race and we’ll have to give a lot of horses a head start,” Finter said.

“He was always going to get back a little bit because he’s best left to settle in his races, find his feet and get home, but it’ll be tough from the wide barrier.”

The seven-year-old Rebel Salute was a city runner in the early stages of his career and showed a liking to wet tracks, with two wins from three starts on a heavy surface and two wins and six placings in nine attempts on a soft track.

The five-year-old Deep Field gelding was previously prepared by the now retired team of Bryan and Daniel Guy on the Gold Coast, before being sold to the North West-based connections.

All racing districts of the Sunshine State will be represented on Saturday on the big city stage.

The state’s show-piece country racing series consists of 16 qualifiers with two run in each country region.

The field of 2024 will be the first time all 16 qualifiers have made their way to the city for the decider.

As many as 15 have contested the Final in previous years. 

“It is so good to see North West and Far North Queensland stables represented this year as they are the regions that have to suffer with travel the most to get here,” bush race caller and former Longreach Jockey Club president Rob Luck said.

“It is so great to see that every heat winner has accepted for the race, they are all coming down for it.”

Luck keeps a close eye on regional racing across the state for his weekly radio show Bush Beat on RadioTAB alongside Tony Clements.

The respected voice in the bush remarks that several trainers have planned their campaigns towards the city differently this year compared to earlier editions of the series.

“I have noted one thing this year that there is quite a few horses coming in with a slightly different preparation this year, they are coming in fresher,” Luck said.

“Compared to when it first came in, horses were having five or so runs leading into the race.

“A couple of these horses have had a month or so off and they have been able to time their runs to perfection.

“I think we are going to see a good battle this year as the depth of the race has improved across the board.

“The prize money is so good and trainers are getting better horses to target the race.

“It is a great asset for country racing.”

Luck and Clements have highlighted regional racing on their show for the more than two decades.

Since the series’ inception in 2018, Clements believes trainers and owners are more focused on finding suitable horses than ever before.

“Now you hear from trainers that they are planning 12 and 18 months out for these kinds of series’,” Clements said.

“They are looking a year in advance a lot of the time.”