Country Cups beckon over King's Birthday weekend

The opportunity to score valuable points in the 2023-24 Victorian Country Cups Series continues across the King’s Birthday long weekend with the $175,000 bet365 Swan Hill Cup (1600m) and the $50,000 bet365 Apsley Cup (2000m) on offer this Sunday, 8 June.

The first three horses home in each of Victoria’s 55 professional Country Cups are awarded points on a 5-2-1 basis with the top 16 points getters to a secure a start in the Victorian Country Cups Final at Caulfield in November.

A former winner of both Cups, Not Usual Glorious (Travis Doudle) will be aiming to go back-to-back after claiming 2023’s Swan Hill Cup in impressive style.

Last year, the seven-year-old gelding (pictured) was ridden to victory by Beau Mertens, but this weekend jockey Neil Farley takes the reins on the South Australian raider.

The combination will need to find something special given the horse has not been victorious since his performance at Swan Hill a year ago.

Hoping to keep the Swan Hill Cup in Victoria will be Ciaron Maher, the current leader in the Victorian Trainers' Premiership, who has a trio of acceptors.

Maher’s entrants include the ever-consistent Flash Flood, to be ridden by Carleen Hefel, and Junipal, who currently sits 35th in the Country Cup Series after securing two points with his second placing in the TAB Werribee Cup (1600m) last December.

Rounding out the Maher trio is Ascension who finished one place behind his stablemate in the Werribee Cup and will be hitting peak fitness third up from a spell. The seven-year-old will be ridden by local boy and town favourite Harry Coffey, who has over 20 rides booked throughout the three-day Swan Hill Carnival.

Other notable entrants include the smart Munhamek (Nick Ryan), who Damien Oliver rode to victory in his last ever Australian performance and who has amassed over $2.2 million in career earnings. The former Hong Kong galloper carries top weight of 61kg with in-form jockey Jamie Mott in the saddle.

Prominent in early betting is Green Fly for Melbourne Cup-winning father and son team Anthony and Sam Freedman, however he has drawn wide in gate 14. Next door in barrier 15 is Group 1 place getter Gentleman Roy, one of two runners for Ben, Will and JD Hayes in Swan Hill’s pinnacle event at 3.50pm (AEDT.)

Shortly prior to that in an action-packed half-hour, the bet365 Apsley Cup will be run at 3.35pm (AEDT) at Edenhope after being held at Casterton in 2023 owing to wet weather.

Among the leading contenders is Khoekhoe (Matt Cumani) who sits 18th on the Country Cup Series leaderboard after an impressive win in the Sungold Milk Terang Cup (2156m) in April. A win on Sunday would see the six-year-old catapult into the top six and all but guarantee connections a start at Caulfield in November.

Eyeing an identical spot on the leaderboard is Picaroon (Tom Dabernig) who is also on five points after winning the 2024 Foodworks Casterton Cup (2000m) on 19 May.

The mare will again be partnered by in-form jockey Tom Madden, who piloted his first Saturday metropolitan winner at Caulfield last weekend.

Looking to get one back on Picaroon and gain valuable points in the series is Heart of Puissance (Maddie Raymond) who finished second in the Casterton Cup last start.

The six-year-old gelding will line up in barrier four, while next door in barrier three is Equine Philosopher (Jarrod Robinson) who will also be looking to add to its points tally after finishing second in the CluBarham Kerang Cup (1800m) in March.

The field of 12 may all be stopped in their tracks by Farooq (Sue Murphy), who knows the Western District well having placed in the 2022 Apsley Cup. The eight-year-old will, however, need to return to its winning February form when it took out the Naracoorte Cup (2000m) in SA.

Following the King’s Birthday long weekend double header, the next opportunity to gain points in the lucrative series will be the bet365 Mildura Cup on Friday, 19 July.

Click here for the 2023-24 Victorian Country Cups Series leaderboard as of 7 June.