SIX Rockhampton stables will try their best to defend local pride in the $150,000 Cup (1600m) at Callaghan Park on July 6.
The Cup, the beef capital's prime racing event, has attracted 17 acceptors including the emergency My Shu Mai. Only 16 horses will be permitted to start in pursuit of the winning cheque of $87,000.
Tom Button, Jared Wehlow and Kevin Hansen appear to be the best placed locals to thwart an invasion from south-east Queensland trainers through respective contenders Astoria, Unbiased and Lota Creek Gold.
Button has engaged Justin Stanley to ride Astoria, a last start second in the Eye Liner Stakes (1350m) at Ipswich. In a slashing trial for the slightly longer Rockhampton Cup, Astoria finished better than most over the closing 200 metres to just fail in a photo finish behind the West Australian sprinter Man Booker.
The Wehlow-trained Unbiased posted victories at Tamworth in March and April and was transferred north not long after running behind the placegetters at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney on May 18.
Wehlow trialled the gelding at Yeppoon on June 10 when he ran fifth of six runners and improved to be third under race conditions over the Cup course and distance on June 23.
Grey Lota Creek Gold is back in familiar surroundings with the Hansen team after campaigning successfully for the Gold Coast-based Harold Norman.
Brooke Ainsworth was aboard Lota Creek Gold in four consecutive runs for Norman between May 11 and June 15, which yielded two wins, a second and a latest start fifth. Elyce Smith will take the Cup ride.
Tony McMahon (Mamzelle Corday), Adrian Coombe (Poetic Heart and Scrabble Creek) and Jim O'Shea (Spring Creek) could provide more than a capable local support act to the big three.
Mamzelle Corday, successful in the Cup last year when she led for most of the trip, will be ridden by Nathan Thomas. Her winning partner of a year ago, Les Tilley, will switch to Balboa Rocks.
Cool Chap, once trained by Hall of Famer Lee Freedman, and Silvera loom as big hopes from the Brisbane yards of Chris Anderson/Rob Heathcote and Tony Gollan.
Dale Smith will ride Cool Chap for the Anderson-Heathcote partnership and Brad Stewart is on Silvera.