BIRDSVILLE Cup hero French Hussler has emerged as a likely favourite for the 2019 Emerald 100 (1850m) at Pioneer Park on October 12.
Form students believe the Barcaldine-trained French Hussler is the horse to beat in the Cup, which doubles as a qualifying event for the $105,000 Country Cups Challenge in Brisbane on November 30.
Trainer Todd Austin has booked Stanley Watkin to ride French Hussler after they shared a last start win at Longreach on September 28.
Before that successful outing, French Hussler (Matt Palmer) finished on the heels of placegetters at Birdsville on September 14, a week after he had stormed to Cup triumph under Clayton Gallagher.
With a rating of 79.5 French Hussler is one of the better performed contestants. His 77 career runs have yielded 14 wins and 22 minor placings for raceday pay of $234,520.
Only topweight Calypso Bay (8.15) has a higher rating though he has won only six times for earnings of $161,235 from 44 assignments.
Austin said French Hussler was in good shape but he has an open mind on prospects, saying the race was tough.
Victory would cap a wonderful few weeks for Austin and push his troubles of 2015 further into the background.
Soon after contesting the 2015 Birdsville carnival with a huge team of runners, Austin was diagnosed with a tumour on the brain and underwent surgery. He was placed in an induced coma for 16 days and hospitalised in Brisbane until December to rehabilitate.
His win in this year's Birsdville Cup was resonated throughout the racing fraternity and was applauded in the Barcaldine district which is in the grip of crippling drought.
The Emerald 100 was first run in 1965 and but locally-trained winners have evaporated with the most recent being Pimpala Player in 2006.
Trainers Glenda Bell and Raymond Williams will represent local opportunities through respective starters Fastnet Flyer (Luke Dillon) and Dane Cheval (Brooke Richardson).
With $291,675 in racetrack earnings, Fastnet Flyer has won more prizemoney than many rivals but he has not won since May. It will be Dillon's first ride on him.
By comparison, Richardson has ridden nine-year-old Dane Cheval in its past two outings but he has not won since November, 2017, and only joined the Williams team a few weeks ago.
Another Barcaldine runner, the Patrick O'Toole-trained Hunter Island (Les Tilley) could be a stumbling block for French Hussler.
Hunter Island has managed consecutive placings at Townsville (August 24), Springsure (September 21) and Longreach (September 28), losing narrowly on each occasion.
Tilley was aboard the 10-year-old in the Townsville run and is in peak form after riding a treble in Rockhampton on October 10.
Blackall visitor Mishani Centurion, to be ridden by apprentice Thomas Doyle for the Clinton Austin stable, was a winner at Bluff before subsequent losses at Morvan and Jundah and is rated an each-way prospect by bookmakers.
Race 5 - $15,000 Bentleys (Qld) Country Cups Challenge Qualifier/Emerald 100 (1850m):
1 CALYPSO BAY (NZ) (Richie Oakford 7) 61.5kg, 2 FRENCH HUSSLER (Stanley Watkin 2) 60kg, 3 FASTNET FLYER (Luke Dillon 6) 59kg, 4 HUNTER ISLAND (NZ) (Les Tilley 8) 55kg, 5 LEVEL EIGHT (Ms Sonja Wiseman 12) 55kg, 6 ARTIE'S SHORE (Ms Dakota Graham 11) 55kg, 7 ARIGOLD (Ms Natalea Summers 13) 55kg, 8 MISHANI CENTURION (Thomas Doyle 5) 55kg, 9 PROANE (Ms Katariina Aho 9) 55kg, 10 BARBERANCE (Ms Emma Bell 10) 55kg, 11 FOLLOW ON (David Simmons 1) 55kg, 12 DANE CHEVAL (Ms Brooke Richardson 4) 55kg, 13e MISS SMINKER (-).