THE Barcaldine district was given a second reason for momentary celebrations in the face of the crippling drought when Hunter Island captured the historic Emerald 100 on October 12.
Trained by Team O'Toole, Hunter Island ($3 favourite) defied age to score a comfortable victory under Brisbane-based rider Les (Bubba) Tilley.
The 10-year-old's win comes only a month after Todd Austin's French Hussler scored an emphatic Birdsville Cup win, which had the Barcaldine township literally dancing with delight.
O'Toole, who trains a team of eight with sterling support from wife Shellie and daughters Kayli and Sharni, hopes his success places another smile on local faces.
"This is absolutely wonderful," O'Toole said of Hunter Island's one length win over Level Eight ($15, Sonja Wiseman) and Fastnet Flyer ($4, Luke Dillon).
"He was going to be retired early in the year and in fact the old boy was out in a paddock winding down.
"I took a close look at him one day and thought he might be worth another try so I phoned the owner (Ian Rhodes) and asked if I could lease the horse. We talked back and forth and he said he'd get back to me.
"In the end he said we'd race the horse together, 50-50. I thought that was fair and because Kayli really does a lot of work I put the share in her name.
"It's a big thrill for everyone."
O'Toole and Tilley hatched plans for an assault on the Emerald 100 (1850m), first run in 1965, after Hunter Island finished a luckless third in the Townsville Amateur Cup (2000m) at the end of August.
"He was stiff that day," Tilley said. "I did not have the best of runs but he found the line really well, so we knew he could stay and this looked the perfect race.
"I had a dream run this time. He began well, then settled and once we got to the 600m he was cruising and I knew the others were beaten."
Hunter Island has earned a trip to Brisbane as the Emerald 100 doubled as a qualifying event for the $105,000 Country Cups Challenge to be run at Doomben on November 30.
Level Eight tried valiantly to lead for most of the race and went close to giving Mackay-trainer Olivia Cairns a two track double after Mason's Chance won for the stable in Bowen.
Fastnet Flyer, which finished a half length adrift of Level Eight in third, did best of the rest and gave Emerald-based trainer Glenda Bell food for thought to press on to more Country Cups qualifiers in the hope of advancing to Doomben.
"He is honest and did an exceptional job under the big weight," said Bell, who won the Emerald 100 as a jockey in 2006 aboard Pimpala Player.