Shelton ready to take Ramornie hopeful on pub crawl
RAMORNIE HANDICAP: If John Shelton's prized gelding Belflyer can storm home in the final stretch of today's $160,000 GDSC Ramornie Handicap, then there is a chance he could run a race of a different nature tonight.
"He is a beautiful animal to have around the stables, he is just lovely," Shelton said of the six-year-old gelding son of Bel Esprit.
"In fact he is that good, you could take him to the pub with you. We might just do a pub crawl around Grafton if he wins the Ramornie."
The game gelding has quickly become one of Shelton's favourite in his sizeable Turf St stables since joining the leading Northern Rivers trainer midway through last season.
And he is quickly shaping up as the trainer's best chance at winning the listed bush sprint since Mother's Gift ran the rest of the field off their feet in the 2000 Ramornie Handicap.
"He is definitely the best runner I have had since Mother's Gift," Shelton said. "He won the Warwick Cup, a Moree Cup and a Community Cup at Ballina, he is just a great horse.
"There is not much better feeling than winning the Ramornie Handicap, it is a real thrill to take home the local feature, so if we got that chance again I am sure it would be a big day."
Belflyer will be fifth-up for the Ramornie Handicap after winning an open race already this preparation and finishing a flying third in the $150,000 Tamworth Cup back in April.
The gelding faced a tough run at Rosehill two starts back and was very off key when finishing six lengths off the pace in the $100,000 The Wharf Mooloolaba Spear Chief Handicap (1400m) at the Sunshine Coast last start - but Shelton said he had already put a line through that race.
"His last start in that listed race at the Sunny Coast it was on a s--- track and they all raced four or five deep and he was in there (against the rails) on his own with no bum to chase," Shelton said. "He sort of pulled himself up there and didn't quite finish off.
"But I think I have got him where I want him for the Ramornie, he did a nice piece of work the other day."
Shelton got the opportunity to give the gelding a 600m exhibition gallop on the Grafton Racecourse surface between races on Westlawn Finance Black and Gold Race Day last week.
Ben Looker, Shelton's former apprentice and the man tasked with riding the gelding in the listed sprint, put him through his paces last week and the trainer said he was "very happy".
"Benny really gave him a working over and he responded really well, he was rapped with his work," he said.
"We have only given him that one run this past week which should have him champing at the bit for a run."
After doing the hard yards under the Grafton trainer as a teenager, Looker has become the son that Shelton never had, and he said it was an easy choice to give him the ride despite interest from fellow former apprentice and now Gai Waterhouse stable jockey Adam Hyeronimous.
"He is my man Benny. He has had a lot of luck on the horse, he knows him and I am happy to have him in the saddle," Shelton said.
"Adam was pretty keen to come back this week to get the ride, but I am pretty loyal to Benny and he has won everything on the horse. He knows him inside and out, the pair of them get on good."
Shelton has had the gelding planned for the Ramornie Handicap since his impressive run in the Tamworth Cup, and after his good luck at Monday's Barrier Luncheon, drawing barrier three for the feature, Shelton is licking his lips at the opportunity.
"After the Tamworth Cup he was a little bit hard to place around the country because of his benchmark, but we thought "he likes Grafton, so why not have a crack at the big one".
"He has never won over 1200m but he has won from 1000m to 1600m so I am not really too worried about the distance. I am sure he will race well."
The toughest challenge in the Ramornie will come from his inside in the form of early favourite Havasay from the Toby Edmonds yard.
Fresh off a third in the Group 3 W.J. Healy Stakes at Doomben last start, Havasay is primed for the Ramornie.
Jason Reilly will start first emergency Knight Templar in the sprint .