Guy Chapple and owner-breeder Glen Messenger thought their luck with La Cabeza Gem had run out when the Bathurst Gold Tiara was under threat because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A dominant heat winner last week, La Cabeza Gem looked like being denied a shot in the group 1 final for two-year-old fillies.
Fortune, though, was on their side again on Friday when a test from a Harness Racing NSW steward for COVID-19 came back negative, allowing the code to resume on Saturday night with the Bathurst finals and a program at Newcastle.
It was a huge relief for Maitland father-and-son team Guy and Mitch Chapple, as well as Nulkaba trainer Clayton Harmey, who has Fire And Sword in the group 1 Gold Chalice for three-year-old colts and geldings.
La Cabeza Gem appears the Hunter's best chance of a victory, although both have second line draws.
Guy Chapple, already a group 1-winning driver, believed La Cabeza Gem's position behind odds-on favourite Joanna at the start was a blessing.
"It's probably going to work out all right because we're two off in the second row and following out the favourite," Chapple said.
"I've watched all the tapes and I think [Joanna] is the leader, but you are going to have the Girl From Oz and the other one coming out hard, so I think mine will get a good spot."
La Cabeza Gem dominated from out front in her 18-metre win and in her previous start, at Newcastle, but Chapple believed she could perform from behind.
"You don't know until you race, but on her work, she's brilliant with a sit," he said.
Chapple's son, Mitch, is the trainer of La Cabeza Gem but it's a team effort and a proud moment for Guy.
"It's Mitch's first group 1," he said. "I'm pretty proud of him. I broke her in but he always drives her in trackwork.
"We'll just hope for a good run. She can't be any better. She's eating well and feeling good, so she's ready to go."
La Cabeza Gem has been a lucky pick for Chapple and Messenger, who trained and owned respectively her dam, Gemmia.
Bought for $55,000, Gemmia was an eight-time winner on the track before becoming a broodmare. Of her four foals, La Cabeza Gem is the only one Messenger has not sold, and she is the only one to make it to the races.
"This one has sheer speed, whereas the mother could stay a bit," Chapple said.
"From day dot, she's always shown something.
"She's very odd. She's a real bitch around the stables but as soon as you put her in the gig and it's time to go on the track, she's like a lamb."
Meanwhile, Newcastle will have its final meeting before the start of new HRNSW regional guidelines to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
From April 1, NSW will be split into metropolitan, northern, western and southern regions. Only Menangle, Penrith (metropolitan), Wagga (southern), Bathurst (western), Newcastle and Tamworth (northern) will host meetings and participants can race only in their designated regions.
- Participants (Trainers, Drivers and Stablehands) will only be permitted to race in the Region in which they are located.
- The meetings will be serviced by Regional specific Stewards and approved HRNSW Club personnel.
- Horse movements between Regions will be accepted only with approval from the HRNSW Integrity Division.
- Nominations for horses trained by Interstate licensees will not be accepted by HRNSW unless these horses are stabled in NSW prior to April 1.
- Stablehands must continue to work within the Region which they are located in prior to April 1 unless otherwise approved by the HRNSW Integrity Division.
- Owners will not be permitted to attend training stables outside the Region in which they reside for the purposes of strict biosecurity.
- All licensees are to be cognizant of fraternisation with other licensees outside of the Region in which they carry out their harness racing activities for strict biosecurity purposes.
- The HRNSW Integrity Division will add to and amend the general criteria where necessary.
Changes to Race Schedule:
The Riverina Group 1 Championships will not be conducted in the current climate. HRNSW will endeavour to reschedule this Series at a time which provides equal opportunity to all eligible horses.
The Treuer Memorial (Bankstown), the Renshaw Cup (Penrith) and the Carousel (Club Menangle) will be rescheduled after the easing of restrictions by Government if suitable dates are found.
The TAB Carnival of Cups meetings will be moved to the central tracks in the respective Regions.
HRNSW will advise Industry stakeholders of the scheduling of other significant race series such as the NSW Breeders Challenge and the Tabcorp Million Dollar Pace when dates and conditions are established by HRNSW which will provide equal opportunity for all eligible horses.
Club Menangle in consultation with HRNSW will make determinations with respect of metropolitan class racing from April 1.