BAD gate or not, Louth Park trainer Melanie Elder is just glad to have tough pacer Ashark in the group 1 Hunter Regional Championships Final (2030 metres) at Newcastle Paceway on Saturday night.
A few weeks ago, Elder was planning to put Ashark in the paddock after illness struck and the industry was thrown into uncertainty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luckily, Elder kept the five-year-old gelding in work and he recovered to record a fighting win in his heat on May 9.
He was three wide the last half, after going back to last from the extreme outside gate, but he was still strongest to the line to give Elder her first group 1 starter.
"He was actually going to the paddock when all this coronavirus broke out," Elder said. "He had a bit of a mild infection and I was going to put him out. Racing was so uncertain and then the million dollar race was cancelled, and I had my sights on that a bit.
"But he's not a good doer in the paddock so I just kept him working and when they brought this series out, it was perfect.
"He came good and we couldn't really keep him settled, he just wanted to get going. In most cases, horses wouldn't make it from that, but he's just a machine. He just has a really good attitude to work and racing."
Elder was thrilled with the turnaround in the heat from Ashark, which returned from illness with a last-place finish on April 25.
"I was surprised, especially from the start before," she said. "I was disappointed with that last run .. even though it was to The Black Prince and they went 1:52. But he came back with a high heart rate and we went back to the drawing board fitness-wise and tried a few different things.
"He worked really good the Tuesday before and I thought he was ready, but he could also be a bit underdone. I put him in the heat, and to run a half like that, he's just a real natural."
The run ensured Ashark, a $4.40 second favourite, was high in the TAB market for the $100,000 decider despite drawing the second row.
He will start behind Elsie Gem (gate two) and Elder was hoping it turned into a positive. Her brother, Brad, will again have the drive on Ashark.
"It's not really ideal," Melanie said of the draw.
"It would have been good to be the one in front but being in that running line, he won't need to be restrained early like he did in the heat when he came out of eight. It's got its pros and cons.
"It's one of those races where there's probably going to be speed all around, so it will be hard to say who are the dangers."
Elder is one of many in a group 1 race for the first time this Saturday night and she was grateful for the chance.
"I think it's great they give four people a chance to win a group 1," she said of the four regional series.
"The TAB has done a good job keeping us supported through coronavirus.
"We saw last night at Bathurst, an $89 shot won it for a hobby trainer, I think. To be in your first group 1 and win, that would be such a thrill."
Meanwhile, the Chris Bourke-trained Que Sera and Dean Chapple's Emm Aye Dee were the big firmers in the TAB market on Thursday.
Que Sera shortened from $12 to $9 and Emm Aye Dee was into $11 after opening at $17. Western Heir was the $4 favourite.