When trainer Roy Roots jnr was looking for a driver to replace Tom Ison on The Black Prince ahead of the Newcastle Mile, Robbie Morris made sure he was in the box seat.
And when the moves came in the group 1 Miracle Mile qualifier on Friday night, Morris did the same for the 2018 Newcastle horse of the year. The Black Prince did the rest, surging down the inside late to win by 2.7m in 1:51:1. It was a first group 1 victory for Roots jnr as well a ticket into the $1 million Miracle Mile on March 6.
It was an emotional win for the Central Coast trainer and Morris, who joined forces just a few days earlier to plot an upset victory.
Roots jnr was "up in the air" searching for a suitable replacement after losing main stable driver Ison, who left the operation and returned home to Tamworth.
Taking The Black Prince first-up into the $100,000 race, Roots jnr wanted a serious hit-out at trials nine days out. Enter Morris.
"I didn't even have to make my mind up," Roots jnr said. "I nominated him for the trials with no driver, and within three minutes of the fields coming out I get a message from Robbie Morris: 'Mate, I'll drive that horse for you on Tuesday and help you out'.
"I said 'OK mate, good.' I turn up at the trials and he's got the gig and everything in the stall ready to go. He drove him in the trial then said, 'You've got to leave me on this horse in the Mile, we can win it'."
Morris backed up his confidence with a stellar drive from gate four. With superstar Lochinvar Art scratched on Friday morning because of a minor foot injury, Morris and Roots jnr wanted to get the lead and hold it.
They held off Thunder Dance, which then galloped, for the front but when odds-on favourite Turn It Up came quickly soon after, Morris handed up and sat on the leader's hammer, confident he would get an inside shot at the finish. It proved a masterstroke as Turn It Up shifted out under pressure late.
"He said before the race that [Turn It Up] is not the worst horse to sit on because it gets up the track," Roots jnr said. "He's one of the best Robbie Morris. He's a real tactical driver, very calm and very confident.
"He was pumped. He rang me on the way home and said, 'Mate, we just won a Newcastle Mile. How good is it.' He was over the moon.
"The Newcastle Mile means a lot to us, and probably to a lot of people because so many great horses have won it. I've been to so many and I've always wanted to win one.
"We had a bit of luck with Lochinvar Art, there's no doubt about that. It's a great horse, an out-and-out champion. But it was still a great race and a great spectacle."
Morris and Roots jnr will now chase an even bigger prize in the Miracle Mile. Roots jnr said qualifying early "was a blessing".
"I can have him better than he was Friday night, and I haven't got to race him again. And that's what suits him, not having to race every week," he said. "He's always been better at middle distance and longer trips but I tried something a bit different this time, just to have him fresher first-up over a mile.
"And I thought if we happened to get in, it would be perfect for him to have the races two weeks apart.
"If he happened to draw a marble in the big one, you could use him out of the gate and pick your leader. It would give him a real chance to run a place, or you just don't know. He's just improved that much lately.
"It's just a real thrill to be there. We're still pinching ourselves. It's crazy."
Racing returns to Newcastle on Monday and Roots jnr was confident Delilah could bounce back in race eight.
"In the Golden Guitar heat she got back too far in the run and she went off a little bit after that, but I've freshened her and I think she's a real good chance tomorrow."
"She should be hard to beat. She was super at Tamworth a couple of starts ago. She went 57 for the 1980 there, which is a good run, and she won easily."
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