A pocket dynamo lights up the Cup
By TONY WHITE
WHAT do you do if you've just won the Grafton Cup?
"Fill the cup with rum and coke and get on it," said%an elated Matt McQuillian, managing part-owner of Ashraf, the 97th winner of the Clarence River Jockey Club's flagship event.
Emotions ran riot in the winners' enclosure after Tuncurry-trained pocket dynamo Ashraf rose from obscurity to win the $160,000 A Fletcher Surveyor's Grafton Cup (2350m).
McQuillian, brother-in-law of Ashraf's trainer Stuart Phegan, who races the four-year-old with a group of eight friends from the Forster-Tuncurry area, was ecstatic.
"Unbelievable, I just can't believe this. It's amazing," he said amid hugs and high fives from the other owners and well-wishers.
The Grafton Cup result was yet another classic example of every moderate owner's dream buy a cheap horse, race it with your mates and win a big race.
Phegan, a former jumps rider in England with a happy knack of selecting and training winners from unfashionable backgrounds, missed yesterday's celebrations, preferring to stay at home and tend his team of horses.
Asked by phone after the result what his feelings were, the astute 31-year-old horseman said: "Mate this is unreal. We've won the Melbourne Cup of the bush. It's exciting. I'm ecstatic."
Heavily backed from $15 into $10, Ashraf surged between runners over the latter stages to score a neck win over perennial bridesmaid, Kincharm ($8.50) who rattled home late.
New Zealand gelding Casa De Campo was three-% quarters of a length away in third just in advance of 80-1 bolter, Chief Whip.
The easing $3.70 favourite Sunday Adieu finished sixth. Grafton representative Concitare trailed the field.
Incredibly Ashraf is still eligible for a Class Five event, but stepped up to the listed Grafton Cup with aplomb after just one former try over 2400m at Randwick on June 30 when he closed from back in the field for fourth to Sunday Adieu.
And his run that day, with winning Cup jockey Dale Spriggs aboard, was queried by race stewards.
There were no questions yesterday.
Ashraf, by deceased super stallion Danehill, was initially sold to the Arab Emirates' Sheikh Mohammed for $400,000 as a yearling.
Ashraf had two starts with Gai Waterhouse in Sydney, didn't win, had problems and was offered at a William Inglis tried horse sale.
McQuillian, who raced stakes winning mare Rich Megadale with Phegan, went to the sale with the trainer and $8000 to buy a racehorse for his mates.
Phegan selected Ashraf; they eventually got him for $10,000 and thus began the fairytale.
Yesterday's Grafton Cup win, the fifth in 10 starts this campaign under Phegan, swelled Ashraf's prizemoney to $157,000 with, connections and Phegan confident, will swell next campaign.
Jockey Spriggs, 42, achieved a long-held ambition by winning.
"This is a great thrill. It's a major country cup and I've been coming here to Grafton for 10 years," he said.
"At the 300 metres I hadn't spent a cent, he was still on the bit and he let down really good.
"He has kept going ahead in leaps and bounds."