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TEAM PRICE'S VETERAN SECURES A GONG BERTH

Updated: Nov 22, 2023


KEMBLA Grange will have a local to represent them after all in Saturday’s $1m The Gong.

After co-trainer Luke Price yesterday expected Cuban Royale, the oldest of 32 horses nominated for the 1600m feature, might not be better than second emergency, the nine-year-old has grabbed the last spot in the 16-horse line-up.

Price and his co-trainer father Robert were especially keen for the gelding to secure a start in their home track’s richest race, having won the event two years ago with ill-fated Count De Rupee.

Brock Ryan, who rode Count De Rupee to that most popular local victory and is in great form with a home track treble last Saturday, will partner Cuban Royale.

Illawarra Turf Club this morning also named four emergencies for the fifth running of The Gong, which highlights the 10-race program.

“We have been aiming Cuban Royale all along at The Gong, and his work yesterday morning was exceptional,” Luke Price said.

“It would have been very disappointing if he didn’t get a start.”

Cuban Royale might be a “senior citizen”, but he has been and continues to be a wonderful flag-bearer for the Price stable, which captured last season’s local premiership and has hit the ground running this season with 11 winners (including a double last Saturday) at Kembla Grange to race to a commanding lead, and also lead the All Trainers’ premiership (decided on a 3, 2 and 1 points basis) from Sydney maestro Chris Waller.

Rob Price paid $34,000 for Cuban Royale, a son of Casino Prince, at the 2016 Inglis Classic yearling sale, and trained him for his first start (sixth in a 1300m Maiden Handicap at Goulburn on April 1, 2017) before competing in his subsequent 69 starts under the father and son partnership banner.

He has won 10 races and been placed 16 times, and earned just over $785,000 for his connections.

“Cuban Royale is very sound, has done a fantastic job for us and it’s great that he has got his chance to line up in The Gong,” Luke Price said.

Half of the gelding’s wins have been at home, and two of those have been on heavy ground, even though his better form has been on good or soft tracks.

Cuban Royale is no stranger to success at The Gong meeting, landing a Benchmark 78 Handicap (1200m) 12 months ago, with Ryan aboard, at $31.

Team Price had an option to wait for Saturday week’s Group 3 Festival Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens if Cuban Royale missed out on a Gong berth.

Runner-up to subsequent Group 1 Epsom Handicap winner Rediener in the Group 3 Bill Ritchie Handicap (1400m) at Royal Randwick in September, Cuban Royale drew barrier 13 for Saturday’s assignment, but will come in to 12 if the emergencies do not gain starts.

. Chris Waller has opted for blinkers on dominant The Gong favorite Osipenko, whom James McDonald will ride before undertaking a short Hong Kong contract.

The pair combined to land the inaugural running of The Gong in 2019 with Mister Sea Wolf, who was a $21 outsider when he defeated Quackerjack and Star Of The Seas.

Fellow trainers John O’Shea and Lyle Chandler have also advised RacingNSW stewards of gear changes for their respective runners Kirwan’s Lane and Banju.

Blinkers come off Kirwan’s Lane, who will race in visors instead, and Banju will race in bar plates behind.

With a lack of substantial rain, trainer Gavin Bedggood opted to stay at home with Just Folk for his home track $500,000 Cranbourne Cup (1600m) on Saturday.

Bedgood had been keen to make the trip to tackle The Gong, but said Just Folk needed a “Soft 5” rating or better to warrant heading north.

Course manager Dave Anderson this morning posted a “Good 4” rating, with only 9mm of rain (including 4.5mm in the past 24 hours) recorded in the last week.

The rail is in the TRUE position after being out varying distance (7 and 9m) for last Saturday’s meeting.

Leading Newcastle trainer Kris Lees has Spangler (Dylan Gibbons) engaged in The Gong, but he drew poorly. He also accepted with second emergency Loch Eagle (Reece Jones), who is also topweight with 60.5kg and Nash Rawiller has been booked, for the Benchmark 88 Handicap (1600m).*Story John Curtis, November 21, 2023 - Pics Bradley Photos*

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