Darlington County has got Waverley trainer Bill Thurlow daring to dream of another Auckland Cup triumph.
Thurlow produced Glory Days to win the Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie in 2019 before she went on to place in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) at Randwick at her next start.
So You Think four-year-old mare Darlington County is only two starts out of maiden grade but Thurlow revealed that he believed she was actually ahead of Glory Days on some counts as he prepared her for Saturday’s Listed Barneswood Farm New Zealand St Leger (2600m) at Trentham.
“Horse-wise you couldn’t compare them; they are two totally different types of horse,” Thurlow said.
“Glory Days won over 1200m and 1400m and had a very good turn of foot, whereas this horse is more of an out-and-out stayer. But at the preparation stage, she’s probably ahead of Glory Days at the same age.
“Glory Days didn’t win as a four-year-old so on that score this horse is probably ahead of her.”
Darlington County is raced by her breeders, Gordon and Margot Calder, Geoff and Janetta Taylor and Thurlow’s daughter Jamie, who have followed their trainer’s advice to take their time with the mare.
“Even back in her first campaign, she showed us that ability but she was a bit raw and immature and we only gave her a couple of runs over shorter distances, more as an education and to just get her out there,” Thurlow said.
“But I said to her owners ‘just be patient with this and she might make a handy stayer’. That ability was only ever going to be shown once she got out over ground.”
Darlington County won a 2100m maiden at Hastings at her fifth start by five lengths and then stepped up to Rating 65 company with immediate success at Otaki last month, albeit by just a nose.
“She’s very well. I’m really happy with her work. She’s done really well since she last raced,” Thurlow said.
“This is definitely a step up in class and there’s a few hardened campaigners in there so this won’t be easy. She’s going the right way but we know this is another big test for her. But we had to have a go. If we can get a bit of black-type on her CV, it helps down the track as well.
“The 2600m will really suit her. She doesn’t pull. She’ll just lob along and every start she’s had, even over the shorter distances, she’s always found the line nicely, and she’ll be doing that on Saturday too.
“I’m not sure how much further she’ll go in this campaign but I’d love to have her up and going next spring and have a go at a couple of the Cups and who knows, we might end up back in Auckland next March. That would certainly be on the radar long-term.”
TAB bookmakers have Darlington County as an +700 fourth favourite for the St Leger, with Family Time a +350 favourite ahead of Beaudz Well at +450 and Rangitata at +550.
She will be Thurlow’s only runner on Saturday but he will be keeping a close watch on Rosehill, where his former charge No Compromise tackles the Group 3 Queen’s Cup (2400m) for his brother Grant and his wife Patty under the care of Sydney trainer Chris Waller.
“I’ve been keeping pretty close tabs on him and he’s going really well and they’re expecting him to run well again this weekend,” Thurlow said.
“He’s been a little bit unlucky with wide draws which hasn’t helped him and he’s got another one this weekend. They’re hoping he can go well this weekend and they can get to the Sydney Cup with him.”
Meanwhile, Thurlow reported Wrote filly And We Danced was back in pre-training ahead of a winter campaign with Waller.
He said while no firm plans had been set for her campaign, there was a possibility she could race in Brisbane during the winter carnival.