Australian equestrian’s biggest prize is firmly in the grasp of Tasmanian riders entering the prestigious Tom Quilty Gold Cup on Saturday.
The arduous ride over its 160-kilometre course returns to the North East of the state for the first time in six years.
The top Tasmanians have a recent stranglehold on the premier endurance event of its kind, starting at midnight.
Brooke Brown-Cordell, of Tunnel, and Debbie Grull, of Staverton, earned a Tasmanian quinella in the 2017 Cup.
Lebrina neighbours Bella Pickering and Kirstie Lockhart were remarkably the first two in the country across the line for the junior division.
Tom Quilty Gold Cup event secretary Diana Carroll said Tasmania’s best riders are not only punching above their weight, but the state is going through a golden age in the horse endurance sport.
“I feel we are doing that – there isn’t as many riders here as there’s at other states,” Carroll, of Bangor, said.
“But endurance riding has become more popular in the state, which is funny in a way because it’s harder to do than when I first started. There’s lot more stricter vetting, harder rules and it’s a lot harder to get tracks now.
“I do think we’re better because we know more about the sport, but quite often it’s the same riders getting better from 20 or 30 years ago too.”
This year’s track set around Jetsonville, near Scottsdale, will be familiar for the contenders. But Carroll said that won’t be what will get the Tasmanians over the line.
“Being back on our home ground could work for us or work against us,” she said.
“We hope to do well on it.”
More than 150 riders are set to enter the ride including three internationals from the US, Japan and Netherlands.
Veteran Keryn Mahoney has added 20 Tom Quilty buckles over the years for finishing the ride that starts at midnight and, in some cases, continues through to darkness the next night.
But Mahoney won’t add another to her collection this year after an injury to her horse Pricilla ruled the mainstay out of the ride.
“She’s what the sport is all about – to complete is to win,” Carroll said.
“She has been just such a consistent performer.”
Mahoney has travelled more than 20,000kms with horse in tow around Australia for the Quilty competition from her Weetah stables, just north of Deloraine.
After 12 rides on Sarisha and a further five to Pricilla, Mahoney will be restricted on Saturday to strapping one of her other horses for someone else’s ride.
But there is no feeling sorry for herself over the unlucky miss just weeks out.
“I’ll miss out on the one [Tom Quilty] that’s actually close, but anyway that’s life,”
“It was probably a bit too late for another horse because you had to have them qualified. So the timing just wasn’t good.”