UNDER balmy skies, Murwillumbah's racing community enjoyed a morale-boosting return to racing yesterday. The meeting was the jockey club's first since January following a spate of recently postponed and abandoned race days.
Patrons may have been forgiven for thinking the sun had brought with it a visiting convention of racing journalists.
Familiar faces included those of Sky Racing's Gary Kliese and Rod Fuller as well as representatives of the Daily News and a number of trackside photographers and cameramen.
Less expected was the presence of Australian racing icon Max Presnell who was in the area and decided to head to the races on a whim.
But the afternoon belonged to 19-year-old apprentice Sam Payne who rode a winning double, then capped it off by being first past the post in the official trial. All his winners were trained on-course.
In the first of the day he saluted on board Logical Outcome ($5) for trainer Carolyn Halliday. He scored again in the last riding Epic Terra ($2.50F) and on Count Apollo in the trial, both horses prepared by his master Matt Dunn. His rides were all the more noteworthy for being his only ones on the day.
Sam is a member of the famous Victorian racing family, and son of jockey the late Bridgette Payne. He has been based in Murwillumbah on-and-off for several years and has been doing the hard slog more recently mainly as a trackwork rider.
He returned to competitive racing last month after taking some time out, and seems to have picked up where he left off. The last time he rode at "Cane Park" was back on Melbourne Cup day 2008 which resulted in his first winning double on-course. The combined performances help explain why some locals have taken to calling him "Champagne Sam Payne".
"It must have been my lucky day," the teenager told the Daily News after yesterday's effort, adding that credit was mainly due to the respective trainers. "I'm just pleased enough really to be riding them at trackwork."
Humble he may be, but Sam had done his homework, having walked sections of the track before the meeting in company with trainer Carolyn Halliday. On a track rated a Heavy 10 for the duration, working out the location of the best going was always going to result in extra marks.
In race five, the day's feature 1400m Victory Ford Cup, five year old mare Piccali ($11) managed to get home in the closest finish of the day against locally trained three year old filly Leica Bita Lippy ($3.50F).
Scoring by the shortest possible margin, Piccali (Dean Tanti) headed a tiring Leica Bita Lippy (Chris Whiteley) in the home straight after the filly had led for the entirety. Though triumphant in the end, Piccali was unable to shake the plucky daughter of Nothin' Leica Dane, the pair booking a photo finish in the slog to the line. Topweight Jigsaws ($5) ridden by Dale Missen was a further length away, in third place.
Attention now turns to the Tweed River Jockey Club's next meeting on June 3, which will see the running of this year's Murwillumbah Cup Prelude (1800m). The winner will be an automatic qualifier for the $28,000 Casella Wines Murwillumbah Cup (2000m) on June 24, one of northern NSW's premier staying races. Last year's winner Warrior Within went on to take out the prestigious Grafton Cup, a listed event.