Courtesy of Racing stars align in Brisbane to launch $15 million Queensland Winter Racing Carnival

Can the pride of Queensland racing Natalie McCall and River Lad go back to back in the Stradbroke? Which of Tony Gollan’s protégés will wow Queensland crowds this year? Has Tim Bell got another case of Carnival fever?

They were just some of the questions bandied around at Eagle St Pier today as McCall, Gollan and Bell were on hand to officially launch the 2015 Queensland Winter Racing Carnival.

Headlined by the $2 million Stradbroke Handicap and blockbuster card of black type races each carrying no less than $100,000 in stakes, Australian racing is buzzing ahead of the Carnival’s opening meeting at the Gold Coast on ANZAC Day.

“This Carnival will be the richest ever staged in Queensland and from the indications we have so far, the prizemoney boots have attracted plenty of interest from the southern states and New Zealand,” Racing Queensland CEO Darren Condon said.

“The new wagering deal with TattsBet set the scene for a revamped Carnival and this year is the first step in developing a Carnival that will put Queensland right up there.

“And it is not just confined to the city: the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Caloundra and Ipswich programs are also looking really strong.

“The Winter Carnival is one Queenslanders can be justifiably proud of, but our focus this year has been to cement our place as Australian Racing’s Winter Destination by appealing to the best horses, trainers and jockeys the country has to offer.

“We have had some outstanding interstate horses succeed at the Carnival in years gone by, but our focus this year has been to cement our place as Australian racing’s winter destination and appeal to a broader horse pool.”

But the visitors are not going to have it all their way. Fresh from four wins at Doomben last Saturday, Tony Gollan might not have stable star Spirit of Boom in his team 2015, but it is generation next in his stable which will be attracting the interest this year.

“This carnival definitely has a different feel – I don’t have the headline act with Spirit of Boom, Temple of Boom is also another year older, but we’ve got a new-look Carnival team this year,” Gollan said.

“It is always good to have horses winning leading into the Carnival and we are happy with the way the team is performing.”

For Natalie McCall, her history-making 2014 Stradbroke Handicap win with River Lad sealed her spot in Australian racing folklore. But with a taste of victory in Queensland’s greatest race, she has no intention of stopping there.

“It is more exciting this year, I have a bit more self-confidence going into the Carnival knowing I’ve got a horse capable of winning it,” McCall said.

“But we also know how hard you’ve got to work to get there and the extra prizemoney this year is going to be a big drawcard for the interstaters and I think we will see a really good quality field for the Stradbroke.

“But my bloke has proven he is up to the task and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Arguably the finest performance of last year’s carnival, the likes of which Queensland hasn’t seen for many years, was star jockey Tim Bell’s 2014 winter, which marked the beginning of his premiership charge.

Ironically, he finds himself in similar territory this year as he and veteran Jim Byrne chase down boom apprentice Luke Tarrant on the Metropolitan Jockey’s Ladder.

“I’m going in with a similar mindset to last year, but I’m going in a lot wiser with the Group 1 monkey off my back, as well as the premiership under my belt. I’ll definitely be a bit more patient this year,” Bell said.

“I don’t think it matters who is riding or what horses are running, you still get that same thrill. But with more prize money this year, the Winter Carnival will be as competitive as ever and I can’t wait for it to get started.”

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