By Ben Dorries Courtesy of The Courier Mail

EMOTIONAL trainer Natalie McCall thought of recently deceased racecaller Wayne Wilson as soon as her favourite horse River Lad won the Stradbroke Handicap this year.    So it was particularly fitting the hardworking Sunshine Coast trainer last weekend won the inaugural Wayne Wilson medal for quiet achievement in racing.

“Even if I was having a crappy day at the races, Wayne would be there to say everything would be all right,’’ McCall says.

“I thought of Wayne straight after the Stradbroke because he was a big fan of River Lad and the way he races. To win any award is great, but to win the first ever Wayne Wilson medal is a very special thing for me. Wayne passed away just before the Stradbroke and I’m sure he would have loved River Lad winning.’’

Earlier this year, tough sprinter River Lad helped McCall to the fabulous achievement of becoming the first woman to train a Stradbroke winner since the race began in 1893.

Horse and trainer have been on an extraordinary journey together considering at River Lad’s second race start he ran seventh in a maiden at Eidsvold in central Queensland in February 2010.

Fast forward to 2014 and the seven-year-old gelding has now won 13 races and $1.76 million in prizemoney.

McCall is now preparing River Lad for a Melbourne Spring campaign which will culminate in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes (1600m) at Flemington on November 8.

The aim is to peak third-up after a first-up run in the Group 2 Gilgai Stakes (1200m) at Flemington on October 4 and a second-up run at Caulfield.

“I am certainly not going to say he is going to go down to Melbourne and clean up all the races and be an absolute superstar,’’ McCall said of her seasoned sprinter. “But I am sure he will measure up in whatever he runs in.

“He is going to be stabled at Flemington and that will be great because there are pools there which he likes. He has pretty average feet and once he is up and racing I have always tried to keep him off his feet.’’

Depending on how River Lad performs in Melbourne, McCall also has the offer to fly him to Perth for the Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) at Ascot on November 22.

In preparation for his Melbourne campaign, River Lad is set to have a trial at Deagon next Tuesday.

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