ECHUCA trainers Michael Cornish and Donna Gaskin will attempt back-to-back country cup wins with Extreme Torque in the $25,000 Marong Cup at Bendigo on Saturday.
Cornish said the 2200m feature event had long been a target for the five-year-old gelding, who finished all over the top of his rivals in the $25,000 Hanging Rock Cup (1800m) late last month.
His chances have been further enhanced by the return of his regular jockey Stephen Maskiell, after Jason Baldock claimed the cup-winning ride at Hanging Rock.
Cornish could not fault the gelding's preparation for a race he described as 'well and truly up his alley'.
"It's his pet distance, we've got his regular rider on and we couldn't get him in better health. We quietly think he can be hard to beat in a race like this," he said.
"He had been racing in town (before Hanging Rock) and he was only beaten a length or two by El Don (at Flemington on December 13), who came out and won the Bagot Handicap, so he had some Group and city form around him.
"He had three or four runs in town and we decided to bring him back to the bush to give him some confidence.
"He won the Hanging Rock Cup in a canter more or less - he came from last which you don't really do at Hanging Rock and really rounded them up and won the race full of merit.
"The way he's feeling at the moment, we are really excited to be there tomorrow (on Saturday)."
The training partners have come close once before to landing the Marong Cup, finishing second behind the Ken Moore-trained Gottino in 2013 with Prussia Island.
Cornish said a win would mean plenty in particular for Gaskin - a former Bendigonian - who still has family in the region and whose father is battling health issues.
"I reckon it would be a real lift for everyone at the moment," he said.
"Like Hanging Rock, it's a cup that's slipped our grasp, so hopefully this year this little bloke can grab both of them for us.
"There's a few jumpers in there and Ciaron Maher (and David Eustace) has one that is having its first start back, so the quality of horses is very vulnerable in this sort of race.
"I think our edge will be the hard fitness - we're rock solid and fit."
An eight-race cup day card is light-on for local runners.
Intrigue surrounds the debut of the Brent Stanley-trained two-year-old Phantom Hero in the opening race.
His rivals include the Shane Fliedner-trained Ultimate Man, who finished fifth on debut at Bendigo earlier this month, and is the only runner in the eight-horse field with a start under his belt.
Fresh from a win on his home track on Thursday with Ancient Echoes, Kyneton trainer George Osborne will target a 1300m benchmark 58 with Mint On Moseley, who will be ridden by six-time Group 1 winner Dean Yendall.
Despite a pair of recent placings with the six-year-old gelding, the astute trainer expressed reservations about his number 10 barrier draw.
"I am considerably concerned about the barrier, there doesn't look to be a lot of tempo in the race, which could leave him in an awkward spot," said Osborne from Perth, where he is attending the yearling sales.
"It's going to be a scramble of a race, but he has been racing quite well this prep.
"(His) last start at Geelong was terrific, he just got back a bit too far."
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