ASTUTE Canberra trainer Keith Dryden has his eye on the upcoming country carnivals with Virtuoso after he demolished a top field at Murrumbidgee Turf Club yesterday.
The BBQs Galore Benchmark 70 Handicap (1000m) was packed full of accomplished sprinters but it was lightly-raced Canberra four-year-old Virtuoso that prevailed.
Experienced Canberra jockey Kevin Sweeney (pictured right) weaved a passage along the fence and Virtuoso ($7.00) exploded to the front inside the final 200 metres to score by three quarters of a length.
Speedy race leader and $3.80 favourite Grey Drama held on for second placing with Riverina Lad ($41.00) returning to form with an eye-catching third place finish.
Dryden expected a strong showing from the four-year-old.
"We weren't declaring him a good thing but the horse has been racing well," Dryden said.
"His run first up over 1000 was a bottler.
"He went to Canberra next start and over raced and choked down.
"So I eased off him a little bit and brought him back to the 1000 metres and that was a hot field he beat today."
Dryden always plays a major part in the Wagga carnival and signalled that Virtuoso may be here in May.
He said there was the Canberra and Albury carnivals to consider first.
"I really haven't thought too much ahead," Dryden said.
"I might have a look at the Albury carnival or I might even give him a nice freshen up and aim him at the Camarena at Canberra."
Dryden said his stable was in a reasonably good position to feature strongly at each of the three carnivals.
"We're churning along, trying to get a winner or two," Dryden said.
"I just make sure the horses are comfortable, look after them and try and find the right races.
"I've been coming to Wagga for the carnival for a lot of years so I don't think this year will be any different."
Virtuoso stopped the clock in 57.18 seconds for the 1000m trip.
Leeton sprinter Tarrabandra was beaten four lengths in his first-up run, while Who's Paying copped interference and finished 10th in his return from a spell.
Both horses were certainly not disgraced as they begin their preparations for the upcoming carnivals.