Agirlsbestfriend could come up Diamonds At Tuncurry (Sunday)

Marc Quinn could easily wait until next year for the Newhaven Park Country Championships with Agirlsbestfriend, but it makes much more sense to the Port Macquarie trainer to go now.

And that's why Agirlsbestfriend will line up in the $150,000 MNCRA Country Championships over 1400 metres at Tuncurry on Sunday as the top seed in a two-pronged attack for Quinn.

He is also aiming Optimo at the race after the five-year-old gelding convinced him with a strong second in the Carlton Dry MNCRA Championship Preview - Class 4 Handicap over 1206m at Port Macquarie on Sunday.

Agirlsbestfriend has only had six starts and while the results of her first campaign were OK without including any wins her second campaign has seen a major improvement.

Wins in a Coffs Harbour Maiden and a Muswellbrook Class1 were followed by an impressive fourth in a Class 3 TAB Highway Handicap at Rosehill, when she was forced back in the field and made up a lot of ground in the straight.

"She drew seven at Rosehill and jumped as well as she'd ever jumped, but they all kicked up underneath her and Luke (Rolls, her jockey) had to go back to find a spot and he ended up having to go back further than we both would've liked," Quinn said.

"The winner and her travelled together and the winner got nice runs up the inside and we had to switch direction and come around heels to the outside. That's just the way it is sometimes.

"The winner ran the fastest last 600 of the day and I think we ran about the third fastest and that form is usually good form for a Country Championships.

"She's probably going to end up a miler, or a mile and a quarter horse, but at this stage of her career 1400 is perfect. That's why she's done little since last week and spent most of her time in the river, to freshen her up.

"She did a little bit of pace-work on Saturday and she'll have a light maintenance gallop with one of (trainer) Jenny Graham's horses on Tuesday and then she'll be ready to go."

Quinn explained the reasoning behind his decision to contest the Country Championships now, rather than leave it as a possible option for 2024.

"It can be seen as a bit of a gamble to run a three-year-old filly in it, but her last run in the Highway showed me that she's ready," he said.

"She could be a little bit less seasoned than some other horses in the race, but the Country Champioships isn't on again for another 12 months and she may be ineligible by then (by winning more than five races).

"She's going to get in with 54 kilograms because she gets the weight relief being a Class 2 and a mare. Big track at Tuncurry and if the weather's as good as it has been we'll get a nice surface.

"It's a bit of 'strike while the iron is hot' and there are more plusses than minuses with the idea of going now. We don't know what her situation will be in 12 months from now.

"She's in great form, she pulled up terrific from the highway and she'll go there and be extremely hard to beat."

The TAB Fixed Odds market has plenty of respect for Agirlsbestfriend, which is on the fifth line of betting at $15 to win the $500,000 Newhaven Park Country Championships Final over 1400m at Randwick on April 1. The first two placegetters in the Tuncurry race will qualify.

Optimo, rated a $51 chance for the Final, improved considerably from a first-up failure in a midweek Benchmark 72 race at Warwick Farm to beat all but Lisztomania at Port Macquarie.

"He turned his form around and that was the sort of run I was expecting," Quinn said. "He was beaten by a very sharp horse and that run will clean him out and he'll be at his best for the Tuncurry."

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