WAGGA trainer Trevor Sutherland will head towards the Country Championships with a spring in his step after Real Key's first-up win at Murrumbidgee Turf Club on Sunday.
Sutherland and mature-aged apprentice jockey Damon Budler combined on Real Key ($4.40) to win Allan Hull's last race as Wagga caller, the Jupiter Motors Gates Crash Back Benchmark 58 Handicap (1200m).
And the gates did crash back just moments after Hull was given an applause by the crowd in attendance.
It followed on from a tribute from racecallers around the country on Saturday, where they all used 'the gates crash back' for a race.
Sutherland was thrilled to win Hull's last Wagga call.
"I told him earlier today I was looking to win it. I also won a trots race on his last night calling at Wagga there too," Sutherland said.
"To win a race on his last day is good and to win the last race is really good.
"He's been an outstanding caller, promoting the Riverina for 50 years and he'll be sadly missed."
Real Key has been set for the $150,000 SDRA Country Championships Qualifier (1400m), to be held next month at Albury, for over 12 months.
He could only afford to have one start, and one win, leading up to the race and he made good use of that with a strong victory at Wagga.
Real Key sat up on the pace and kicked away to score by a length, with a neck between Blazing Engine ($5.00) and Tocatchacod ($3.70) for second and third.
Sutherland said everything was on track for the Championships Qualifier with Real Key.
"It's taken a while. He had lots of problems," he said.
"He finished off last preparation really well, his win on Forbes Cup day was outstanding. It's been a 12-month plan to go to the Championships and everything at the moment has worked a treat.
"He's come back in this time a different horse. He's big and strong. He's had two nice trials leading up to this and he was pretty dominant in both of those.
"It was a really good effort today. He could only have one run leading in, and win one race, so we've picked off every branch we can on the way and at this stage he's right on track for the Championships."
Sutherland said Real Key will potentially have one more trial before the main event on February 22. He will be one of three horses from the stable in the race.
It was a big day for Sutherland, with Jungle Book ($3.70) helping him to a winning double after taking out the Viewco Glass Australia Day Cup Benchmark 58 Handicap (2000m) earlier in the day.
Leading apprentice Tyler Schiller guided Jungle Book to victory
Sutherland was pleased to see him thrive over the 2000m journey.
"He's got a wonderful turn of sprint for about 250-300 metres," Sutherland said.
"I always thought he would run 2000 metres but it was the first time today that he's proved to me he can."