Devastating and disappointing were the descriptions on Friday morning following the shock news that Corowa sprinter Front Page is out of the $1.3 million The Kosciuszko at Randwick on Saturday.
Geoff Duryea's galloper was the second favourite for the 1200m race for country horses and was to carry the hopes of the 650-strong William Farrer Hotel's Super Punters Club (SPC).
However, an incident en route to Sydney saw Durea report to Racing NSW stewards - and the SPC - that Front Page had injured an eye and a hind leg when the gelding became fractious in the float.
It was heartbreaking news for Duryea, and the SPC.
"Geoff rang me and let me know - he said they've had to turn the truck around - which was nice of him but it's bad luck for their connections and for our punters club," William Farrer Hotel publican David Barnhill said.
He said Duryea was shattered at the dramatic turn of events.
"He was devastated," Barnhill said. "Devastated."
Duryea told RadioTAB all was going to plan as they set off for Sydney early Friday morning until the horse became upset in the float.
"(He) started carrying on, knocked a fair bit of skin off, cut his eye, cut his back leg, so we turned around and had to come back home," Duryea said.
A vet inspection confirmed he wouldn't be fit to race.
Duryea hopes the horse will be okay in the medium term, but will give him up to six weeks in the paddock before a return to racing in the new year.
As for what might've been at Royal Randwick?
"I was very confident. A couple of the owners came down and watched him work the other morning and I said to them, 'I don't know if he'll be good enough or not but I can tell you they're going to have to run a real quick time to beat him'," Duryea said in the interview.
Barnhill said his big group will try to remain upbeat about The Kosciuszko.
"It's disappointing, definitely disappointing for everyone. There's a lot of people involved here (in the SPC). But there's not much we can do, we've just got to roll with it," he said.
The punters club went from having the second favourite to a 50-1 shot after selecting Goulburn galloper Prairie Fire from the emergencies.
It's history repeating for the SPC which had its first choice scratched last time it drew a slot in the race.
"Funny things happen. This happened to us two years ago and we ended up getting a third place (with Awesome Pluck)," he said.
Barnhill has spoken to Goulburn trainer Danny Williams about Prairie Fire which will be ridden by James McDonald, who was to ride Front Page.
"We've done a bit of homework today and I've spoken to a couple of experts. They think it can give them a shake and the horse is ready to go, with the best jockey on board," Barnhill said.
Prairie Fire will jump from barrier eight, the gate drawn by Front Page.
The gelding is coming off a fifth over 1000m at Randwick last Saturday. Two starts back it raced in Group Two company, finishing ninth of 12 in The Shorts (1100m) behind Classique Legend and Eduardo.
One of Prairie Fire''s two wins was at listed level, taking out the Talindert Stakes at Flemington in February 2018 as two-year-old (trained by Mick Price), the start before it finished fourth in the group one Blue Diamond at Caulfield.
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