BRISBANE - A daring Eddie Wilkinson ride on South Auckland stayer Solid Billing provided young trainer Craig Ritchie with his greatest success after an all-the-way win in the listed Queensland Cup at Eagle Farm on Saturday.
Solid Billing was allowed to roll along at his own tempo in front and led by six lengths in the back straight before going on to win the 3200m feature by three lengths to beat a gallant Dave The Dude.
Toowoomba 4-year-old Mr Mayfair was a long neck away third.
Wilkinson started as an apprentice with Ritchie's father, Frank Ritchie of Bonecrusher fame, and has been a journeyman ever since.
"I spent four years as an apprentice with Frank and then I went to Mike Moroney," Wilkinson said.
"After that I came to Queensland and rode for four years with [the late] Bruce McLachlan before I had three years riding freelance in Victoria, mostly for Lee Freedman.
"I rode for five years after that in Singapore and broke my neck but things are going well since I came back to Queensland."
Ritchie, 38, only brought Solid Billing with him across the Tasman for the winter staying races and was ready to pack up and head home after the gelding finished fifth to Ironstein in the Caloundra Cup (2400m) on July 3.
"I was going to take him home after Caloundra but Eddie said he was a two-miler and convinced me to stay," Ritchie said.
"Eddie was apprenticed to Dad but I wasn't around the stable at the time as I think I was working with Bart Cummings or in England then."
Wilkinson enjoyed great success with Frank Ritchie, winning two group ones on Showella in the 1999 South Australian Derby at Morphettville and Lion Red Stakes at Ellerslie the following year.
Wilkinson was always confident Solid Billing could outstay his opposition even though the field looked like gathering him in at the top of the straight. "He's a tough horse who likes to roll along at his own speed," he said on Saturday.
"He ran a good race in the Caloundra Cup after he ran a hard sectional.
"I wasn't going as quick today as at Caloundra and I rated him better and knew he could quicken."
Ritchie planned to return home to New Zealand with Solid Billing yesterday and may prepare him for the Auckland Cup (3200m) at Ellerslie next March.
He said he gave Wilkinson a free rein to adopt whatever tactics best suited Solid Billing.
"I told Eddie it was up to him how to ride him," Ritchie said.
"He's not an easy horse to ride and just likes to roll along.
"This has probably been my best win. I won the Summer Cup with him in December but I'm not sure which is more prestigious.
"The Summer Cup was a group three race whereas this is a listed race worth more money. I'd say this is my best win."
Trainer Brian Wakefield was delighted with Dave The Dude's effort in finishing second after being handed the task, along with Mr Mayfair, to take the field up to the runaway leader.
"The winner was too good but it was a good run," Wakefield said.
"He's going to make a nice stayer later on and he'll probably end up in Victoria for some of the longer races in the spring."
On a good day for the Kiwis, Cambridge trainer Roger James picked up the expenses for a Sunshine Coast holiday when Firebolt scored a runaway win in the PMP Limited Handicap (1800m).
Firebolt gave jockey Stathi Katsidis his third winner of the day when strolling home by 4 lengths over Sir Kingsford.
The son of Stravinsky gave James plenty of concern when he bungled the start but Katsidis remained cool under pressure.
"He was a bit excited at the start and jumped in the air and missed the kick by a length and he lost another length by the time he hit the ground," Katsidis said.
"He felt amazing in the run and to carry 59kg he must be a top-class horse.
"He still had two or three lengths up his sleeve at the finish and he'll get a lot further."
Firebolt will return home to James' Cambridge stables to prepare for the summer races in New Zealand.
"I've nominated him for two weight-for-age races leading up to the Spring Classic [in October] back home," James said.
"I did it against my better judgment as he's still going to be a good handicapper.
"I'm not going to get carried away with this win but there's every chance he could still go to Sydney or Melbourne in the spring as well.
"I've never been to Mooloolaba before but I'm going to have a holiday there now and this is a nice way to go out."