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Free Standing claims Country Championships

After a successful work trip from Coffs Harbour to Randwick, Cathleen Rode is looking forward to her first holiday for seven years.

That break is well deserved after Free Standing claimed the Country Championships (1400m) final on Australian Derby Day.

“I’ve only got three horses in work and they’re all going holiday after this because I’m going on holiday,” Rode said as she soaked up the highlight of her 18-year career.

“I’ve been struggling and trying hard for a long time. It’s one off my bucket list.”

The four-year-old gelding, who qualified for the final by placing second to Perfect Dare at Grafton, jumped as a $31 outsider – easy money as far as far as Rode was concerned.

“If they watched the last he got hindered and he couldn’t get out to the last minute.”

Blake Shinn ensured there was no obstacles on the home straight Saturday as Free Standing surged clear on a heavy 8 to score 2-1/2 lengths clear of After All That ($12).

Not for Export, a $201 long shot that rounded out an unfancied trifecta that paid $94,559, was a short head back in third.

“I was extremely confident. He’s been here before,” she said, referring to Free Standing’s Highway Handicap win at Randwick on December 17.

Winning owner Stephen Thompson, who doubles as Free Standing’s track work rider, was also confident during the race that a horse bought for $2600 was on the verge of a priceless experience.

“I said to Cathleen down the back, we’re a little bit close but if he finds the fence he’s going to find the line because his run behind Perfect Dare was awesome,” he said.

Shinn, who has the 2008 Melbourne Cup among his list of achievements, was rapt to play his part after picking up the ride because he could not make weight for Pumpkin Pie.

“He couldn’t have been presented any better here. He got a great draw, the breaks went our way and it’s just beautiful to do it for the people behind this horse.”

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