New Zealand pair add star power to Hunter Cup
There was a sigh of relief when Josh Dickie saw the final trotting field for the Hunter Cup at Melton this Saturday night (February 4th).
Old Town Road and driver Zachary Butcher (HRNZ Photo)
Dickie’s protégé Old Town Road (Bettor’s Delight) made the cut, but probably just barely.
The inclusion of Expensive Ego, Rock N Roll Doo and Hurricane Harley in the final 12 caused some fear among the fringe groups, eventually edging out pacesetters like former Kiwi Cranbourne (first emergency), hapless Petes Said So and standout four-year-old Catch A wave.
Team McCarthy changed hearts late last week and decided to send Expensive Ego south instead of sticking with the original plan of staying home and focusing on the Miracle Mile.
The Rock N Roll Doo connections surprised a bit by accepting him after his tendency to overrun badly in recent heats, including the recent Ballarat Cup start, hurt him.
They had also touted a potential move to a Miracle Mile focus.
Then came the return of fast and graceful pacesetter Hurricane Harley to winning form last Saturday night as he easily won the Group 3 Casey Classic at Melton.
This trio all made it into the last 12.
Raffle $3.30 favorite and Kiwi star Copy That joining Old Town Road to give the race two New Zealand trained runners.
“It’s a relief. We never really thought he could miss a run, but things have changed in the past few days with Expensive Ego, Rock N Roll Doo and Hurricane Harley coming back into the picture,” Dickie said.
“Now we’re hoping for a good draw because the horse has really improved since Ballarat when he hit the line well and we knew he would take a lot from the run.”
The inclusion of Hurricane Harley gives three runners to powerhouses Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin. The others are Inter Dominion finalists Honolua Bay and Mach Dan.
Team McCarthy has two runners, both proven grand circuit stars, in Expensive Ego and Spirit Of St. Louis.
Despite not nominating his one-time stable star, Majestic Cruiser, trainer Jason Grimson still has two starters in his Inter Dominion Finals winner, I Cast No Shadow, and exciting new addition to the stable, Major Meister.
Hurricane Harley, Inter Dominion runner-up Torrid Saint and Ballarat Cup third-place finisher Triple Eight were those said to have been the most fortunate to make the last field.
Hurricane Harley’s win last Saturday night was terrific but he didn’t beat a hot field and his previous form had only been fair during a stint in Western Australia.
Torrid Saint had a great race in the Inter Dominion final but his form has been far below since, including a fight behind Hurricane Harley last Saturday night.
Triple Eight’s form was not good enough to give hope for a place in the field until he improved greatly for a superb third place at Ballarat.
Robbie Morris, assistant coach to Inter Dominion finalist and much-improved Petes Said So, was disappointed.
“I don’t know what else he could have done. His form through the Inter Dominion after poor draws was great and he beat Expensive Ego on his last start earnings. It doesn’t seem fair,” he said.
As good as Cranbourne won the Shepparton Cup on debut for coach David Aiken, he didn’t back down and disappointed at Ballarat, pushing him back to be a Hunter Cup contingency.
Andy Gath’s desire to lead four-year-old Catch A Wave sparked much debate, but in the end the selectors settled on a true open-class form as the barometer.
It’s a shame in a way because he would have added a real X-factor to the race with a good draw.
The last preference field is: Copy That, Expensive Ego, Honolua Bay, Hurricane Harley, I Cast No Shadow, Mach Dan, Major Meister, Old Town Road, Rock N Roll Doo, Spirit Of St. Louis, Torrid Saint, Triple Eight, Cranbourne (Emergency).
by Adam Hamilton for Harness Racing New Zealand