Orange Crush

By Michael Guerin

After over 3000 career wins Maurice McKendry could be excused for being a touch blase about The Orange Agent’s ruthless Northern Oaks win at Alexandra Park last night.

But in reality, it is the other way.

Because after McKendry piloted the sensational filly to her near five length win he was buzzing like it was his first group one.

“Group ones, especially races like the Oaks, are hard to win these days,” says McKendry.

“So many of the very best horses race from the biggest stables and they usually have their own drivers.

“So just getting on a horse who can win a group one is hard enough to do, let alone actually winning them.”

That task was made significantly easier last night when The Orange Agent was able to cruise straight to the lead and then set her own terms but while she appeared to be jogging she actually broke the national 2700m fillies record winning eased down.

“She is very good and I think she will keep getting better because she still has some strengthening up to do.”

The Oaks win wound back the clock 20 years to when McKendry regularly drove top fillies like Iman and Paula Michelle for The Orange Agent’s trainer Brian Hughes.

“Bunty (Hughes) has done a great job with the filly because she could be a real handful and you still have to walk a fine line with her.”

While she was the star of the first night of Cup week there was plenty to like about Ohoka Punter’s win in the City Of Auckland Free-For-All, suggesting he has a real chance in next Friday’s Trotting Cup.

He was aggressively driven by trainer Tony Herlihy to punch into a hole from his second line draw early and then work his way to the front, holding out the late surge of Jason Rulz.

“He has taken racing to get back to his best but he is getting there now and the 2700m of the Cup should suit him,” said Herlihy.

Favourite Smolda paced roughly and raced well below his best, suggesting he will need a miracle to win the Cup.

Earlier in the night his stablemate Follow The Stars was brutal disposing of many of his rivals for next Friday’s Derby in the prelude.

He also came from the second line to work to the front and bolted in. His stablemates Have Faith In Me and Hug The Wind, if he returns to Auckland after tomorrow’s NSW Derby, look his only serious threats next Friday.

The barrier draws for the Cup and Northern Derby will be held at Alexandra Park tomorrow afternoon.