Akuta and Swayzee standing out in IRT New Zealand Cup field

By Michael Guerin

Two imposing victories less than 24 hours apart have left the IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup feeling like a two-horse race.

Of course it isn’t. The $750,000 Cup at Addington on November 14 will probably have its usual 15 starters but punters may now only have eyes for two.

Many of those eyes will be on Akuta, who backed up his Flying Stakes win at Ashburton last Monday with an effortless stroll around to win the Alabar Kaikoura Cup.

Akuta was cautiously away but was expertly handled by young driver Olivia Thornley who moved with genuine intent with just over a lap to go, demanding the lead and getting it, a dividend paid on the respect he had earned by siting parked to win his previous two starts.

After that Akuta jogged home to beat Old Town Road and Krug, both of who will improve but probably not enough to beat Akuta in two weeks, when trainer Mark Purdon will be back in the sulky.

With two-time defending champ Copy That sidelined with injury and Self Assured having been lacklustre all spring, it is increasingly hard to expect any pacer in New Zealand to beat Akuta in the Cup.

Maybe the horse who can isn’t in New Zealand yet.

Swayzee has exploded onto the Australian harness scene like a muscular equine comet whose trajectory is Addington, a collision course with Akuta.

Swayzee dropped out to finish last in a A$6200 battler’s race at Redcliffe in April but soon after he changed trainers to Jason Grimson and has won eight races in a row, including beating the horse some Australians were calling the best in the world, Leap To Fame.

On Sunday this new beast that is Swayze led and won a A$50,000 free-for-all at Menangle like he owned the place, rating a brutal 1:52.3 for the 2400m mobile and superstar young driver Cam Hart says he could have gone a lot faster.

“Having been to Addington last year we know how big a deal the NZ Cup is and how good the horses are,” says Hart.

“But he is the perfect horse for it, he can win it.”

There are pieces of this NZ Cup puzzle still to fit into place, Swayzee has to make it to New Zealand and horses like Republican Party and B D Joe weren’t among the vanquished over the last 48 hours so add depth.

And both Akuta and Swayzee have at least some questions over their ability to begin quickly, maybe even safely, from the Cup’s 3200m standing start point.

But the market for the great race tells the story, Akuta rated $1.90 and Swayzee into $3.20. Old Town Road is $6 but could be $10 on Cup Day without having done a thing wrong.

One of the most deciding factors in not only who wins the NZ Cup but even what prices punters will eventually be asked to take will be the barrier draw announced next Wednesday.

Swayzee is a natural, unforgiving front runner but if he has to start from the second line (about a 33 per cent chance of happening) he could blow out to $5 as his chances of being an automatic leader reduce.

Swap that scenario and put Akuta on the second line with Swayzee on the front line and the pair could get awfully close in the market, although most of Akuta’s optimum performances have come when settling back early.

But with this Australian monster at the castle gates seeking the pacing crown that undoubtedly now sits atop Akuta’s head, his connections will be seeking any advantage they can over Swayzee.

An intriguing fortnight and true Trans-Tasman rivalry awaits.

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