Alta Meteor out to break Kiwi Group 1 drought

By Michael Guerin

New Zealand harness racing’s Group 1 drought in Sydney has moved a little closer to ending after Alta Meteor drew perfectly for the A$200,000 NSW Derby at Menangle on Saturday.

The South Auckland pacer won his heat of the Derby at Menangle last Saturday and will start from barrier 2 in a very open classic over the punishing 2400m mobile on the giant track outside Sydney.

Trained by the Telfer/Cullen stable, Alta Meteor isn’t the best three-year-old pacer in New Zealand but has picked the right Derby to aim at, with neither New Zealand’s best in Merlin and Don’t Stop Dreaming in Sydney or the three-year-old stars of the all-conquering Emma Stewart stable from Victoria.

“It looks like we have come for the right race but these big Menangle races are very hard to win,” says Telfer.

Telfer has had first-hand experience of that this trip after the stabled lined up Kahlua Flybye as favourite in the NSW Oaks last Saturday only for her to drop out after leading.

“I think she burnt too much early on a fast lead time and that was that,” says Telfer.

That capped a largely luckless night for the New Zealand reps at Menangle, with both B D Joe and Alta Wiseguy missing Miracle Mile spots after being unplaced in their preludes while Krug was brave but also unplaced in his.

While B D Joe, Kahlua Flybye and Republican Party have all won at Menangle in the last month no New Zealand-trained horse has won a Group 1 there since Majestic Man won a mere A$50,000 Group 1 trot there two years ago this weekend.

The closest New Zealand has gone since was his second in the 2021 Inter Dominion Trot Final while high-class Kiwi mares Stylish Memphis and Braeview Kelly has won Group 1s in the last year but are trained by Jack Trainor when they campaign in Australia.

Menangle had been a very fertile Group 1 playground for New Zealand horses before that through Miracle Mile wins to Spankem, Have Faith In Me, Christen Me and even Monkey King in 2009 in the first Miracle Mile staged at Menangle, which became the home of Sydney harness racing after Harold Park was sold and closed.

There have been plenty of New Zealand-trained winners of races like the Chariots Of Fire, NSW Oaks and Derbys but with Mark Purdon having largely stopped heading there because of Covid restrictions and then the dramatic changes to the New Zealand harness racing calendar, the best Kiwi pacing talent has rarely been seen at Menangle since Bettors Heart won the Ladyship Mile at Group 1 level in 2020.

Alta Meteor won’t be the only Kiwi looking to end our feature-race Sydney drought this weekend, with B D Joe also having barrier 2 and hard to beat in A$100,000 free-for-all which is basically a Miracle Mile consolation, although that race is now a group 2.

That Kiwi drought is emphasised by no New Zealand-trained horses in the A$1million Miracle Mile for which Honolua Bay is a warm favourite.

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