Aussies "majestic" in Messenger
By Michael Guerin
The Messenger has long been the gateway to pacing greatness but on Friday night it was something else.
It was a reminder of what Australasian harness racing has been missing and what it can be again.
The best version of pacing is when the big boys and girls, often with different form lines, get together and won’t back down.
Add an Aussie or two and things get really spicey.
That sums up the $100,000 Dawson Harford Messenger won by Majestic Cruiser on Friday.
It went something like this.
Early burn from father and son David Butcher (Kango) and Zachary on Bettor Twist that eventually saw both relent and hand to hot favourite Self Assured but not until they had all been sapped.
No sooner was Self Assured in front than Cranbourne came knocking hard on his door, stirred up by his rear legs striking his wheel disks and so we went again, doubling down on the pressure.
That left the leaders vulnerable at the 600m and first it looked like A G’s White Socks was going to turn the clock back a few years as he strode to the lead before Majestic Cruiser swept past him to restore Australian pride to Alexandra Park.
Let's not forget Majestic Cruiser only ended up in New Zealand for The Race because Spellbound got injured and not only did he finish runner-up there but has now won a New Zealand group 1.
That was in no small way due to the skill of outstanding driving NSW driver Cameron Hart, already a superstar, and the courage of trainer Jason Grimson to stick around in New Zealand taking on the locals right-handed.
That courage means the media-shy Grimson has a Messenger to add to his Inter Dominion title won in December and both he and Hart now know they can win major races here in New Zealand.
That is the key. Harness racing’s battle for market share means bringing the best horses from both sides of the Tasman together is crucial.
Without it the same horses race each other most weeks and attracing new eyeballs becomes near-on impossible as the galloping media machine drowns out the harness racing noise.
But add some parochialism and punters will watch and when they watch they might bet.
So a NSW win in the Messenger was the best thing that could happen to harness racing here, increasing the chances we will see more Aussies coming back for the New Zealand Cup and The Race.
After two years of Covid restrictions and a few lean years of Australian representation before that, Trans Tasman rivalry in this country has been re-ignited, the spark being The Race.
It just feels more fun, more exciting. Alexandra Park was buzzing after the race. So was Hart.
“We have loved it over here and to win a really big race over here is special,” says Hart, who does most of the talking for the team.
“We have loved being over here and the racing has been great.
“The credit has to go to Jason for making some gear changes and turning the horse around in a week after he got a bit lost right-handed first time up.
“He is a great trainer and good on the owners for wanting to stay too.”
Majestic Cruiser will now return home, missing the standing start Auckland Cup and he takes the NZ 2700m mobile record with him after all that pressure saw them stop the clock at 3:13.1, clipping 0.7 of a second off Christen Me’s mark.
That time made the run of Self Assured, who worked so hard the first lap, enormous as he fought back to finish second but while the winner had an easier run he has come to a different country and a new track to win one of our elite races for two young men who had barely been to Auckland a fortnight ago.
New Zealand harness racing, in fact Australasian harness racing, is all the better for that.