Butcher not giving much away
By Michael Guerin
Zac Butcher isn’t giving away his driving tactics in what shapes as the cat-and-mouse clash of the Harness Jewels on Saturday.
But his driving history may be the biggest clue.
Butcher pilots exceptional filly Belle Of Montana in the $150,000 three-year-old Diamond and as the winner of three group ones in the last six months she would usually be red hot after drawing the ace.
But she is only second elect after being clearly outpointed by another special filly in Princess Tiffany in the New Zealand Oaks two weeks ago.
Belle Of Montana though has a 3-1 winning record over Princess Tiffany and with the ace draw Butcher would be justified in staying in front, even though Belle Of Montana has never led throughout before.
If he chooses that role then he has the inside advantage and Princess Tiffany would have to sit parked or at least cover more ground after starting from barrier five.
Butcher is staying quiet about his early preference.
“Often you can’t tell until you get out there and things can change very quickly,” he offers.
“So I will drive her how she feels. I have a lot of respect for Princess Tiffany but we have beaten her three times.”
Butcher says training legend Barry Purdon never gives him driving instructions so he is not going in with a pre-determined plan.
“Barry just says good luck and see you when you get back,” smiles Butcher.
Their career best performances would suggest Belle Of Montana might have more sheer speed than Princess Tiffany but the later looks a more brutal stayer.
And when it comes to Butcher and speed freak pacers, history suggests he has the ice in his veins to hand up and launch a late pin-point attack.
That is exactly what he did to win Jewels races with Lancewood Lizzie (Ashburton, 2015) and an even more brilliant drive on Jacks Legend (Ashburton, 2017), both times leading then giving that advantage away before waiting until deep into the straight to divebomb the leader.
And you don’t even have to go that far back to find Butcher handing up on a red hot favourite and waiting till late to assert his superiority, he did it three starts ago with Belle Of Montana.
That was in the Victoria Oaks when he led as a $1.40 chance but shocked lead-at-all-cost Aussie punters by gifting that lead to second favourite Kualoa with just 1200m to run.
Even with the short Melton straight Belle Of Montana outsprinted the leader so the smart money would be on Belle Of Montana taking a trail on Princess Tiffany on Saturday should the latter’s driver Natalie Rasmussen get serious inside the first 800m.
So who would win a drag race down the Addington straight?
The answer: probably the one closest to their absolute peak on the day in a race that appears to lack much other pressure and could see a wicked last 400m.
As well as having handy place chances on Saturday in the well drawn On The Cards (race seven) and Kratos (race five), Butcher will also have his first Jewels runner as a trainer.
He has only just branched out into training, albeit very much part time, and looks to have found a talented first flagbearer in two-year-old Zeuss Bromac.
He was a huge second in a maiden race on debut and snuck into the Jewels but has copped a second row draw.
“I think he is a good horse in the making but obviously this is a huge challenge from that draw,” he adds.
“Still, we think enough of him to be thinking about the Breeders Crown after this.”