Claude and Crystal look in-form combo at Cambridge

By Michael Guerin

One of the biggest movers of the pacing ranks in 2023 will remain a New Zealand Cup contender until he tells his connections otherwise.

Nicholas Cage emerged from lower grade three-year-old in December to earn a spot in The Race By Grins by April, claiming some big scalps along the way through the autumn.

Trainers Andrew and Lyn Neal say he is a different horse now after his winter spell and he has earned a New Zealand Cup campaign.

“Last season when we took him down south for the Derby he was up against all these strong, compact colts whereas he was very slabby,” explains Andrew Neal.

“But he has really strengthened and looks a different horse now.

“He showed us earlier this year how fast he is but he will definitely be stronger so I don’t think 3200m will bother him

“So we are aiming that way until he tells us otherwise.”

Like many of the north’s best pacers Nicholas Cage is being aimed at the Spring Cup (September 22) at Alexandra Park.

The Neals have more immediate goals on their home track at Cambridge tonight where another vastly-improved pacer in Claude (R7, No.8) gets the services of the very in-form Crystal Hackett.

Hackett has driven more winners than any other New Zealand-based driver in the last six weeks, even though some have had more than twice her amount of drives.

That has seen the young reinswoman surge to 14th on the overall national premiership with fellow junior driver Carter Dalgety the only driver above her with a better strike rate.

“Crystal has driven this horse to win two of his last three and I think the key to him is not to use him early,” explains Neal.

“So barrier eight doesn’t bother us from that point of view but of course you always need a bit of luck when you are going back at the start, if that happens.”

The stable also has speedy trotter Winner’s Time in race 4 and Andrew says gelding’s work on Monday suggests he will go a big race.

“He worked over 3200m and trotted home (last 400m) in under 29 seconds which is a big run for a trotter on our track.”

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