Copy That and Akuta to front up in Friday's Founders Cup

By Michael Guerin

Two of the returning stars of New Zealand pacing are going to need new drivers when they start their road to The $1million Race by Grins at Alexandra Park on Friday night.

And that won’t be the only game of musicals chairs in pacing’s elite ranks as the battle for spots and horses for New Zealand’s only $1million harness race intensifies this week.

Two-time New Zealand Cup winner Copy That and dual Derby winner Akuta return in the $27,500 Lincoln Farms The Founders Cup on Friday as they prepare for a hectic autumn, highlighted by the $1million slot race at Cambridge on April 14, through to the Auckland Cup on May 26.

They come off vastly different campaigns, Akuta having not raced since smashing his NZ Derby opponents at Addington in December while Copy That’s hot summer form came to a screeching halt when he over-raced and was pulled out of the Hunter Cup at Melton on February 4 and was found to have bled after the race.

Copy That has served his one-month standdown mandatory after the bleed and the pair finished together, with Akuta slightly better, in their workout at Pukekohe last weekend.

Blair Orange has a full book of drives at Westport on Friday so Maurice McKendry resumes his association with Copy That while trainer Mark Purdon is in Australia so Akuta will also have a catch driver this Friday.

Both pacers are guaranteed slots in The Race as are Self Assured, who after a very slight setback will miss this Friday but race at Alexandra Park next week, while Victorian pacer Bettor Eclipse is also in The Race along with Old Town Road.

That leaves five slots to be filled with B D Joe certain to head there, his connections having three offers on the table and set to announce their chosen slot holder at 4pm on Wednesday.

The Race won’t match last year’s four Australian-trained runners with their best four-year-olds waiting for the Eureka slot race there in September, while many of the open class horses look tired, aren’t good enough or will instead head to Queensland, with Spirit Of St Louis going to the A$1million slot race in Perth the same night.

How an industry as small as Australasian harness racing has ended up with two $1million slot races on the same night defies belief. Hopefully next year it can be avoided.

But horses who would seem to be on slot holder’s shopping lists for The Race after B D Joe is confirmed today would include Krug, Alta Wiseguy, local hero Kango and possibly even Triple Eight, a stablemate of Bettor Eclipse, who could accompany him to New Zealand and be set for the Auckland Cup carnival and be open to a slot invitation.

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