Cup win tinged with sadness

By Michael Guerin

Two legends of New Zealand racing shared a remarkable Auckland Trotting Cup victory with Turn It Up at Alexandra Park last night.

But sadly only one of them was there to see it.

Turn It Up did what no pacer had ever done before, winning Auckland’s richest harness race at just his ninth start.

Still just a baby he led almost throughout for champion trainer-driver Mark Purdon and unleashed a 54.3 second last 800m to beat a brave Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz, leaving harness insiders wondering just how far Turn It Up can go.

But with every step he takes on that path there will be an air of sadness as one of the men who he was purchased for as a yearling won’t be there to enjoy it.

His former co-owner Neil Pilcher was one of the best known and popular owners in New Zealand racing, having shook the hands of probably half the horsepeople in the country during his decades transporting horses.

He was a major owner for the All Stars Stable until he passed away just a few months ago before he could see Turn It Up win what would have been the first Auckland Cup for the man affectionately known as Pilch.

“Neil loved the stock of Courage Under Fire and this was the one we bought that particular year for him so obviously we are sad he is not here to enjoy it,” said Purdon.

Pilcher’s brother Lee has taken a small share to keep the family connection there but one of the other owners of Turn It Up might have created a unique piece of New Zealand racing history all of his own last night.

Jim Gibbs is a thoroughbred training Hall of Famer and universally respected after a wonderful career as a galloping trainer and has now owned an Auckland Cup winning pacer 30 years after training Spyglass to win the thoroughbred racing equivalent.

 I won an Auckland Cup with her and was beaten a narrow margin a couple of times but this is a lot of fun,” said Gibbs, whose wife Ann also shares in the ownership of Turn It Up.

Joining them in the winner’s circle was Gibbs’s son Chris, who five days earlier co-trained Danzdanzdance to win the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie, continuing the impressive family doubles.

While Turn It Up’s win was expected the shock of the night came in the group one National Trot when Massive Metro outsprinted hot favourite Marcoola up the passing lane.

He was beautifully handled by Todd Mitchell to give trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett one of the most satisfying wins of their careers.

“This means a lot to me because this horse’s dam, Paris Metro, gave me my first group in this race 14 years ago,” said Wallis.

Marcoola did himself no favours galloping in the score up but driver Clint Ford was making no excuses.

He would have settled back anyway and didn’t lose that much so we were beaten by the better horse on the night.”

There were no such dramas with Ultimate Sniper as he led throughout to win the $200,000 Sales Series Pace while Belle Of Montana divebombed Wainui Creek in the last stride to win the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championships.

Earlier in the day favourite punters were left with a black eye and then a bleeding nose when first $1.10 chance Smooth Deal galloped and tailed off in the two-year-old race while Oscar Bonevena was a costly failure after an early gallop in race three.

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